Ratings debate: Has ‘Fringe’ done enough for a season 5?

Is it worth another go?

As we get near the network upfronts, we are going to start taking a closer look at some of the shows that are currently up in the air in regards to their future.

With that in mind, it only seems appropriate that we start off the feature with a show that seems to perpetually be on the bubble time and time again — “Fringe.”

Why it should go – Out of all of the scripted series that aired both in the fall and spring on the “big 4” networks, “Fringe” is routinely there with “Harry’s Law” for drawing some of the lowest numbers in the 18-49 demographic among live viewers. It’s the only not-canceled Fox show that has scored under a 1.0 demo rating (which is about 1.4 million viewers in that age group) on more than one occasion.

Also, the syndication benefit of keeping “Fringe” is now gone thanks to it reaching the 88-episode plateau in the finale, and you can tell upset fans that you at least gave it long enough that it could live on forever elsewhere.

One argument that Fox programming head Kevin Reilly could make here is that if you ditch the show and launch an unscripted lineup, you could find a hit similar to what ABC has with “Shark Tank” that is cheap to make. Is a fifth season of “Fringe” really worth the gamble since you know the ratings aren’t going to increase?

Why it should stay – It may be low-rated, but “Fringe” is reliable. Its numbers constantly drift in the demo between a 0.9 and a 1.2, and you also have to remember that it routinely draws the best DVR ratings on the entire network. (Some new figures released by TVbythenumbers Monday show it as growing from a 1.0 to a 1.8 rating after the fact for the April 8 episode.) “Grimm” getting renewed does prove that DVR ratings are important, even if they are not as critical as someone watching live.

It also cannot be discounted here that Fox’s slate of drama series right now is not good. “House” is ending, “Terra Nova” is canceled, and both “The Finder” and “Alcatraz” are likely to meet the same fate. With “Touch” on the bubble, it, “Bones,” and “Glee” (which is classified as a comedy) are the only hour-long shows that seem to be likely to return next season. “Fringe” keeps the network from having to overhaul the entire lineup right away, though much of this could depend on pilot season.

Finally, don’t forget that even though the syndication number has been hit, Warner Bros. (the studio behind the show) would love to get this show to 100 episodes — and in order to do that, they could offer up licensing at a bargain price to the network.

What will happen – If we had to guess, we think that “Chuck” paved the way here for “Fringe” to come back. Fox knows via “Firefly” that they don’t want to anger sci-fi fans, but they also know that this is a show that they are really losing money on at this point. The best thing they can to win out is to renew the show for 13 episodes, give everyone a satisfying conclusion, and then move forward and hope fans understand that they are being pretty gracious.

Also, a pickup from a programming standpoint gives Fox the flexibility to scale their new pilots out across the year — once “Fringe” ends (if they air a season 5 in the fall), they could plug something new in for spring with a limited commitment.

What do you think Fox is going to do with “Fringe” moving forward? Be sure to take our poll below, and we’ll have a ratings debate for “Community” later in the week.

Photo: Fox

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