Friday, January 21, 2011

Joshua Jackson returns with new season of 'Fringe' hoping to soldify show's uncertain future

On a recent marathon work day, surrounded by "victims" encased in amber for an upcoming episode of Fox's "Fringe," actor Joshua Jackson was reminded of why he's a huge fan of his own sci-fi series.
"You're in the midst of these scenes and the world is ending and you're trying to figure out what to do to save the universe - and all of a sudden a voice comes out of the amber," Jackson says breaking into an uncanny impersonation of an extra encased in plastic. "'Excuse me, can I get a cup of coffee in here? I'm really tired.'
"Is someone snoring in the amber? I get those moments a lot where I go, 'God, I love this show,'" says the 32-year-old actor. "It's just so far out there."
It is so far out there, and as the critically praised sci-fi show returns Friday at 9, that's been a problem. Producers are trying to figure out what to do to save "Fringe" amid a gradual ratings decline, and the move to Fridays doesn't help. It's a day where serialized dramas have gone to die.
"If you put a gun to my head, I couldn't explain to you why the viewership has gone down from last year when all the pieces remain the same. It's a mystery to me," says Jackson.
But fans are watching the show; they're just doing it on their DVR and on their iPhones.
"We're almost at the point where the classic national television model doesn't exist for young people anymore," says Jackson. "The future is already here."
Unfortunately, if those fans don't tune in on time on Fridays to factor into the more traditional ratings system, the future may come too late to save "Fringe." A show about shape-shifting hit men and alternative universes, all of which orbit around the relationships between FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), Jackson's Peter Bishop and Peter's eccentric genius father, Walter (John Noble), it boasts a rich back-story that may be too dense for beginners. So it's up to the fans.
Nobody is rooting harder for the series to succeed than Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly. "It's a fantastic show, and honestly, I'd be heartbroken if it went away," he recently told reporters.
There have been cases where loyal fans have been able to save their favorite show. When CBS canceled the postapocalyptic series "Jericho" mid-cliffhanger, the network was deluged with shipments of peanuts - an allusion to a line from the show. The result? A stay of execution to finish the story line.
"The show's basic core audience would watch 'Fringe' in a swamp on a Friday night if that's what they had to do," says Prof. Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. "[But] the places that air these shows don't sell enthusiasm; they sell ratings points."
Jackson believes the producers do have an emergency plan to wrap up the series' story line at the end of this season. But it would be a shame to end the ride when the show is hitting its creative stride.
"It's not that not enough people are watching 'Fringe,' it's that not enough people are watching 'Fringe' during the hour that it's on the air, which is key for the network," says Jackson. "You don't have to go to school the next morning. You can always go out drinking an hour later."


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