By Jeff Jensen
Updated April 15, 2011 at 10:59 PM EDT
Liane Hentscher/FOX

At least one of Fringe’s nerve-wracking, season-long mysteries has been resolved. SPOILER ALERT! Fox’s ratings-challenged Friday-night sci-fi saga has been renewed for a full, fourth season. The big question: What — and who — will be left standing after the sure-to-be cataclysmic season 3 finale? The show begins answering that question tonight with the first of its final four episodes of the season, a trippy affair that returns Leonard Nimoy to the story, and in a most shall we say animated fashion. “The story finds William Bell’s consciousness still inside Olivia’s body – and causing some major complications,” exec producer Jeff Pinkner tells EW. “Beginning with tonight’s episode, we’re really accelerating the storytelling as we drive toward our season finale, which, as we usually do, will flip things in such a way that opens a door and offers a peek at what next season’s storytelling will be.” (For more intel of what’s forthcoming on Fringe, Sandra Gonzalez has scoop for you here and here.)

But back to the drama of Fringe’s renewal, which according to Pinkner and his partner-in-showrunning J.H. Wyman wasn’t that dramatic at all. “It was exciting, but also a little bit anti-climactic,” says Pinkner. “I think the fan community felt [Fringe] was more on the bubble than we ever felt.” Never mind the handwringing of fans and cast: Even with the move to Fox’s infamous Friday night “death slot,” the former home of quickly-cancelled sci-fi series Firefly and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and even with viewership that has fluctuated around the 5 million mark for much of the year (not counting DVR numbers), Pinkner and Wyman say they received nothing but positive, encouraging feedback from Fox and the show’s producer, Warner Bros. Television. “What was coming back to us all season was that everyone was loving the show creatively and that everyone was content with the number,” he says. Wyman praises Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly in particular for being “a huge supporter of the show and deeply invested in the programming that Jeff and I are producing.” (That said, Wyman adds that Team Fringe is deeply grateful to all the fans who showed their support for the series by mailing buckets of Red Vines – one of sweets-loving Walter’s fave food stuffs — to Fox HQ.)

The producers say there were no caveats to the show’s full-season, 22-episode pick-up. “There were no creative conditions,” says Pinkner. They also add that they were not asked to produce the show at a reduced budget, either. Will the show remain on Friday night? “We have had no information that it’s staying or moving,” says Pinkner. “The implied presumption is that it’s staying. If it changes, we won’t know for quite awhile.”

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