Is Dollhouse going to go down in history as the most troubled show ever to make it to air? The LA Times is reporting that production of the show is about to be delayed again because of concerns over the quality of the script - and this is after the show's second longterm pause to retool. Is the Friday 8pm timeslot a bad omen after all - and, as much as we don't want to say this, could Fox be doing the right thing?The LA Times says that production on the show's seventh episode is to be delayed for "at least a day" because the script is "in such bad shape," according to the paper's anonymous outsider (Charlie posted a summary of pages from the episode yesterday, and... I can kind of see why Fox would be worried, to be honest). Similar problems afflicted the shooting of the sixth episode, according to the same source, causing more production delays "that left the cast and crew very frustrated." The problem seems to come from Fox's concern over the show's tone, and creator Joss Whedon's attempts to give them what they want - Something that, Whedon has admitted, caused a major crisis in confidence for everyone involved on the show. But as recently as two weeks ago, Whedon was optimistic that everything was back on the right track, and Fox co-chair Dana Walden was describing the problems as simply "creative retooling". But with this latest production hiatus - it's third since production started last year - and the announcement of a timeslot for the show that Time Magazine's TV critic James Poniewozik calls "the place networks send shows to die," it's time to start facing the very likely possibility that Dollhouse may even break Firefly's record for early death.
And now, here's the part where I ask the question that will get small objects thrown at me: What if Fox is right? What if Dollhouse, in all its various incarnations, has just proven to not work? Yes, it has a great creative team and an interesting concept... but that doesn't necessarily translate into a successful finished product, and reading things like this confusing recap of the show's second episode make that a more likely possibility than we'd like to admit. (As recapped - and it's hardly the easiest to read recap, I'll be the first to admit - the episode offers a lot of what you'd think that Fox would want to see - Eliza Dushku in the shower! Explosions! Dryhumping! - in amongst the creepier mindwiping and programmable personalities that Whedon has discussed at length, but what's missing is any idea that the show is actually about something. As opposed to Whedon's other shows, where the episodes seemed to have a point even if you weren't paying attention to the uberarc, this Dollhouse ep, "Gray Hour," just seems to be a collection of things happening without any real purpose. It doesn't just feel pointless, it feels somewhat soulless - which may, in itself, be a point in a show about the fluidity of personality and dehumanization, but nonetheless doesn't do anything to make me care about what happens, or any of the people it happens to.) It's easy to make Fox out to be the bad guy in this scenario, the cruel corporation asking for changes to the artist's great work being one of the easiest and most compelling myths to fall for. But consider what little we know about Dollhouse's reshoots and hiatuses so far (with the possible exception of this latest one): They're all Whedon's doing.The second pilot?:
Well, the idea to do a new first episode wasn’t the network’s. It was mine. I understood their consternation, and saw the gap between my style and their expectations, and I suggested I shoot a new ep and make the one I’d shot the second. It isn’t going to be buried, like the pilot of Firefly. It’s simply coming after another, slightly cleaner ep.
The original pilot was in fact thrown out. Again, at my behest. Once it became clear what paradigm the Network was shooting for, it just didn't fit at all, even after I'd reshot more than half of it (see above re: despair). To get a sense of how completely turned around I was during this process, you should know there was a scene with Eliza and the astonishing Ashley Johnson that I wrote and shot completely differently three different times, with different characters in different places (actually I wrote it closer to eight times), and none of it will ever see air.
Similarly, Whedon has gone out of his way to defend Fox throughout these changes:
They're not wrong. Oh, we don't see eye-to-eye on everything, but wanting the first episodes to be exciting and accessible is not exactly Satanic. Being Satan is, but that's in their free time and hey, there's no judging in the Dollhouse. This kind of back and forth has happened on every show I've done, so if you liked those, chances are that was a part of why. And the need to focus on the essentials of what makes this universe tick - and which wire to cut to make it stop - really does bring up our game. So we as a staff have gone from blinking like unhoused moles to delving in with the same relish we had when we started.
(He's also said "We both know from years of experience that I’m a crap soldier, though I am an accomplished fan-dancer. No, this is a very cold look at what’s going on, and it’s not an Us vs Them," lest you think that's just playing the role of the good soldier.) Taking Fox's obvious anti-Whedon agenda out've the equation for now, what seems to be left is a show that is having trouble finding its feet and coming together; yes, the network have asked for it to be more accessible, but that isn't the same thing as shooting a new pilot and later junking the original after telling people that that's not going to happen. The real problem with the show, I think, isn't Fox; it's Joss Whedon not being able to make the show that he imagines in his head, and getting so frustrated by that that he'd rather throw what he's done away and start again. In one way, this is admirable - I'd rather have an overly ambitious show than CSI: Mindwipe, after all - but it's also worrying. What if Whedon isn't able to bring the show together in the short amount of time he has (Remember, the show was only given a seven episode order by Fox)? Are we going to be left with the SF equivalent of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, and if we are, the question is worth asking: Is a flawed, unsuccessful (but probably interesting, let's face it) show that pleases no-one involved with its creation better than no show at all? And so, I ask again: What if Fox is doing the right thing by quietly trying to kill Dollhouse?