By Denise Martin
September 20, 2009
A battle royal is brewing in the least likely of places.
Four shows with established audiences -- " Dollhouse," "Ugly Betty," "Medium" and "Southland" -- will face off Fridays at 9 p.m. this fall.
Could the night where shows go to die reemerge as a day for appointment television?
Last year, when Fox decided to launch "Dollhouse" on Fridays, panic set in among fans of series creator Joss Whedon. "It's 'Firefly' all over again!" wrote one worried observer on the website Whedonesque. (Whedon's short-lived space saga "Firefly" worked the Friday shift in 2002.)
But despite mediocre ratings, "Dollhouse" survived, winning renewal following a creative surge toward the end of its first season. Now the show finds itself going up against stiffer competition, something Whedon calls a double-edged sword.
"On one hand, people could realize that Friday is potentially, if not a viewing night, a recording night," he said. "As opposed to, 'Oh, it's on Friday. It must be something they're trying to kill.' At the same time, I don't want competition! Why don't they put their bad shows there?"
In recent years, Fridays have been a dumping ground for cheap reality shows such as "Howie Do It" and "Supernanny" and low-profile rookies. If you can't remember "The Ex List" and "Crusoe," you're not alone.
...The fourth season of "Ugly Betty" will kick off its Friday run with a two-hour episode introducing viewers to Betty's new look: new glasses, side-swept bangs and a more mature wardrobe. (Later in the season she'll lose the braces too.) "It's Betty 2.0. She's an editor now," executive producer Silvio Horta said, joking, "so we'll go from four-pattern outfits to, like, two."
Horta was initially bummed about being plucked from Thursday nights, but said the time slot is less relevant for him these days. "The people I know aren't watching the show live when it airs. I know that's not the majority of the country, but DVR seems to be where everything is going."
A bigger deal is maintaining the post-show water-cooler talk: Wilhelmina screwed over whom? Marc said what? Betty kissed whom? "That stuff is extra important. I'm hoping our core audience will continue to [follow us] no matter where the show moves," Horta said.