Until the Last Word, Part 9 ~ Unfortunate Ratings...But We Survived.
On April 26, 2012, Fox renewed Fringe for a final half season of thirteen episodes, to a simultaneous thunderclap of heartbreak and cheers of millions around the world. It's not ideal, but it's enough to give the story the conclusion it deserves
instead of the cliffhanger we would've had if it had been cancelled so late in the year. I wrote that last sentence before I saw the fourth season finale and before I knew that the final scene would have been left out to give some sort of closure. I was so sure it wouldn't have time to end satisfactorily, but the writers made me very happy with a lovely life-goes-on resolution. Even though Fringe had much more to tell, it served as an emotional close. Not every last question was answered, which would have been unfortunate had it been the series finale, but it remained open for a continuing story. That they were given the daunting task of ending this last chapter in a way that ensures it goes down as inarguably one of the best science fiction stories in history, and my personal favorite, is a wonderful gift. So many great shows don't get that opportunity.
I consider Fringe top-tier in drama. Some other shows I love currently are The Walking Dead, which imagines the horrors of a violently inhospitable world and its affect on the survivors; Doctor Who, which takes the viewer along in a mad dash with an eccentric alien to save all of time and space; Breaking Bad, which builds palpable tension in the desperation of a man trapped in the drug trade who is slowly becoming the monster he's trying to escape; Supernatural, which follows two brothers who sacrifice themselves for the world and each other, but has a great sense of humor to see it through the darkness; Game of Thrones, which shows the corruption and brutality of power set in a gritty fantasy world; and Homeland, which gives insight into the delicate psyche of a soldier held captive and possibly turned by the enemy.
This is television that's flawlessly acted and inspires love, empathy, joy, fear, sadness, and the whole spectrum of emotions in its audience. All of these shows are successful and deserve to be so. Each may be different in feel, tone, setting, ideas, and atmosphere, but all deftly play with your emotions and share a quality of storytelling and character development that raise them above countless others. Fringe, a story of love that will stand the test of time, does all of that as well as anyone, but it had to fight for life every step of the way.
There are other superb shows that I've loved and others I've heard are must-sees, but it's hard to find the time for it all. @enargins and @raphaelbragen have been telling me to watch The Good Wife, and I know @docsaico loves it, so I'll get to that after Fringe. I recently started Nikita, after finishing the fun Burn Notice and the brilliant Sherlock, and I am so far am impressed with the emotion and excitement of the show. I'm also watching Sons of Anarchy, which I like but, as of the third season, still haven't connected with despite the terrific acting. I think that might be because I take so long between each episode. Another I have been avoiding is Mad Men. I just saw a clip the other day of Don Draper saying nostalgia is "a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone." That line was delivered beautifully. Jon Hamm impressed me in just a few seconds, so I'll have to start on that at some point, hopefully soon. More than anyone saying how great the show is, how many awards it wins, or how many commercial I see, that moment is what immediately made me regret not watching from the start.
And that's the problem with commercials. Opinions are instantly formed, and if a show doesn't look interesting then I'm likely to move on. They can so easily turn me off when a show might be the best thing ever. Even if the reviews are great, I often won't give it a chance since time is so limited. It was because of commercials that I almost didn't watch Fringe. They should have emphasized the humanity instead of the impossible, because there seemed to be nothing to distinguish it from what came before. It's sad to think if something else had been on that night, I wouldn't have bothered, because the commercials didn't capture my imagination in the least. I suspect that's what happened to a lot of people.
That's not to say Ari Margolis and Bart Montgomery haven't done an outstanding job since with editing and producing interviews and promos. The promos are great teasers for fans. And the "Noble Intentions" and "Fans Ask Fringe" videos are insightful and will be missed. But it's all really only in service to fans. There was just something missing in Fox's effort to attract more viewers. I wish they had been given the task of creating some trailer length commercials to really get to the core of what Fringe is, to give potential viewers a longer look at the show and promote the feelings and ideas instead of just previewing the next episode, which only fans would be excited by. More music video commercials also would have been interesting and attention grabbing.
I would have loved if it were possible to show fan videos as commercials or even have a contest to create one. Anything to get more attention. Observer appearances on shows like American Idol were not enough. It seems like promotion wasn't important to Fox after the premiere.
Videos like this worldwide collaboration made after the season 3 finale. I would have loved to see it on TV.
Fringe might have a much smaller audience in the U.S. than Fox was hoping for, but it's not for lack of quality. The one thing that was never a problem was the mind-bending, sweet, and human story. In order to get the ratings, Fox needed to be more active in promotion after season 1. They should have done more, much more. It seems they gave up, relegating promos to the spot immediately after the latest episode and hardly doing any advertising during the week, at least during everything I watched. Over five seasons, I probably saw fewer commercials for Fringe than Glee has in just one season.
Ads or articles in magazines were sparing, as were TV interviews with the cast. The last time it was heavily advertised was probably before the pilot. I've seen comments of people watching for the first time on Science Channel. They didn't even know it was still on, and others had never heard of it! If only they had put as much effort into promoting Fringe during the entire run as they did at the start (at least as it seems) then we might have had many more viewers and an extra full season or two to further explore this incredible world, to many more times be in awe of the cast, and to look forward to the possibility of the Emmys finally wising up and recognizing all the blood (maybe a drop here and there), sweat (surely quite a bit), and tears (undoubtedly a flood) that go into it.
Timeslots were also a problem. Fox couldn't figure out what to do with it and shoved it to Friday, the death slot. But we followed it and made sure we made up for our lack of numbers by tremendous enthusiasm and loyalty. Fringe is loved worldwide, but those fans aren't counted in ratings. I know I didn't see any behind the scenes of the promotional efforts of Fox, and I have no idea how much hard work they may have put in, but this is what it's seemed like for the last four seasons.
But that's the past. They are people and they make mistakes, and it's a business that needs to make money. I don't fault them for that. I used to be bitter about everything that they did wrong in my eyes, but I have seen that they actually loved the show. All of the viewers owe a huge thank you to Fox for sticking it out as long as they could. Most of the time it seems as though the networks don't watch or care about the shows that aren't immediate hits. It's amazing to me that Fox did. They let Fringe finish on its own terms instead of cutting it off like so many before.