Fringe, Fox's deliciously creepy melange of paranormal science and corporate conspiracy theory, has its slam-bang season finale tonight with a guest shot by Leonard Nimoy as a kind of Bill-Gates-gone-bad technobillionaire who seems to be at the root of all the gory, homicidal weirdness that's the show's lifeblood. The question is, will Fox screw everything up for TiVo viewers, as it has for most of the past month, by starting Fringe late and then running it two or three minutes past its scheduled end time? Let us put the question to series creator J.J. Abrams, who does not sound especially optimistic. Here's an exchange from a press conference last week where Abrams took questions from TV writers:
Q. Three weeks out of the last four, I believe, my TiVo has missed the conclusion of Fringe because it ran past 10 p.m. after getting a late start due to the expansion of American Idol. I've heard the same complaint from numerous readers... Does it bother you to that the show is carried by a network run by drooling [bleep-bleep] idiots?
Abrams:(laughing) I will say that I do have a different opinion about the network. (pauses) I too have heard from a number of people a frustration that the shows have been cut off. It's infuriating. This happens to me as well when I'm watching something else.
The writer asking the question, in case you haven't guessed, was me. I've simply been amazed at the way Fox has jerked around viewers who watch Fringe on TiVo or other DVRs. NBC used to do this occasionally by "super-sizing" its Thursday-night comedies, expanding them by 10 or 15 minutes, on the theory that viewers would stick with an episode of Friends or Scrubs to its conclusion, rather than switching to another network. But that strategy was born in an era when almost everybody watch the show as it aired.
Now, with DVR viewers making up as much as a quarter of the audience of some shows, it's just nuts -- especially with a serialized show like Fringe, where events in the final moments not only provide the episode's climax but link it to future episodes. Fox programmers may dismiss TV critics as cranky and irrelevant, but I hope they were listening to the obvious irritation in Abrams' voice.
By the way, Abrams says the finale of Fringe will dramatically change the nature of the series -- "a
really interesting shift in the fundamental paradigm of the show," is the way he put it. With any luck, you'll be able to see what he's talking about.
I've heard from some Fox folks since writing this post, who were wounded ("Do you really think we're droolingidiots?" asked one) but polite. They concede they've had a lot of complaints about DVRs missing the final couple of minutes of Fringe, but they say I'm mistaken in thinking it's a network strategy. The problem, they tell me, is that this season's American Idol has been been consistently been running long, probably because the addition of a fourth judge to the show has extended the between-performance chatter. (This confirms my suspicion that practically all evil in the universe can be linked, in one way or another, to Paula Abdul.) Okay, allegation of drooling formally withdrawn. But if I were you, I'd still set my TiVo to go five minutes longer than the scheduled conclusion of Fringe.