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Commentary: ‘Fringe’ renewal needs to happen sooner, not later

Courtesy of Fox

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One of TV’s best dramas is on the bubble for renewal, and without any announcement either way yet, the waiting game is driving me insane.

“Fringe,” Fox’s sci-fi drama about parallel universes and high-tech science experiments, has withstood poor ratings all season, averaging about 3 million viewers an episode. More importantly, it has been hovering around a measly 1.0 share, or 1 percent of households with TVs, in the prized 18-to-49-year-old demographic, which is what advertisers really look at when it comes to buying ad time.

Just for reference, for the week ending April 1 the top-rated show in the demo was actually Ohio State’s matchup with Kansas in the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four, which nabbed a 5.5 in the demo.

In the show’s defense, however, it regularly leads in percentage increase in time-shifted viewership, which measures how many viewers watch the show later on DVR instead of watching it live. It saw a 100 percent boost in time-shifted viewership for the episode that aired the week ending March 25, with its rating boosted from a 0.9 rating live in the demo to a time-shifted 1.8.

Regardless, “Fringe” might be renewed by Fox, and if it is, it’s a beacon of hope for humanity, in that a critically acclaimed show can survive without being a cash cow.

In all reality, “Fringe’s” renewal hinges on what Warner Bros., the studio that produces the show and licenses it to Fox, does. Fox president Kevin Reilly said when asked about “Fringe” that the network isn’t in the business of losing money, but if Warner Bros. can offer Fox a deal it can’t refuse, maybe it won’t.

There’s incentive for Warner Bros. to offer Fox a deal. Warner Bros. will essentially have to give “Fringe” away to Fox. In the short term, Warner Bros. will likely lose money, but if it can get “Fringe” to a fifth season that would likely consist of 13 episodes, it will push the show north of 100 episodes, which is the magic number for selling a show into syndication, where the studio would recoup its losses.

That would be the long-term benefit for Warner Bros., a studio that’s not exactly hurting for cash right now. It’s also the studio that produces highly rated shows such as “Two and a Half Men,” which have already been sold into lucrative syndication deals. If Warner Bros. does wait another season to sell “Fringe” into syndication, it would likely get more than seven figures per episode to whatever network buys it.

So see, Warner Bros. and Fox? Please strike a deal. It’s in your best interest.

Fox has been relatively kind to “Fringe” so far. Reilly has been vociferous in his support for “Fringe” at least on a creative level, and was gracious enough to renew it for a full fourth season last year when the ratings dipped. The network placed “Fringe” on the dreaded “Friday night death slot,” which is probably a bit unfair if you want to maximize ratings on an acclaimed show, but some “Fringe” is better than no “Fringe.”

“Fringe” is my favorite show on TV and it’s one of the best on network airwaves. The cast is one of the best on air, especially considering the main characters have had to play at least two different versions of themselves given the alternate timelines and parallel universes. It’s also one of the most exciting. You can count on some crazy plot revelation or twist in virtually every episode.

A lot is happening toward the end of the show’s fourth season to wrap up loose ends in the story arc. But even so, I want more. It’s become appointment viewing for me, which is more than I can say for most stuff on TV. I’m actually willing to sacrifice my plans on Friday nights to watch TV.

With a bit more room in the budget after canceling “Terra Nova” and ceasing “House,” I would hope Fox would be willing to take whatever losses might come with whatever money it’s saving with those shows gone.

Things are looking up. TVLine.com’s Michael Ausiello has “Fringe” as a safe bet for renewal. “Fringe” producer Joel Wyman said Monday from his Twitter account, @JWFRINGE, that he is “feeling good” about a fifth season and expects to know something either way this week. Considering Fox announced renewals of comedies “Glee,” “Raising Hope” and “New Girl” Monday, that certainly seems realistic.

Fingers crossed that news is good news.

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