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Quality Shows + Smart TV Execs = Viewer Victories
May 9, 2012  | By Eric Gould  | 4 comments

Fringe and Southland, two quality-TV fan favorites, were just renewed. When smart work on the bubble escapes the axe, it reassures us that - at least to some of the decision-makers in the television industry - everything doesn't have to be a gold mine to survive.

TVWW contributor Ed Bark recently reported that Fringe would return for a fifth and final season despite lagging ratings and high production costs. Loyal fans reacted poistively to the news. They'll now get to see the sometimes puzzling series conclude properly, with an intentionally planned ending, instead of watching the show simply evaporate from the airwaves.

That's a good thing, because as groundbreaking as Fringe has been, it hasn't always been easy to follow. Part of the charm and appeal of the show is that it uses, well, fringe ideas and theories about physics and technology, and sprinkles them liberally throughout the plot.

These freewheeling ideas have allowed viewers to follow characters into parallel universes and watch them meet their mirror selves. There are fascinating, odd time-line splits between the two worlds - showing the Twin Towers in New York still standing, and dirigibles being used as a method of transportation.

Viewers have seen strange grafting of human bodies with all sorts of bionic technology, and have been transported into the future to meet the vaguely fey and androgynous looking Observers, who see all and wear retro fedoras. (Who knew the distant future could be confused for an episode of Mad Men?)

As deeply enigmatic and provocative as the show (co-created by J.J. Abrams, creator of Lost and Alcatraz) has been, it's also been so wrapped around atom-sized plot points and technological conceit that are difficult to appreciate unless you're analyzing every detail of the show, and following along with some Internet clarification.

But really, like a space-time warp or Moebius strip, you can really dive into the show at any point without suffering too badly. Viewers may sometimes be, er, Lost, but happily so. Fans have no trouble accepting Abrams' vision, despite the cross-universal swerves the show takes.

Southland, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. Grounded in the present day, the cop drama is as linear as linear can be. It moves along quickly each week, benefitting from extensive hand-held verité-style camera work. The show increased its audience in 2012, although it still pulls in relatively small audience numbers. Southland has been renewed for a fifth year, but only for ten episodes.

The Southland writers' raw sense of the Los Angeles sprawl, and the messy interpersonal lives they've created for the show's uniformed officers, are reminiscent of the formulas perfected by cop dramas such as NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life on the Street.

The shows' one downside may be that this year, the producers have amped up the weekly mayhem to dizzying levels, with characters taking turns at the center of frequently occurring auto accidents, workplace shootings and recently, a biting.

These over-the-top events have sometimes undermined the sense of gritty realism that is unique to Southland, but are perhaps forgiven as a means to augment the shows masterful sense unpredictability.

It's a small bone to pick with a show that has consistently delivered great writing built around actors, including Regina King, Michael Cudlitz, Shawn Hatosy, Ben McKenzie and this year's great addition, Lucy Liu.

There are other quality shows, like Cougar Town and Touch, that are also on the bubble, and it's unclear — until the networks' upfront presentations for advertisers, beginning next Monday — which will be returning for future seasons. Having seen the remarkable renewal of Fringe, it will be interesting to see who comes out ahead, the finance guys or the producers and the writers.

As with any television drama, stay tuned.

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Apr 16, 2024   |  Reply
And, looks like TVWW also has the touch... Both "Touch" and "Cougartown" will return, however, Cougartown is leaving ABC and coming back next season on TNT. --EG

Read about Touch here:

Cougartown here:
May 11, 2012   |  Reply
Just wondering when someone is going to wake up and nominate John Noble for a best supporting Emmy.
May 10, 2012   |  Reply
Cougar town is great unconventional comedy. Touch is diving in the rating for a reason It'c clearly not creatively found itself. If it was given a season 2 It's audience would not come back. FOX just cut all it losses and really push top notch creatively on all it's new pilot pick ups.
May 9, 2012   |  Reply
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