A couple weeks ago, FOX released its midseason schedule, moving American Idol to Wednesdays and Thursdays, which knocked the low-rated-but-incredible "Fringe" to Friday nights, aka the "Death slot". Well, now the creators of "Fringe" have quietly acknowledged their dire situation, titling the first Friday night episode of the show (airing on January 21) "Firefly". As fans of the short-lived Joss Whedon series know, one of the many reasons for the struggles and eventual cancellation of "Firefly" was its Friday night placement, a trend that repeated itself with Joss's latest series, "Dollhouse".
But the Friday Night Death Slot isn't just a Joss Whedon phenomenon. Let's take a look back at FOX's history with Friday nights, starting with this most recent season.
"The Good Guys" premiered over the summer, airing on Mondays. It moved to Fridays for the fall, lost more than a quarter of its audience, and while it hasn't officially been canceled yet, it's all but done.
As mentioned above, "Dollhouse" was put here to die, which didn't make much sense, consider FOX wasn't expected to order a second season in the first place. Airing briefly as the lead in to "Dollhouse" were the comedies "Brothers" and "'Til Death", both of which were cancelled in the '09-10 season.
Fox left Fridays to cheaply produced reality TV, but still neither show ("Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" and "Don't Forget the Lyrics!") survived the season.
"Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" fared better this season, but does anyone even remember "The Next Great American Band"?
More reality TV. No one cares.
After three and a half seasons airing mostly on Wednesdays, "The Bernie Mac Show" was moved to Fridays in January of 2005. It returned there in the '05-06 season, and was never heard from again. "Malcolm in the Middle" had six successful seasons on Sunday, then was buried on Friday in its final season. Stuck in the Friday death slot and following two sitcoms, "Killer Instinct" never stood a chance, getting cancelled after nine episodes.
Something called "The Complex: Malibu" was thrown here, along with a rerun of "The Next Great Champ". Neither survived the season.
It's the "kill a drama by burying it after two sitcoms" plan again. First, "Wanda at Large" was tossed at 8:00 to rot, then at 8:30 it was the Luis Guzman project "Luis", which lasted all of 5 episodes. That dynamic duo was supposed to be the lead in to the fourth season of "Boston Public". Shockingly, "Boston Public" did not get a fifth season.
Still too soon...
Hey, "Dark Angel" did pretty well on Tuesdays in its first season. Let's move it to Friday so we can make sure it never airs again. The show went from averaging 10.1 million viewers in Season 1 to 6.0 in Season 2. To be fair, some of that was because the second season wasn't as strong, but a lot of it is attributable to the time slot move. Airing after "Dark Angel" was "Pasadena", which was canceled after four episodes.
"FreakyLinks" had some good pre-show buzz, but was stuck on Friday nights, never pulled in a reasonable audience, and the 13 episodes were aired in bunches in October, January and June.
After a modestly successful mini-first season on Sundays, "Family Guy" was moved to Fridays, where it lasted the entire 1999-00 season before being canceled. It was later brought back for '01-02, then canceled again, before being brought back a second time in 2005. Splitting the 9pm hour with "Family Guy" was "Action", which was canceled in 1999, never to be seen again.
Look, I could keep going year-by-year, but it's obvious that shows don't survive being placed on Friday night. In many cases these shows would have been canceled regardless of what night they aired on. However, there are plenty of shows like "Firefly", "Dark Angel", "Dollhouse", "Family Guy" and even "The Bernie Mac Show" that were good enough to be successful, but couldn't get a big enough audience to survive on Fridays. And with "Fringe" already hemorrhaging its Thursday audience -- the show is down nearly 1 millions viewers from the season premiere, which itself was down 4 million viewers from last season's premiere -- it seems unlikely that the numbers are going to get better in the Death Slot.
To find the last time a FOX show either premiered on Friday or was moved to Friday and was renewed for the following season, you have to go back to "Millennium", which was a Friday night staple for FOX for three seasons between 1996 and 1999.