How Mainstream is Fringe?

That’s the question tonight as the new J.J. Abrams drama, Fringe, premieres at 8 p.m. on Fox and A Channel (and, for tonight only, CTV).
While the sci-fi drama, starring Auzzie newcomer Anna Torv and Canadian Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek), is one of the most anticipated new shows of the season, the reviews so far from critics have been mixed. As Kansas City Star critic Aaron Barnhart writes in his review posted on TV Barn, “this show has great potential, but we’ve seen Abrams waste that potential in the past, most notably on his old ABC series Alias.”
Tonight’s 95-minute pilot, which was shot in Toronto (production has subsequently shifted to New York, where there are tax incentives a-plenty) has two speeds–slow and fast. I found myself snoozing through the slow parts and very into the action sequences, which include a cool car chase along Lakeshore Boulevard under the Gardiner Expressway (like a high speed chase could actually happen there).
My 15-year-old son, on the other hand, is completely hooked and anxious to see future episodes. A Heroes fan, he’s been dying to get his action hour fix ever since that show was knocked off the air due to the writers strike (it finally returns Sept. 22).
One good thing–tonight’s presentation, and all season long on Fox, Fringe will have far fewer commercials and network promos than is seen on regular hour-long dramas. Fox is experimenting to try and discourage viewers from PVRing shows and fast forwarding through the ad breaks. With Fringe, you’ll get around 50 minutes of programming, instead of the usual 44 minutes per hour. (For more on the daring ad strategy, which will also be tested on Joss Whedon’s upcoming drama, Dollhouse, read this piece in TV Decoder).
To do this, Fox has been charging–and getting–a 40% premium per spot. Advertisers, they reason, will pony up to be in a less cluttered environment. That will work as long as people tune in to see the show. They should tonight: expect the paranormal series to open big.

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