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'Fringe': Is It Over For The Fox Show?

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"Fringe" fans, things aren't looking good.

Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly told members of the media at the Television Critics Association press tour on Sun., Jan. 8 that the network had still not made a decision about whether to cancel "Fringe," which returns with fresh episodes Jan. 13. Though he noted that airing the show was a "point of pride" for Fox, according to Entertainment Weekly, Reilly reminded the assembled critics that the ratings for the show have been terrible and noted that the network loses "a lot of money on the show."

Those aren't things a network chief typically says before he renews a program. (Though, to be fair, he also said that decisions hadn't been made regarding two Fox dramas that are performing better in the ratings: "House" and "Terra Nova.")

At a Fox party on Sunday night, "Fringe" star Joshua Jackson appeared to have heard Reilly's warning loud and clear. "He’s not running a charitable foundation," the actor told EW. Still, Jackson said, if the fourth season is the sci-fi show's last, he hoped the show's writers would get a chance to wrap things up in a satisfactory fashion.

"[T]he important thing to me is that our writers are given a chance to finish the show, because it’s a serialized show,” Jackson said.

It's not as if all hope is lost for Peter Bishop (Jackson), Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and Walter Bishop (John Noble), the lead characters of the cult drama. Yes, things do look pretty bleak for "Fringe," but Reilly held out hope that Warner Bros. TV, which makes the show, might make concessions that would make "Fringe" more financially attractive to Fox. It's a long shot, but things like that have happened before.

When the future of "Chuck" future was in doubt, Warner Bros., which also makes that show, did some wheeling and dealing that made the spy comedy a more attractive proposition for NBC. Though it worked for a while, the network will close out the show's unlikely five-season run Jan. 27.

Same thing goes for "Community": Fans are quite rightly up in arms about that show's forced hiatus, but TV analyst Josef Adalian of Vulture has made a compelling case for that show's future. Not only will "Community" return (as the head of NBC recently confirmed), a fourth season for now isn't remotely out of the question, given that both Sony and NBC could end this season with reasons to keep the Greendale students aroundAdalian wrote.

In any event, Reilly doesn't want "Fringe" fans to start besieging Fox with a "Save 'Fringe'" letter-writing campaign. (Even if fans wanted to start one, what would they send to Fox? Alternate universes? Cows? Strangely mutating viruses? "Fringe" fans need to sort that one out before they begin any show-saving projects.) And it sounds as though "Fringe" might live on in alternate media: Executive producer Jeff Pinkner recently told TVLine that even if "Fringe" went away, the producers would try to find ways to continue the story via webisodes or graphic novels. (Pinkner also noted that the Season 4 finale could function as a series' final episode.)

Not a bad idea: Perhaps if the constrictions of network television -- which "Fringe" found increasingly creative ways to negotiate in its second and third seasons -- would free the show from its current problems, some of which are of its own making.

Sure, the move to Fridays didn't help "Fringe," but if I'm being perfectly honest, I would have been far, far more likely to campaign hard for another season of the show had it not taken a trip down the wrong rabbit hole this season.

As I've said a few times on the weekly Talking TV podcast that I do each week with Ryan McGee (who's written about the current season's problems extensively), spending time with versions of the lead characters who never knew Peter Bishop hasn't been fruitful or emotionally engaging, and many of freak-of-the-week stories have felt flat or uninspired. It's hard to get worked up about the overall mythology when its either shoved into the background or evoked with an uncharacteristic lack of subtlety.

"Fringe" worked best when it took a hard turn toward serialization in Season 2, and over time, it worked out methods of telling ongoing stories in ways that weren't too convoluted. And no matter what happened or how fantastical things got, events usually had compelling consequences for the lead characters and their complex relationships. I found a Peter-less "Fringe" less interesting and the show's relationships correspondingly less evocative this season. And though I think the world of the show's cast and their acting abilities, the return of Peter hasn't upped the stakes -- emotionally or dramatically -- in any of the ways I thought it would.

Don't get me wrong, if "Fringe" gets a fifth season, I'd certainly watch it; but I hope that long before then, the show gets back on track and back into the kind of thoughtful and complex territory it occupied before Peter disappeared in that infernal machine.

What about you? Do you desperately want "Fringe" to come back? Or do you think the show has run its natural course? "Fringe" fans: Leave your take on the show in the comments below and let us know if you're dying for a fifth year with the Fringe Division or are you kind of done with it?

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