This fall, Friday night will play host to a time-slot scrum of monstrously freaky proportions. Call it Survival of the Geekiest! A Rumble in the Cult Pop Jungle! Genre-geddon! The 9 p.m. hour will see two returning rivals — Fox’s Fringe, now in its fourth season, and The CW’s Supernatural, entering its seventh — forced to contend with a new creep-show combatant, NBC’s fairy-tale policer Grimm. Networks have long tried to make Friday night a beachhead for far-out offerings (The X-Files began its rise here), though more have crashed and burned than launched and soared. So who will come out on top? We pit the three against one another in a freak-show showdown.
9-10 p.m., Fox
Where we left off: A season-long conflict between two parallel Earths that seemed destined for mutually assured destruction concluded with Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) traveling through time to save both worlds…and then mysteriously disappearing.
Freaky factor: What if Peter never existed? That’s the high-concept idea that launches the season, with episodes exploring how Peter’s demented daddy, Walter Bishop (John Noble), colleague/lover Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), and the entire Fringe world(s) would be different. For example: ”No Peter, no baby,” says exec producer Jeff Pinkner, referring to the son Peter had with the ”over there” Olivia. ”Peter was a humanizing influence on Walter,” says Noble. ”Without him, Walter is…well, nuts.” Look for episodes to revisit old cases and other elements of Fringe mythology, like shape-shifters, from a ”no Peter” perspective. But don’t worry, Jackson fans: ”You’re going to see him, but perhaps not in the way you’re anticipating,” says exec producer J.H. Wyman.
On the time-slot battle: The producers believe viewers ”are invested in what happens this season,” says Wyman. That said, Pinkner adds, ”the season is a love letter to the show and fans, but new viewers can follow too.” (Sept. 23)
9-10 p.m., The CW
Where we left off: Sam’s (Jared Padalecki) memories of hell returned, and angel Castiel (Misha Collins) declared himself the new God, which means the Winchester brothers have found themselves with a friend-turned-Almighty foe.
Freaky factor: Sam and Dean (Jensen Ackles) will continue to fight monsters aplenty in this new season, but their biggest challenge will be going up against Castiel, who is ”unlike anything they have ever faced,” according to exec producer Sera Gamble. ”There’s a real feeling of helplessness.” The brothers’ efforts are further hindered by a lack of funds and resources, and by Sam, who will be dealing with the weight of his recently restored memory. Says Padalecki, ”He has such self-doubt that it’s crippling.”
On the time-slot battle: ”I haven’t given it too much thought,” says Gamble. ”Luckily we live in an age where you can watch us and TiVo the other ones.” Padalecki, who admits to being a Fringe viewer, is similarly unconcerned because Supernatural fans are a passionate bunch: ”I guess you can say, Bring it.” (Sept. 23)
9-10 p.m., NBC
What it’s about: Hansel did it! Grimm is a fairy-tale police procedural from writer-producers David Greenwalt (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Jim Kouf (Angel) about a detective (David Giuntoli) who discovers he’s descended from a line of hunters known as Grimms who can see past the disguises of creatures of the supernatural and fairy-tale variety. Along with his partner (Russell Hornsby), he investigates cases of legendary stories coming to life.
Freaky factor: The detectives track down mythical villains camouflaged as ordinary criminals. Think along the lines of the Big Bad Wolf as a killer who preys on girls in red (riding) hoodies and you get the idea.
On the time-slot battle: ”I consider it a really lucky spot for a couple reasons,” Greenwalt says. ”The X-Files was there for years. We follow Chuck, which is a great companion piece. And we don’t have to have 40 million people watch us. It’s a great place to launch the show.” (Oct. 21)