Upfront Week: Fox Sets Fringe Up for Failure

fringe 3 Upfront Week: Fox Sets Fringe Up for FailureYou can take Kevin Reilly out of NBC, but apparently you can’t take NBC out of Kevin Reilly. The former NBC entertainment president, who now holds the same position at Fox, announced the fall schedule yesterday at Fox’s upfront presentation, and the results were positively Ben Silverman–like. Much can be made of the laughable decision not only to renew Joss Whedon’s ratings-phobic Dollhouse, but to keep it on Friday nights with two doomed half-hour comedies as a lead-in—Brothers, with noted comedian Michael Strahan, and ’Til Death with Brad Garrett (yep, that’s still on)—but we’re more appalled by what Fox did with Fringe. The J.J. Abrams–produced silly-science serial-procedural will now be expected to compete against Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, The Office and 30 Rock on Thursday nights at 9 p.m. On second thought, maybe Fridays aren’t so bad after all.

One of the more successful new shows of the past year, Fringe had found a comfortable home on Tuesday night thanks in part to a gigantic lead-in audience from American Idol and little competition on other networks. Now though, if ABC, CBS and NBC keep their Thursday lineups intact, most viewers won’t even be able to record Fringe on their DVR—assuming it’s already filled up with those other Thursday night shows . Talk about a scheduling conflict! We hope Fringe fans are prepared to watch the show on Hulu.

To give Mr. Reilly some credit, we can at least see the method to this madness. Fact is, CSI is ripe for a takedown and the fresh take Fringe puts on the procedural genre will, in theory, allow it to survive by taking viewers away from sputtering CBS warhorse—CSI‘s season finale was down 31 percent from last year. But that thinking doesn’t seem to account for the fact that Fringe’s audience skews much younger than CSI‘s and runs smack into Grey’s Anatomy and The Office/30 Rock. And while Fringe is a solid hit—the first season averaged around nine million viewers per episode—it doesn’t seem like the type of player that can survive against the likes of Grey’s Anatomy, no matter how ridiculous that series gets (see: ghost sex). Lest we forget, the last time Fox took a solidly performing freshman series and moved it to Thursdays to take on CSI and Grey’s, it was The O.C., and that was off the air two seasons later. If Mr. Reilly was looking for a way to get his brother-in-arms, Mr. Silverman, out of the headlines, he’s done so. But not to worry: with NBC set to announce their official fall schedule later today, the diversion shouldn’t last very long.