Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
Friday night ratings woes bounce off sci-fi series like bullets off Superman's chest.
While the end of the workweek is considered a wasteland for primetime programming - a spot for reality news, lousy comedies and failed dramas to permanently exit out of our living rooms - the opposite is true for science fiction-based shows. "The X-Files," "Ghost Whisperer" and, most recently, "Smallville" and "Supernatural" have all thrived on Friday night.
"Fringe," television's most creative sci-fi series, joins the ranks this week when it debuts in its new Friday at 9 p.m. slot on FOX. Upbeat showrunners J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinkner say they're looking forward to building up their show's fan base.
"We are excited," Wyman says. "We think it's open territory that can be conquered. We really do believe our fans are loyal. I believe they're going to follow. It's a chance for us to sort of ... get away from that statement that Friday night is not an opportune night, (if) we can actually deliver like 'The X-Files' did, or something like that. I think we both agree it's a good opportunity."
As an added assurance to fans, Pinkner says FOX is solidly behind "Fringe."
"When FOX informed us of the move, what was most important to us is we understand that our audience is watching the show not sort of like a standalone audience watches the show, but they're actually watching it as an investment over time," he says. "We wanted to be able to tell our audience that the story - the ongoing, the long arching story that we have planned for our characters - is going to get told. It's funny, there are more 'Fringe' fans in the building at FOX then sort of like any show we've ever worked on before. I think they and we all feel that if we can build a fan base on and sort of like carve out some territory on Friday night, we can be there for years."
Wyman notes "Fringe" fans loyally watch the show ... but not always on Thursday night. The program is one of the most recorded and played back, as measured by Nielsen's live-plus-seven-day ratings.
"A lot of times, sure, shows that move to this time slot, they don't last; but I think that has more to do with the quality of the television show and how it's doing then it is a market," Wyman says. "I mean, if we learned anything from Thursday nights, what we learned was our DVR numbers are so high and the improvement is so great that we realize that our fans, they're watching the show. They're just telling us, 'We didn't want to watch it on Thursdays. We'll tell you when we want to watch it through the DVR.' Thursday night is traditionally a romantic comedy night with the 'Bones' and 'Gray's.' "
"The landscape is changing so much on network television; who knows what Friday nights are going to be?' he adds. "We're going in there with 100 percent confidence."
The second half of the season begins with the episode "The Firefly," which pairs the original mad scientist, Christopher Lloyd (aka "Doc Brown" from "Back to the Future"), with "Fringe's" modern day zany brain, John Noble ("Dr. Walter Bishop"). Lloyd plays Walter's musical hero.
"I was very excited about this role that I had in this episode," Lloyd said. "It was a very interesting piece to work with. My character goes through an experience that he never could have realistically anticipated could've happened to him, and his efforts to adapt to that, adjust to that, and hope for a good outcome."
Following that episode, Wyman and Pinkner promise to tie-up some loose ends.
Prior to "Fringe" taking a holiday break, one major change occurred. FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) returned to the "over here" universe, while her doppelganger, "Bolivia," or "Bad Olivia," returned to the "over there" universe. When Olivia was reunited with her crime-fighting partner and new beau, Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), she learned he unwittingly romanced her evil clone. Suffice to say, she was not pleased.
At the same time, Peter's father, "Walternate," short for "Walter alternate," is "over there," plotting revenge against this world - and the man, Walter - who stole his son.
"The first half of the season was sort of like the condition of Olivia being trapped on the other side, 'over there,' and 'Bolivia' being among our characters," Pinkner says. Now that Olivia and "Bolivia" have returned to their respective universes, "The remainder of this season, I don't know how much we want to spoil, but ... the rest of the year will be the consequences and the fallout of what happened - both emotionally and plotwise for all our characters.
"As we've said from the beginning, we're committed to telling stories 'over there,' and the first half of the season will dramatically change the conditions 'over there' as well.
"The storytelling's not just going to be contained on our side," Pinkner adds.
"Yes, I mean we're going to sort of like come to a crescendo using both sides," Wyman says.
While "Fringe" will revisit the "over there" or "red credits" alternate universe, episodes will not rotate between worlds as they did at the start of the season.
"It won't be every other (episode)," Pinkner says. "Having Olivia, sort of like one of our three main point-of-view characters, over there gave us license to tell every other story over there. Once we get into the remainder of this series, the storytelling will be focused more on our side. But the conditions over there, certainly characterwise with 'Bolivia' and 'Walternate,' are still ongoing and have changed based on what happened. 'Walternate's' got a plan in mind. He was using Olivia for a reason to try to figure out how to cross safely to our side, and now he has some answers. The middle of the season we'll sort of build to a collision point for these two sides as we get to the end."
What's more, the producers promise some answers on "the machine," the device "The Observers" predicted would pair with Peter to spell doom for both universes.
"We don't want to drive things out and make people frustrated with what that machine is and what it means to the series and the characters themselves," Wyman says. "By the end of the season you're going to fully understand what that machine is and what it's purpose is. What it's for. Meaning for this universe and that universe, and what it means to our characters. We definitely are going to have some sort of resolution."
"Fringe" airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on FOX. For more information on the show, visit http://www.fox.com/fringe/.