Community creator Dan Harmon definitely knows how to get the critics and TV media worked into a lather. My Twitter stream blew up today when it was announced that Michael K. Williams, The Wire’s Omar was cast in a recurring role as a biology teacher. Given Community’s propensity for being 'meta', there are a lot of possibilities.
“Omar comin’,” but that’s not why Community is more likely to be renewed again than Fringe.
88 Episode Comin’
You live, you learn. One thing we (finally) learned was that shows that have two full seasons and are renewed for a third season are almost always renewed for a fourth. Why? Syndication! And by syndication I mean “stripped” syndication where shows can be aired every night at the same time. Any show, regardless of the number of episodes it has can wind up in syndication, but shows that can be stripped have more lucrative financial prospects. The magic number for stripped syndication used to be 100 episodes, but in recent years the conventional wisdom has been 88 episodes.
If a show ends its season within 22 or fewer episodes of 88 episodes regardless of ratings or at least somewhat regardless, the chances for another season increase. If Community starts pulling 0.7 adults 18-49 ratings for new episodes, it won’t be renewed. But if it’s pulling a 1.4, even if that 1.4 is less than 90% of NBC’s adults 18-49 average, it’s still more likely to be renewed than not. This rule seems to be even more true for sitcoms.
Don’t buy it? Go compile your list of shows in the recent past that had around 65 episodes by the end of their third season and didn’t get renewed for a fourth. It’ll be a short list (though notably and sadly includes Veronica Mars). If that doesn’t work for you, maybe these two words will: ‘Til Death ( like Community, a Sony Pictures Television production).
Fringe already saw the syndicated benefit. Despite its third season ratings, particularly once it moved to Friday, Fringe was renewed for a full fourth season. After the fourth season completes Fringe will have exactly 88 episodes (commenter Remus notes that while technically 87 episodes, the pilot was two hours,). Sure, maybe Fox just really loves Fringe and will give it a 13 episode fifth season, but discounting for the slack it will get for airing on Fridays, I don’t see it getting the sort of ratings slack that Community will or that Fringe itself got last season.