M: A bit of news came out the other day that spawned a sprawling discussion between the siblings. The conversation starts with a tidbit from FOX president Kevin Reilly that puts the future of one of our favorite shows, Fringe, into debate. From there it broadens into a discussion of network habits (and stupidity), and shows jumping nets (as opposed to sharks). We are also joined briefly in our discussion by husband/sibling-in-law Mr E.
So, it started with E passing along this bit:
Fox’s entertainment president Kevin Reilly candidly addressed the topic of whether Fringe will get a fifth season. Asked by critics at the network’s press tour event in Pasadena, if the Friday night show is coming back, he said: “Fringe has been a point of pride. I share the passion for the show the fans have. I love that Fox, after letting down genre fans over the years, [came through with Fringe]. I love that fans stuck with it after it moved to Friday. It has vastly improved our Friday night.”
Now all that sounds great, right? Not so fast. There’s more.
“The hesitation in my voice is that it’s an expensive show. We lose a lot of money on the show. But with that rating on that night it’s almost impossible for us to make money on it. We’re not in the business of losing money. We need to figure out if there’s a [deal with studio Warner Bros. that] will make sense or will this be it.
Mr E: That doesn’t sound very hopeful, and I HATE that they keep cancelling shows after the finale is written/produced. Don’t they understand that in the long run, they are dooming every serialized show, because people will eventually refuse to watch a show that has a long story arc, out of fear of the show’s questions not getting answered? I admit that it will make me seriously consider investing my time in any future shows of this type.
E: You know, that’s what I hate about this. The truth is, they will sucker me in every time with a great show, and then break my heart by not letting the storyline play out. It’s the worst thing about TV.
M: I agree, and this highlights more what a great move the producers of LOST made when they negotiated the end date of the series in the middle of season three. With the ratings LOST got it could have gone on longer, but eventually it would have gone into the “will they or won’t they be brought back” category, and the story may not have gotten a proper ending. I really think that in general Fox has screwed Fringe over. They were getting good ratings with it, but then they moved it into a massively competitive slot that kills serial shows, then banished it to Friday, which gets lousy ratings no matter what is on.
C: Not to mention that it now airs opposite Supernatural, and the shows have virtually the same audience. And the CW gave Supernatural an appropriate lead-in, Nikita, while Fox airs Kitchen Nightmares before Fringe. Because that makes sense.
E: Er, because Gordon Ramsey (and his apparent popularity) is an unexplained event?
M: I think the unexplained event is that he apparently is a nice guy on his British shows, and is only an @$$hole on this side of the pond. Anyway, if they put Fringe back on Mondays or Tuesdays (or even Sundays in the old X-Files slot) the ratings would be a lot better. Anyway, I wish they didn’t make the decisions after the season finales are written, and if they did they should give the show an episode (or even a few) to wrap things up, like SciFi eventually did (after a huge letter-writing campaign) for Farscape.
E: It’s not at all a well-structured business, when it requires millions of people to invest emotionally in entertainments and then disregards their – our – need for closure.
C: I’m not sure our emotional needs are their priority.
E: No, you’re right, of course they’re not. Still, I wish they’d care a little.
M: To an extent, they should be. The more you get an audience to emotionally connect with a show the more ardently they will watch it, and recommend it to their friends. But why think big picture!
C: I also don’t know why showrunners always dangle the “maybe another network will pick it up” idea in front of eager fans. That hope will get bandied around and come to nothing. I have never heard of it actually happening, never.
M: So not true! I know it’s not common, but right off the top of my head I can think of a couple. JAG switched networks (was on NBC for one season, then something like 10 more on CBS, and the NCIS shows are spin offs of it… bad move NBC!), and Scrubs changed networks near the end of its run just a couple years ago.
E: Well, but you have to agree they dangle the option far more often than it actually happens, even if it does sometimes happen. I’m thinking particularly about Arrested Development, the critically acclaimed sitcom that might even now get a movie deal (but no new life on a new channel). BTW, you can add Buffy to that list.
C: Arrested Development is getting new episodes streaming exclusively on Netflix, actually.
M: Okay, I did a quick search… Medium switched from NBC to CBS. Friday Night Lights, Damages and Southland went from nets to cable/satellite when they got axed. Apparently Taxi switched nets at one point, too, so it’s not a new phenomenon. Oh, and the SciFi show was Stargate.
E: I lied, it wasn’t Buffy, I’m thinking of another classic with a tiny blond teenage protagonist – Veronica Mars.
C: Veronica Mars didn’t hop networks, UPN and the WB merged to form the CW. That’s not the same at all.
E: Point taken.
M: Buffy DID switch networks. I do agree that it seems to get dangled far more than it actually happens, but reading the list from TV Tropes, it happens a pretty good amount.
E: Wow, C, look at that list; shows swap networks way more often than I thought.
C: Okay, but every time a beloved show’s going to be canceled they tease us with this hope. And for a network to pick up an expensive show with low ratings that another network is bailing on… well, it still seems pretty unlikely to me.
E: That’s probably true.
C: But more to the point: this quote from Kevin Reilly just convinces me that networks are a bit dumb.
M: Just a bit?
C: Okay, very dumb. Of course they’re not in the business of losing money! But that doesn’t actually mean every show has to make money. You invest in a few good shows that get critical acclaim and have devoted fans, to raise the profile of your network. You peddle cheap reality schlock that pays for itself many times over to make up the difference. Everyone wins.
M: Look at the NFL Network… Okay, I know neither of you actually watch it, but follow me… The vast majority of the commercials on it are either for NFL products or shows on the network. They could make more ad money selling to outside companies, but instead they use the ads to increase brand recognition and awareness instead. Doing so, they make more money from those parts of their business. With Fringe, the acclaim and awards that it gets should bring more money through press and attention than the meager savings they’d make by putting a crappy but less expensive show in that time slot.
C: And Fringe is so GOOD. I genuinely don’t think there’s a better show of its type on air right now. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to this! If they were really smart, the network and show producers would get together and make an end plan for the series – give it another season, say, but one that’s marked down as the last.
E: I agree. Much as I think Fringe could go on much longer than that, and much as I’d miss it, I think that’s the way to do it – give it a firm end date the writers could work toward. That’s what I wish every scripted series’d do in the end. I mean, of course I think that. Nothing new.
M: Yes, sounds like a fool-proof plan, they can make the fifth season the last…. like Chuck! Oh, wait a minute…
E: Chuck. The less said about Chuck the better.
M: True, poor Chuck. Now, I think they made Fringe a little too serialized for its own good, where alternating between monster-of-the-week and mythology episodes would have helped it in the ratings. Not that I mind as a die hard fan, but I would prefer it have a more sizable audience so it didn’t have to deal with this will-it-or-won’t-it-get cancelled crap.
E: It’s emotionally exhausting, isn’t it? All those campaigns to eat at Subway or send Tabasco sauce to the network, the letter writing campaigns to Dawn Ostroff, all that emotional energy and countless hours sunk into a wonderful show, left without a satisfying conclusion. Though I wouldn’t change anything the Fringe team has done for the last season and a half, I don’t think – it’s been brilliant.
C: Agreed. Though, having just watched the first half of the current season in one go, I feel obliged to point out that almost all of them were MOTW episodes.
M: The difference is they’ve been a mix within each episode of MOTW and mythology. Overall they have had some great episodes like that, and the whole product is spectacular. But again, we’re looking big picture, while in the short term having the mythology in every episode pushes away viewers who haven’t watched since the beginning, or caught up on Netflix.
M: As an aside, there’s one thing I want to go back to from the original article. You have the president of the network saying that he loves Fringe, shares the fans’ passion for it, and considers the show a point of pride… but he’s considering not bringing it back. Him making those comments feels like a total cop-out to me. I remember when Joan of Arcadia was cancelled and the head of CBS said that it was one of his biggest disappointments as an executive. Crap! I call B.S.; if you want the show to survive, the show will survive!
E: Well, but that’s a CEO for you, isn’t it? If it doesn’t make money, if people don’t watch, it’s not my fault, nothing I can do about it.
M: Both Fringe and Joan were on nights that get crap ratings, and the shows that replaced Joan got crap ratings, and whatever Fox puts on in place if Fringe, if they do the wrong thing and cancel it, will get crap ratings. To use another sports analogy, what they would be doing is firing a great coach who has won championships but is now coaching a team with lousy players. In his place they’re hiring a coach with no track record, but not changing any of the players. The move will be great if the only thing you care about is that the old coach made $10 million a year and the new one makes $600,000. However if you care about winning nothing is going to change.
C: Um… you lost me there a little with the sports, but I think the point the exec’s making is that they’d rather have a cheap show get low ratings than an expensive show. But I don’t hear much about Fox suffering for money, so my point above stands. Put money into a few great shows, networks, and make it up elsewhere. Wouldn’t it feel nice for a change, having people not hate you?
M: I don’t think they feel hated, I think there’s too much of a buffer between them and the fans. I mean, do you think TV executives actually know any devoted fans of their shows? Probably not. And therein lies the problem.
E: And apparently they don’t want to hear from us, either. So what’s a fan to do? Give up on serialized television?
M: I’m going to pray for the day when a network exec thinks, and acts, like a fan of their own shows.