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. I tried to watch this show when it first came on it and I could not get into it. I personally thought the show was ridiculous and uninteresting. I enjoyed Terminator: The Sarah COnnor Chronicles much more. Whedon should just tell the truth: the show wasn’t very good.

  2. do you think “sucking” had something to do with it?

  3. It failed because it was a rubbish show with no likeable characters and zero interesting plotlines. Whedon has proved himself to be the hack everyone always knew her really was!

  4. It was the network’s fault. Of course. How many of his shows have to get canceled before he wises up and stops pitching his ideas to that same network? I saw a few episodes of Dollhouse and wasn’t blown away. Of course, I also think Eliza Dushku isn’t enough of an actress to carry her own series. I do think Whedon and his creative team are very talented people, but I don’t buy into the worship so many of his fans commit themselves to.

  5. The show only lasted this long due to the strength of Firefly! Fox realized they made a mistake in canceling the crew of Serenity. So not wanting a repeat of that disaster they renewed Dollhouse on faith alone. Faith that didn’t pan out. Dollhouse just wasn’t very good. Firefly, Buffy and Angel — stole your heart from episode 1. This thing has been on for over a season now and has yet to make an indelible impression. Joss is still the man. But he’s not infallible. I hope he wrap all the storylines up and move on to something better.

  6. Wheadon is massivly talented, but Dollhouse was a major mistep. I mean the show wasn’t screwed up by fox it was just simply bad. It didn’t even really have potential it was just bad… Buffy, Angel, Firefly and even Dr. Horrible were all great , but Dollhouse didn’t live up to what Wheadon was capable of. The show was not only poorly constructed and delivered, but it was a terrible concept all together.

  7. More salt in the wounds, the actors hired just didn’t have the talent to work raise a mediocre product. Sure the idea is great but bringing off the minds eyes to the screen is another matter. Harry Lenox (Boyd) and Oliva Williams (DeWitt) were the only actors able to carry the weight. Since they were not the main characters this show was doomed from the start. Dushka and Penikett are one note actors from what I’ve seen of them. Penikett looked good on BSG but they played to his note and surrounded him with talent. I’m a fan of Sci-Fi and bit I can’t say I’m surprised this show got the axe

  8. I never even caught an episode, always something else going on. The tech looked a little like “Caprica” and the story reminded a little of “Ubik.” Anyone care to compare this to “Ubik?”

  9. I love BUFFY,ANGEL,and FIREFLY. I think if Joss stuck to vampires and cowboys in space by creating more spinoffs from these original ideas, everyone might be happier!

  10. At the risk of sounding cynical, Gottarhyme — I agree with you. Vampires, cowboys and space dramas are concepts already in-grained in the public consciousness. They make for a much easier sell than something largely created from whole cloth. As an artist, though, Joss didn’t want to repeat himself. The objective is to growth via new challenges. And he certainly picked a doozey with Dollhouse. Artistically, we all appreciate what Joss was trying to do. But ultimately, it’s about the bottom line. I know Fox jacked around with the series. But I think the network is only partially to blame. What Joss excels at is taking the common and putting an original spin on it. Not the other way around. I hope he returns to that. BTW, I understand last night episodes were pretty good…I’ll try to catch them..

  11. I wonder if Summer Glau will ever play someone who isn’t… you know, a little crazy. I mean she does it well, but I’d really like to see her just play, hmm, I don’t want to use the word normal, but, well, a normal girl.

    I don’t really count when she played herself on Big Bang Theory, there she seemed mostly bewildered.

  12. Bring back Firefly. I didn’t watch the show when it was on television but I saw “serenity” then decided to check out the DVD’s of Firefly and now I love it. I wish it had a chance to come back or had never been canceled, much like other shows I loved but were canceled like “Undeclared”, “Freaks and Geeks” and “The War at Home”.

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

    Frankly, that was my initial take. Maybe if they didn’t want that to be the apparent focus, they shouldn’t have opened up the series with the characters looking like the company’s primary function was to operate as a super-high-priced escort service.


  14. Not only that Vic but all the actors looked like models not actors.

  15. From my view, the focus of the show *should* be about trafficking, and sex, and the concept of fantasy (and where lines can or should be drawn), and about identity and technology and the complexities of mind versus soul. All of that. It’s a bold concept, a highly complicated and fascinating one; sadly, it just wasn’t executed to the fullest of its potential.

    The problem is, the network got scared of offending people (and advertisers) with the sex/prostitution part of it, *and* Joss and his team caved and backed off and gave the network a softened version instead of going for it and really examining the issues and questions involved. They started to delve, finally, with Epitaph One and especially with the Sierra-focused episode (which was chilling and terrific), and they found some excellent focus regarding the identity question with the two episodes that aired last night, but this show really needed to hit the questions hard right off the bat. The glamorization of the Dolls (especially what they did with Echo in the first few episodes of season 1), apparently via the network’s suggestions, only served to make the show veer off-track (and offend me because — especially with their advertisements — they tried to made it seem ‘pretty’ and ‘sexy’ to be a Doll, which is ridiculous and offensive. Instead, the show needed to delve into the severity and ethical dilemmas of such a technological ‘advancement’ (being able to wipe a person’s identity). I felt like it was a decent effort that was finally getting somewhere… too little, too late.

    But in no way do I think this cancellation and ‘failure’ proves Joss is a hack! I think his ideas are marvelously inventive and creative. Who else would come up with such a challenging idea? Very few. And very few people would dare to even try. His execution of ideas may not always work, not every episode he’s produced is a slam dunk, but I give him huge credit for always trying to come up with something truly interesting and different. Should he go with the herd and produce cookie-cutter programs or rehash what he’s done before just so he can guarantee he’ll make big bucks and make the networks and advertisers happy and comfortable with what he’s doing? Personally, I respect him greatly for not going that route. I’m glad he takes chances. I just hope next time he takes those chances in an environment where he won’t immediately back down (or won’t be forced to back down) from his original ideas.

    P.S. Olivia Williams and Harry Lennox are terrific standouts, but last night Enver Gjokaj also proved yet again how versatile an actor he is. If I had closed my eyes, I’m not sure I would have been able to tell which voice was Topher’s: Fran Kranz as the original Topher, or Enver as the Doll version. That was fantastic (and really, really hilarious).

  16. Victor as Topher was a touch of genius, but I also liked the switch the episode pulled midway through the first one (I won’t spoil it).

    Overall I feel the last few episodes have been good, but at the moment, I’m only watching to see how it all ends, even last nights episodes didn’t have me thinking “I really want to see the next episode fast”.

    It almost feels like from the first episode of the second season, they knew they wouldn’t last to a third season, not in a way the story has progressed, but just in the overall feel. I know most fans knew we’d never get a third season.

    And frankly, this just doesn’t have the same magic of Firefly… well except for Epitaph One, which, by the end, I sort of got an “Out of Gas” feel from. The other episodes though, didn’t even come close to as good as the worst of Firefly (The Train Job).

  17. I don’t think The Train Job was at all the worst Firefly episode. Honestly none of the episodes of Firefly are bad they were all great, but I would say Train Job is better than Safe, Trash and way better than Objects in Space which I thought was a very disappointing finale even for just a season ender let alone a series that episode just lacked alot for me.

  18. I liked Objects in Space if only because it was simply a soap box episode for Joss.

    And yeah, I suppose Safe and Trash were weaker episodes, but there’s something about the Train Job, the episode written in a weekend that tried to do what the pilot did and didn’t do it nearly as well (although mostly fox’s fault for refusing to air the pilot). I loved the resolution of the bad guy at the end, but overall it didn’t seem as good as the others, (still good though).

  19. What chances are there that it COULD get picked up by another network?

  20. @In Rainbow

    Slim, the only studio likely to do it would be Sy-Fy and I doubt even they would do it. Remember it’s a ratings thing, Sy-Fy needs to have shows with decent ratings as much as the next network and Dollhouse simply isn’t that show. If there was any chance of picking the show up simply because they liked it, they’d have been more likely to do it with Firefly.

  21. IF SyFy were to pick up a show, they should have picked up T:TSCC after NBC (foolishly) cancelled it last season. Right now SyFy only has one show I watch: Stargate Universe, and unless that starts to really improve I will only be watching SyFy when Dr. Who returns. SyFy also should have picked up Journeyman. That would have been a great 1-2 punch with Dr. Who.

  22. Just for clarification, the worst episodes of Firefly were better than the best of Dollhouse. Fox was solely responsible for that show tanking. But Dollhouse earned its own demise. I doubt if Dollhouse will spawn a movie.

  23. “Dollhouse” failed because of the misleading title and its friday night time slot,,,

    It didn’t help matters that the show actually sucked as well, so it was doomed from the beginning.

    Typical with most of Wheadon’s projects, I’m sure if the show had a strong first couple seasons Wheadon would have moved on and left it to crash as he usually does. Notice how quickly the guy jumps over to Direct Glee inbetween shooting Dollhouse,,,
    I’m sure the actors on Dollhouse felt a sense of doom at that point,,,

  24. I have watched every Joss Whedon show, with the exception of “Firefly” (I just couldn’t get into it) and “Dollhouse” had amazing potential. Once the epsiodes became less Echo centered the better they became.

    I like ELiza Dushku just fine but Dichen Lachman in “Belonging” was amazing (the Sierra backstory). I was really hoping we would get to see a Victor backstory episode, but I doubt time was taken to explore that this late in the series. Enver Gjokaj was hilarious as Topher.

    The episode with Fran Kranz and Amy Acker talking about her past as Whiskey made me start to tolerate Topher as a character. I adore him now.

    I’m not too worried about ends remaining loose. This is Joss Whedon we’re talking about and he knows the end of the arcs… where the characters will end up. I just hope he shows us.

  25. @Darthrosenberg9, I just don’t like the guy or any of his work,,, everything he’s done (IMO, don’t take it personal) has had a certain style that I can’t seem to gell with…

    Plus the guy is a hippie,!!! I hate hippies!!! ;-)