Now that “Dollhouse” is, for all intents and purposes, done, series creator Joss Whedon is sitting down and looking at what worked and what didn’t and why for the two-season series.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune‘s Maureen Ryan, Whedon says that part of the reason the show never ignited out of the gate wasn’t because of the debate over standalone episodes over the mythology driven ones, but instead a reluctance by Fox to embrace the concept of what he wanted “Dollhouse” to be.
“The problems that the show encountered weren’t standalone versus mythology [episodes],” Whedon said. “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.”
“When you’re dealing with fantasies, particularly sexual ones, you’re going off the reservation,” Whedon said. “You’re not going to be doing things that are perfectly correct. It’s supposed to be about the sides of us that we don’t want people to see…. The idea of sexuality was a big part of the show when it started and when that fell out, when the show turned into a thriller every week, it took something out of it that was kind of basic to what we were trying to do.”
“We got the espionage that the network wants, but it’s the questions about identity that we want,” he noted. “There are other things about the show that never came back, and I didn’t really realize it until the second season — [there were] things that we were ultimately sort of dancing around…. We always found ourselves sort of moving away from what had been part of the original spark of the show and that ultimately just makes it really hard to write these stories.”
Ryan says she was surprised that Fox wanted less of the sexual element in the show rather than more, given that Fox has a certain reputation for producing and airing racier programming.
Whedon disagreed. “Fox sort of has that reputation for ‘sexy’ or ‘edgy’ or blah blah blah, but they don’t actually want that and it frustrates me,” he continued. “It’s the classic American double standard: torture — great. Sex — oh, that’s so bad!”
“People responded to [‘Dollhouse’ by saying], ‘This is trafficking. This is sex for money.’ It wasn’t just sex,” Whedon said. Part of the problem was “the other implications of what was originally supposed to be somewhat more of a fantasy. The real-world version of [this kind of activity] was I think what made the network really twitchy and I can’t really fault them for that. I just thought when I went in and pitched it …you know, it frightened me too [but I thought] we all got that that was what we were doing.”
However, despite all of this, Whedon says he’s happy with what he’s been able to do for the past two years on the show.
“Ultimately, I think we got to touch on the important subjects. The structure and the tone of the show changed, but the basic premise was there and the cast and the writers and everybody did phenomenal work” he said. “We did manage to keep the questions about who we are and the interpersonal stuff and [there was] the amazing ensemble and everybody shining and doing cool stuff.”
And if you think that we may get more “Dollhouse” in the future in terms of comic books or other ventures like other previous Whedon projects, you may be disappointed. For now, Whedon says that when “Dollhouse” airs its final episode in January, that will close the book on the show.
“I’m going to finish this. What’s interesting about it is there,” Whedon said. “I don’t feel like there is some unfulfilled thing that would be well served by [continuing the story]. If I make a Web series it’s not going to be owned by Fox. Let’s be very clear on that one. Or [owned by any studio or network] — that’s not a dis on Fox.”
And when asked if he might pursue a series on cable, where he might have greater freedom, Whedon wasn’t certain this avenue would necessarily work either.
“The restrictions [in cable] are fewer, but the process of developing it with a studio and a network, even a cable network is still rough. It takes an enormous amount of time to run a show and to get it off the ground takes just a huge amount of steel. I’m interested in it,” he said. “But for me, the Internet is slightly more interesting right now just because I feel like we have to get in there and start figuring out how to create entertainment without the networks and the studios, because they’re basically trying to figure out how to create and entertain without us.”
He noted that residual payments for “Dollhouse” were “pennies, because they’re not re-running it, they’re just putting it on Hulu.”
“That whole system is crumbling and with the advent of the new technology, crews are going to get smaller and when things move to the Internet, there is no format where people make the kind of money they’ve made in television,” he said. “The artistic community is more and more left out of the equation, so the trick is going to be finding out how to make the Internet work in such a way that people [can get by] because it’s not going to pay TV money. It’s not.”
As for his next project, Whedon says it’s time to start work on the sequel to “Dr. Horrible.”