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Commentary: Fox wrongfully places show on ‘Fringe’ of cancellation

Jasika Nicole, Lance Reddick, John Noble, Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, Blair Brown and Seth Gabel star in 'Fringe,' which airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on Fox.

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One of network TV’s best scripted dramas is in undeserved danger.

“Fringe,” Fox’s time-and-universe-bending sci-fi thriller produced by J.J. Abrams, has been struggling to garner solid ratings since being moved to Friday nights midway during the show’s last season, dropping to series-lows early in the show’s fourth season.

The biggest problem for “Fringe” is that it’s been relegated to the “Friday night death slot,” where shows have historically been shipped off to wait out their imminent demise — a baffling decision by the network, at best.

Any given episode during the first season of “Fringe” garnered a solid 10 million viewers. Now it’s barely attracting 3 million viewers.

If the viewership decline was because of a drop in quality, I’d understand, but it’s not. The third season was the show’s best reviewed season yet — and that’s against two prior seasons that were also very well received by critics.

Thus, the problem here is not quality. The problem is that “Fringe” has been shoehorned into primetime’s least-watched programming block.

Through four episodes of the show’s fourth season, “Fringe” is barely hovering at 3 million viewers an episode, down from the nearly 5 million viewers who turned in for the first half of the show’s third season.

That doesn’t necessarily mean “Fringe” will be canceled, however.

“The X-Files,” a show to which “Fringe” draws parallels (pun intended, for those familiar with “Fringe”), started off in the Friday night slot its first three seasons, before moving to Sunday nights for six more seasons.

However, the problem for “Fringe” is that it isn’t getting the same ratings “The X-Files” did, which is a shame, because “Fringe” appeals to a similar audience.

Kevin Reilly, president of Fox Entertainment, told Entertainment Weekly that if “Fringe” can gather the same ratings it did last season, it won’t be canceled. Still, the show’s walking a thin line.

TVbythenumbers.com, which tracks TV ratings, said in its latest Renew/Cancel Index post that it’s a toss-up as to whether or not “Fringe” will be renewed for a fifth season.

So why has Fox shoved “Fringe” into a timeslot that will likely lead to its inevitable doom? After all, it did well enough in its first and second seasons ratings-wise, bouncing between Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

I understand Fox’s cash cow is “American Idol,” and placing any show after it will result in a supple ratings bounce from a strong lead-in, which is where “Fringe” was on Thursday nights last season. So why not keep one of your critically acclaimed series there? Does “Bones,” an established anchor on the network, really need the bump from an “American Idol” lead-in?

Not nearly as much as “Fringe,” a show that’s better received among critics despite its floundering ratings, that’s for sure.

The saving grace for “Fringe” could come with this week’s episode, where popular main character Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) returns after disappearing in the third season’s finale. Fans have been clamoring for his return, so his reappearance could result in a welcome ratings bump.

Even without Jackson, “Fringe” is powered by John Noble, who consistently delivers Emmy-worthy performances — performances, in fact, that have bafflingly not garnered an Emmy nod as yet. Plus there’s Anna Torv in the lead, who’s just plain ol’ sexy, so combined with Noble, the show’s leads should be enough to gather respectable ratings if the show were in a timeslot when people actually watch TV.

Will Jackson’s return be enough to save “Fringe,” a show which has truly hit its creative stride? I surely hope so.

So, Fox: If you’re reading this, I implore you to give “Fringe” a chance. After all, do you really want to have to call J.J. Abrams and tell him his show is canceled?

Didn’t think so.

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