Until finding its niche with American Idol, the Fox Network was known for its animation, its crude comedies, and its science fiction programs. Unfortunately, Fox has lately developed a notorious skittishness towards one of the programming staples that launched it, and I'm not talking about the lack of three-camera sitcoms or the non-dearth of cartoons filling the network's lineup. Science fiction, once Fox's bread and butter, is now becoming a victim of a network with bipolar disorder.
Out of the Fox Network's 15 hours of network programming, three hours of it is actual sci-fi, four hours of it is drama, and two hours on Sunday is animation, and the rest are game shows or reality programs. That means that 20 percent of Fox's lineup is blatant sci-fi, and other portions of it dip heavily into the genre. Every season, Fox unveils a science fiction program or two. See, by giving Fringe and Dollhouse and Sarah Connor Chronicles the green light, Fox is showing that it loves science fiction.
Yet two of those shows, Dollhouse and Sarah Connor, are on the day where television shows go to die. Friday night is the night when people do things like go out or go to the movies. Even if the geeks that might watch the new Joss Whedon show don't go out to the bars, they definitely attend movies like Watchmen. That's one of the reasons why Sarah Connor and Dollhouse scored record low ratings last week, officially moving the network one step closer to pulling the plug on the programs. Dollhouse has never flourished on Fridays, and Sarah Connor's ratings have dropped in its new home. Both these shows, while having dedicated fans, are also very expensive and may not come back next year.
Meanwhile, Fringe, the new series from J.J. Abrams, is one of the biggest hits of the new season. Or it was until Fox started to routinely preempt it for American Idol on Tuesday nights. February 10: Episode 14 of Fringe. Episode 15? Won't air until April 7. That's TWO MONTHS with no Fringe. How in the hell is the show supposed to survive two months off the air?! I know American Idol is what makes Fox all its money, but didn't they learn anything from the writers' strike? Cutting a show off in mid-season usually kills it. Why would Fox do this?
I have a theory. One of Fox's biggest ratings successes was The X-Files. It lasted 10 years and after a horrible first season ratings-wise, became one of Fox's strongest programs for quite some time. A lot of Fox's efforts in the sci-fi realm, namely Millennium, Harsh Realm, and The Lone Gunmen, were attempts to spawn a second X-Files utilizing some of the same crew. Millennium did well for a while, but Harsh Realm and The Lone Gunmen were killed off before even being given a shot at developing an audience, setting the tone for the way Fox would go on to treat Firefly.