As far back as the ‘60s, TV fans have complained about the Friday Night Death Slot, when it was blamed, in part, by many for the cancellation of Star Trek. Friday evening timeslots have notoriously high turnover rates and most TV people can name a few shows off the top of their head that have been canceled after premiering on or being moved to Friday nights. This self-perpetuating phenomenon (many will avoid FNDS series until they get renewed, fearing investing in these series only to find them canceled), however, is based on a series of fallacies- most notably that networks want their series to fail and that failure is inevitable.
The lowered expectations for Fridays can make it a dumping ground for series that haven’t worked on other nights. Shows that network execs may like but can’t justify keeping in more valuable timeslots may get pushed over to Fridays to see if they can find an audience there or even just to keep them from being pulled completely. Inversely, shows that seem strong may get put on Fridays so the network can try to gain some traction on that night. If enough fans follow the series over, that can give the network a win on a night they’d given up on (Fridays) as well as opening up the more valuable timeslot for launching a new show.
Friday’s reputation as a show-killer wasn’t always the case and, notably, isn’t the case overseas. In the UK, for example, some of the biggest hits air on Fridays, and in the past, certain networks have found great success by counter-programming the night. ABC has a long tradition of sitcom success on Fridays and all but monopolized the night in the ‘90s with their TGIF lineup aimed at teens, tweens, and families. CBS traditionally fares much better than the other networks on Fridays as well, perhaps due to its older-skewing demographic and programming, and The X-Files built its audience on Fridays before moving to Sundays in its fourth season.
All of this may paint Fridays as a terrible night for television or, at the very least, an unlucky one, but series don’t get canceled due to timeslots, they get canceled due to ratings. Series that premiere on Fridays are often those targeted at niche audiences to begin with and if they don’t connect, they quickly cease to make financial sense. Also, series that get moved to Fridays are there for a reason. It is very rare for a successful, popular series to be put on Friday to begin with and even less common for such a series to be canceled after this move. The aforementioned current Friday night genre trio of Fringe, Grimm, and Supernatural are a perfect example- Grimm has already been renewed for next season, the odds look strong for Supernatural, which has been on Fridays for the past two seasons, and Fringe, which also got picked up for this current season after its move to Fridays, has ratings so low that the show would likely have been pulled if it aired on a different night.
Are there some exceptions to the rule, series that networks mistreated and that with more support could have been hits, or at least found an audience and lasted longer? Of course (Firefly comes immediately to mind). In general though, a mid-season move or a series renewal and move to Friday means fans are getting more episodes of the series they like than they probably would otherwise. When looking bigger picture, not only do networks renew Friday night shows with much lower ratings than shows from other nights of the week, but they also tend to wait longer before pulling them. Friday used to be a destination night for television and still is, to at least a genre-loving subset of the population. It’s time we stopped ghettoizing Friday TV and gave it the attention it deserves.