Opinion: On Whedon’s defence of Dollhouse

Blames network in surprising turnaround.

dollhouse-castJoss Whedon has implied that Dollhouse’s failure was the result of network interference, rather than creative issues.

“The problems that the show encountered weren’t standalone versus mythology [episodes],” said Whedon, to Chicago Tribune columnist Maureen Ryan. “Basically, the show didn’t really get off the ground because the network pretty much wanted to back away from the concept five minutes after they bought it. And then ultimately, the show itself is also kind of odd and difficult to market. I actually think they did a good job, but it’s just not a slam-dunk concept.”

Whedon has a point. The first episode, ‘Ghost’, was labelled as too dark and too dense for a new audience to appreciate by network executives. The criticisms finally resulted with the pilot being reshot, and elements of its footage being reused in later episodes. A break in production interrupted the shooting of the first season, ostensibly for creative reasons, and many thought that the show’s number was up.

Dollhouse was eventually cancelled last month following a consistent decline in ratings. The show, which enjoyed a shock renewal this season  in favour of Fox’s other audience-labouring series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, is currently being aired in the US through a series of block-broadcasts, with several episodes being debuted in a short space of time before Christmas.

Perhaps the most confusing part about this thinly veiled attack on the network, apart from its inconsistency (“the network pretty much wanted to back away from the concept five minutes after they bought it” versus “I actually think they did a good job”), is the fact that Whedon has previously stood up to defend Fox against criticism where Dollhouse is concerned.

“Obviously, there has to be a number we reach that is viable for them economically, or it would be senseless for them, unless they were insane fans like me,” said Whedon in a group interview reported by Sci-Fi Wire. “But they get it. They get the show, and they get what works. So they’re anxious for it to stay at a level where they can justify throwing down some more. Hopefully that’ll happen.” In the same interview, Whedon also said that he, “Began to think that we were dead in the water, and the people at Fox made a point of calling me to say, ‘That’s not the case. We’re still working it out. We’re fans. We want this to work.'”

This turnaround in opinion is confusing to those of us who follow Whedon’s work. His fallout with Fox over Firefly was highly publicised, and the fact that he returned to the network for production on Dollhouse was a bitter pill to swallow for the ardent enthusiasts who had fought not only for the renewal of the previous show, but also who convinced many of their friends, family and colleagues to purchase DVD sets. Said action was a direct and valuable contributor to the decision to finance Serenity, the theatrical release that closed the series.

That he is now reverting to his previous position of criticising the network, after spending the best part of a year defending it, seems to defy all logical reason.