Whedon Reveals Why Dollhouse Failed

Published 5 years ago by , Updated August 1st, 2013 at 3:53 pm,

With the return of Dollhouse only hours away, fans are going in with the knowledge that whatever happens in these final episodes will be it – Dollhouse has been canceled. Sadly, fans are becoming more accustomed with their favorite shows being canceled without warning and without explanation why. Ratings are always an issue, but there’s more. Unfortunately, such information is rarely revealed — until now, that is.

With the typical Whedon openness, Joss steps up and lays it all out on the table about why Dollhouse failed. While most fans are aware that much of the blame for the show’s failure falls upon FOX, Whedon wastes no time throwing himself into the “blame-pit.” (Made that word up myself, blame-pit is like a BBQ-pit, but with less smoke and more frowns)

Whedon on FOX’s response to Dollhouse as a show:

“The problems that the show encountered weren’t standalone versus mythology [episodes].  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.”

On Dollhouse losing its focus:

“We got the espionage that the network wants, but it’s the questions about identity that we want. 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.”

On audience reception of Dollhouse.

“People responded to [‘Dollhouse’ by saying], ‘This is trafficking. This is sex for money.’ It wasn’t just sex.  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.”

It’s really hard to fault FOX completely for Dollhouse. Sure, there are many things they could have done to help promote it, but even though I consistently tuned in, I knew that the show was running below its potential. There were aspects of the show that were lacking, but I was hoping that somehow it would slip through the cracks and get renewed. Although, The Sarah Connor Chronicles should have taught me that even if a show gets really good, it’s not always enough.

dollhouse patton Whedon Reveals Why Dollhouse Failed

I didn’t actually become a real fan of Dollhouse until the sixth episode where Patton Oswalt guest-starred and the entire Dollhouse universe was turned on its head. That amazing episode aside, I can’t really count more than a handful of episodes that I would consider memorable and that’s counting the unaired (and amazing) Epitaph One.

Still, we’ve got more episodes to air and Whedon promises that they get really good. Considering that he said the same thing about the Patton Oswalt episode, I have no doubt that he’s correct.

Unfortunately, if he is, it will only make the January 22 series finale that much harder to accept. Although, the series finale episode is titled “Epitaph Two,” so hopefully things will end with a bang!

Check out a preview of tonight’s episode below

What do you think of what Joss had to say? Are you looking forward to tonight’s episode?

Don’t forget to catch a double-dose of Dollhouse Fridays at 8PM on FOX

Source: Chicago Tribune [via: Sci Fi Wire]

TAGS: Dollhouse
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  1. Darthrosenberg9 says: ” masterpieces in their own right–Dollhouse included.”

    In what way? Can you compare “Dollhouse” to “The Last Question,” or “This Is Reality,” or even “Hopscotch?”

  2. Darth while Buffy season one wasn’t all that great Angel season one was excellent. In fact it was probably the second best season of the show. Dollhouse was just a bad idea to begin with. It’s not interesting it was a poor plot, weak concept and not even that original of an idea. Not to mention the main cast was some pretty poor choices basically pretty faces with out talent aside from Eliza.

    However I agree with you that Joss doesn’t just abandon his projects. He didn’t abandon Buffy he was right there working on season 6 and 7 hell he wrote the best episodes of season 6. He never abandoned Firefly or Angel either. I also agree that season 6 was great I think it was probably the second best season. However season 7 was kind of crappy.

  3. Season 4 of buffy was excellent much better than Season 1 or season 7. If I had to rank Buffy it would be 5, 6 , 4, 3,2 , 7 and then 1. As far as Angel goes season one was excellent. They took a differenet approach and tried to make it more episodic which they actually went back to again in season 5 to a certain extent. Also some of the series best episodes are from season one Hero for example or I will remember you (Could be wrong on the title) .

    I actually forgot about Amy Acker who is amazing she is better than Eliza. I don’t think Eliza is amazing but she is decent and I find most of the actors in Dollhouse to be pretty bad. They were cast for their model like looks. The original posters and images for the show looked like a model catalog with the exception of trashy rocker Eliza.

  4. You can please some of the people some of the time….

    Darthrosenberg9 says: “I don’t think it’s fair to say that something is bad simply because there’s something better out there”

    Well if you don’t mind the mediocrity, but I bet
    you don’t use the same yardstick when looking for
    a car, appliance, or a house? “A lot of potential”
    just doesn’t equal masterpiece. It’s like buying a
    cloned appliance that’s made with inferior parts.

    All the novels I mentioned have similar plot
    device/themes as “Dollhouse.” The irony here is that the clone actually becomes more popular than the original, which is a tragedy! The consumers don’t care enough to learn about the specific differences between the real masterpiece and the clone. They consume them both with equal aplomb,
    making no distinction by being choosy. The best sinks into the ocean of trash, the stigma of science fiction links them irrevocably to that sea. What stigma you ask? The stigma that it aspires to be something better, despite being born
    in a whorehouse.

  5. Everyone has his or her own opinions about this show and what level of quality it attains, but one thing I have to disagree with whole-heartedly is the assumption that just because the actors are pretty in the cast photo automatically means they have zero talent. If that’s what you have to say about these actors, then you obviously have not been watching this season of Dollhouse. Olivia Williams as Adelle is magnificent; Dichen Lachman as Sierra has been lovely and intense; Fran Kranz as Topher has really stepped up now that they’ve given his character a conscience to struggle with; and Enver Gjokaj as Victor… well, there’s not enough to express just how fantastic he’s been. Among his many doll personas, he’s expertly played a Russian mob guy, a verrrrry creepy serial killer, a ditzy female college student, and a doll version of Topher the programmer. Seriously, if I had closed my eyes, I’m not sure I would have been able to tell which one was the real Topher, Enver was that convincing with voice and mannerisms. Unbelievably excellent.

    Television Without Pity just named him one of 2009’s Most Valuable Players (those that aren’t in the lead roles but manage to stand out and enhance the quality of their programs):

    “It’s hard to believe that every single episode of Dollhouse (aside from a few stragglers at the end) aired in 2009, but it makes it easy to say why we think Gjokaj is the MVP. While Eliza Dushku and Dichen Lachman get to play both tough and timid as dolls Echo and Sierra, it’s Gjokaj’s Victor who gets the funniest (and often meatiest) programming. Hell, we didn’t even know he was a doll at first — he was just some Russian informant! — but then we saw him get his treatment, and our minds were blown. And thank God he was a doll, because while his federal agent and British romantic characters are good, it was when they put that serial killer’s mind in his body that his skills really shone, and he topped himself later in that same episode by playing a ditzy female college student who just wants to dance. The best of all, though, was when nerdy Topher had to go to D.C., and left his best man in charge in L.A. — Victor with Topher’s brain. Gjokaj’s Topher impersonation was spot-on and hysterical, and their phone conversations were amazing and eerie.”

    Damn straight.

    If you haven’t seen Enver play these roles, you haven’t seen the best of Dollhouse. And while that may seem easily skippable, I’m telling you right now, he deserves to be seen. He’s that good. I hope he gets something really interesting and challenging to play after this series is complete.

  6. Umm I never based my acting opinion of them off of the photo I have actually seen the show. I just mentioned that the photo just looks like a model layout. I based calling them bad to mediocre off of how they act on the show.

  7. “Not to mention the main cast was some pretty poor choices basically pretty faces with out talent aside from Eliza.”

    Apologies, Daniel F. I read the above statement by you, and I thought you were basing their talent (or lack of it) on their looks.

    However, I still disagree with you. You seem to be talking in blanket statements instead of backing up your comments with actual examples. Are you still watching the program? Have you seen any of their work in the unaired episode “Epitaph One” or in any of the episodes from season two?

    Olivia, Enver, Dichen, Fran… they’re all in that cast photo, and yes, they’re attractive people, but from my view they’ve brought talent to the table along with their looks. More and more with each episode, in my opinion. I’ve also enjoyed Harry Lennix’s role (Boyd), though I think the writers haven’t given him enough to do. He started out strong in the pilot and then they completely backed off from his character. It’s a shame. It’s tough to show range when you aren’t given the story.

    The only ‘pretty’ actors that I think have struggled with the material have been Eliza and Tahmoh. I loved Eliza as Faith, on both Buffy and Angel shows, but I think she has had trouble assimilating some of the characters they’ve given her to play on Dollhouse. If you stack up her acting against Enver’s — and I’m making that comparison because I think they’ve both played quite a few different characters as Actives taking on assignments — I think you’ll see how much more versatile he is, how deeply he gets into the characters he’s given on the show (the serial killer, the ditzy college girl, Topher). I think Eliza has had some great moments (the bank vault episode, Epitaph One, last week’s episodes), but in an overall sense she’s not been able to immerse herself into every single character (every ‘Active’ assignment), not so that I don’t see her acting, if you know what I mean. It’s unfortunate, because she was extraordinarily exciting as Faith. But sometimes I think she has trouble when *not* playing a troubled, bad-ass chick.

    And Tahmoh… I’ve never seen him in anything else so it’s tough for me to judge what he can or can’t do, but I don’t think they’ve utilized him well. The role of Ballard is more than a bit boring to me; he’s my least favorite character, partially because of how the role is written and partially because of how the role is played. Personally, I think the role needed to be played by someone more intense, or they needed to write it differently. The one thing I do think Tahmoh seems to excel at is dry-witted humor; he’s been surprisingly very funny at odd times, when his character gets in a particularly sarcastic line. I don’t think they use that enough. I like his comic timing but for the rest of his portrayal I haven’t seen much depth.

    At any rate, I think this show’s writing and presentation has its issues, but if you’re judging the cast’s acting on the early episodes of season 1, I think you’re writing them off before you’ve actually seen some of them do some terrific work.

  8. Backing up my statements? I can’t think of a thing more subjective than acting. If you don’t see it it won’t matter what I say and all I can give of as an example is that I watched them try to act and thought it was poor. I didn’t think they properly conveyed their emotions and they felt dull, boring and nearly robotic when they were suppose to be more. Also your asking if I’m still currently watching a show that I have explained I couldn’t stand. How many people watch 2 season of a show they think is horrible? I watched about 9 episodes 8 from the first season and one from this season to see if it had gotten better… I hadn’t. The concept is just border line idiotic in the first place and the writers have not done a good job of bringing it to it’s full potential of idiotic and made it even worse than it could be.

  9. Fair enough.

    The only reason I brought up asking if you’re still watching is because I do happen to think most of the actors have been terrific this season, so if you haven’t seen that because you’re no longer watching the program, then you don’t have all the data to fully judge anymore. The episodes you’ve seen, absolutely, if you think they’re not good in those episodes, I can’t argue with that. I can disagree with you, but like you said, it’s subjective, so… we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    But if you’re basing their talent on the only episodes you’ve seen, when there is now strong evidence to the contrary, all I’m saying is, you might be pleasantly surprised with the acting. I’m not saying the show itself isn’t without its major flaws and likely what you find problematic with the program is still there, no matter what; I’m just saying that in regard to the acting, I think there has been a vast improvement and you’re missing out on that particular aspect.

    As for the concept… all I can say to that is, I don’t disagree that this show could have done better with a stronger, more cohesive structure right off the bat. It definitely didn’t reach its full potential, but I do think it had the potential to be very interesting — it wasn’t a dumb or boring idea (and some episodes have managed to touch on that thought-provoking potential). However, I am curious: if you found the concept idiotic in the first place, why did you watch the show at all?

  10. I’m a big Wheadon fan and I wanted to see what he could do with. I’ll give anything with his name on it a chance.

  11. In watching the most recent episodes I finally got something I had been looking for through the whole series.

    A main character to root for.

    Being a bit of a writer and a student of various means and methods for telling a story myself…I’ve had those ideas for stories that go like Dollhouse. “Hey what about a main character who changes with every episode. No. She’s not pretending to be someone else. She is someone else.”

    In theory it sounds great. It’s only when you see it played out that you realize the fundamental flaw. The viewer needs someone to identify with. They need a surrogate for themselves. It might seem like a main character who is just a blank canvas to map the architecture on would serve that end ideally but the viewer doesn’t want to have their sense of self wiped away to become someone else. They want to be themselves in that other life.

    Now we have Echo. A self aware Echo with her own wants and plans and whatnot. Now see…there is something to be said for showing Echo as the blank slate first. Establishing her as just one of many dolls before having her break out of the pack. But, I think it took too long. We needed some earlier clues of her spark of individuality and it needed to move more quickly.

    All that being said…with Echo having emerged now, I see lots of new potential in the show. It would really rock to see Dollhouse get the “Serenity” treatment at this point.

  12. I think it is a real shame that a show that is just hitting full stride, with such great potential as Dollhouse is being cancelled. This is currently the most interesting show on TV and one that should be brought back by all means. I have to say that unfortunately the execs at Fox are being short sided and missing the boat on this one. I admit the beginning premise seemed too diabolical to me and caused me some hesitation with the show; but the production values, and acting brought me back. Since then the show for the most part has a steadly gained momentum. I ask Fox to reconsider their decision. I think it is definitely a mistake to yank this one.

  13. i would personally love to eviscerate every single one of you for saying that this series was crap. it was brilliant, just ambitious. joss has a quirky and outlandish take on the world and not many people can sit well with it. it was not a show for the masses. it was a show for people with specific tastes. he should start taking his shows to cable networks where it will be better appreciated.

    • i totally agree!!!!!!

  14. i would personally love to eviscerate every single one of you for saying that this series was crap. it was brilliant, just ambitious. joss has a quirky and outlandish take on the world and not many people can sit well with it. it was not a show for the masses. it was a show for people with specific tastes. he should start taking his shows to cable networks where it will be better appreciated.

  15. i just finished dollhouse on netflix and i am 13 years old omg one of the best tv shows those two seasons were amazing i cant believe that it got canceled and as the biggest buffy the vampire slayer fan in the world (yes i am reading the comic books) i could not believe this was posable it can be it just maid me love joss whedon even more and it makes me so sad that i was really born in the wrong generation love every thing from the 90s (i know that dollhouse is not from the 90s but you dont expect a 9-10 year old to be watching dollhouse) i hate how much i love dollhouse because it gives me nothing in common with my generation of friends today i wish there was someone i could express how amazing btvs, dollhouse, angel and etc… is i dont even know older ppl that like it or actually remember it like i do i feel like these shows are a part of who i am i hope it will stay that way but then again i am young so i hope someone reads this and writes back asap!

  16. that show made me sick to my stomach, I’d rather be dead than to lose myself & my freewill, screw that show, gross

    • Angela, comments like yours in regards to this show always make me sad, because they indicate to me that the person saying it – like so many people – did not realize that that was half the POINT of the show.
      This is indicated by a lot of things, from the viral posters with lines like “you can wipe away a memory, but can you wipe away a soul?”, the references to human beings as “dolls”, inclusion of creepy doll lines like “Did I fall asleep?” (they always say this after a mind wipe, as in, they don’t recall anything they just finished experiencing). Plus, one of the guys “interviewed” in-universe by an LA tv station about the “urban legend” of the Dollhouse, EXPLICITLY says that if you could actually rewrite people like that, that it would be end of freewill, the end of human rights, and the end of humanity – the end of us, period. That there is no way for such power to not be abused. This happens in the first half of season one, the episode “Man On the Street”.
      They were about as obvious about it as they could be without beating the viewer over the head with it: that while the idea of a custom made person for your deepest desires or most pressing needs is a huge temptation even for a lot of people who want to be good and moral, nonetheless the very idea of rewriting people is horrifying, creepy, and problematic for the very fact that there is no way for it not to be abused, no way to avoid exploitation and no way to do it without undermining the very humanity of the rewritten person.

      In other words, many people were outraged or offended or creeped out by the very things they were SUPPOSED to be finding horrifying…and then listed that as a “flaw” in the show. But it isn’t!

      One of the best genre descriptors I can think of for this series is “cyberpunk drama/psychological horror”. You are of course free to not ENJOY a horror piece, but it’s silly to claim that a series intended to have psychological horror elements…is bad BECAUSE you find it horrifying exactly as intended! That is like complaining about a romance being romantic or a murder mystery for featuring death; it may not be something you like or want to watch, but it is succeeding at what it is supposed to do.

      Viewed as horror, the creepy elements are quite satisfying for the slow burn and short run. Some of them are even better explored in the sequel comic

  17. It was a hard show for mass viewers to process on a mainstream newtork. I think it also started off to slow, and by the time of the switch up in focus, had loss quite a few viewers at the turn in the road. Plus, it’s hard to imprint on a doll being so blank themselves, that by the time strong self character came about, you were down toa core audience. No the show didn’t need more sex or violence, it was fine as was, it just seemed like it took a little long to become what it become. I’m glad it got a conclusion, but like a few shows that got a chance to end the story, I felt it was rushed and left out a world of change I would have liked to have seen.