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April 07 2008

Fox Forgoes Pilot in Favour of Sets. "Fox Broadcasting Co. decided to forgo a pilot for its new series "Dollhouse" by "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon, opting to invest money instead in building the elaborate, life-size dollhouse that will be the show's set".

Good decision by Fox and shows a strong commitment to Joss. Hope the set is as good as Firefly.
Hopefully, we won't be seeing this set on eBay a year from now.
Either it shows strong support for the show, or the Fox producers have already begun budgeting for refreshments for the mid-run, end of series party.
I was excited when I read the headline. However, after reading the article it seems they're just doing it to save money. Apparently a pilot is expensive and FOX is choosing to spend that money elsewhere. Granted, I'm not going to complain about a great looking set but I was hoping it would be more about support of Dollhouse than money.

Ah well, at least it's neutral information and nothing bad.
Huh. Granted, I haven't been reading every Dollhouse news item linked here, but I didn't know that the setting was going to be using the dollhouse concept so literally. The idea that the place would be dorm-like, with a pretty strong metaphor, I'd noticed.
Why can't they build the set for the pilot and then just continue using it? Isn't that what's going to happen anyway? The first episode will be considered the pilot, won't it?

I don't get the "either/or" of this.
They probably were thinking of spending the money on special effects - but putting it into a good set I think is wiser.
I don't think they are planning on spending the money elsewhere. I think they are saving money. Network shows do not demand the same ad rates that they used to all around. This is smart money management by Fox (and other networks).
They make it sound like the "dollhouse" will look like an actual dollhouse, which would be really strange. At first I thought it was an April Fool's joke, but the date is wrong. I think someone is just confused.
Well, I would love to think that Fox is merely being fiscally responsible. However, their abysmal track record with Joss makes me wary...I am hoping that I will be proved wrong. And I can not wait for the first episode, pilot or no.

But I truly doubt I will be sitting on my couch thinking "Wow. What a set!"
Fox not needing a pilot to test Dollhouse has always read to me like a vote of confidence for the property - analogous to not requiring an actor to read for a part because you know & trust his/her work.

But I could be wrong - what I don't understand about this biz is legion. As long as Joss and Eliza et al. feel supported by the execs, it doesn't matter so much to me how we interpret it... half the time I feel like I'm casting the bones or reading entrails to figure out what's going on, with just as little assurance that it's at all meaningful...

I'm glad the studios are mixing it up post-strike - some of the production and financial givens of the business were archaic and arcane... now maybe if they could just get to work unraveling the occult practices of Hollywood accounting...
Fox Forgoes Pilot in Favour of Sets. Anyone read this as Fox Forgoes Pilot in Favour of Sex?
I've sorta imagined that the look would be part "Big Brother", part "The Island", but more darkly lit.

I have no idea what to make of this choice overall. "Serenity" was an intricate and impressive set, didn't help "Firefly" a bit.
I initially read it as "Fox Forgoes Plot in Favour of Sex" -- and I wondered what made that newsworthy?
Maybe it's a good sign that, Pilot unseen, they're willing to invest extra money instead in awesome sets for the show - implying it'll stick around long enough to make use of them.
Simon - take your sexy glasses off! :)
Don't know what to make of Fox's investment; it work either way for Dollhouse, I think.

On the other hand, still fuming about that remake of Life On Mars. :(
So does this mean it's going to be a dollhouse with HoloDecks? Or that production-wise it's a cost-saving measure and cheaper than going out on location every week?

For those interested in seeing the continuing effect the strike has on the networks, I ran across this blog post by Diane Mermigas at MediaPost:

The networks did not feel the full brunt of the writers’ strike until January and February, and the negative impact continues. Year-over-year household prime-time ratings have declined 13%, and for the all-important age 18-49 demographic they have declined 17%. In the first quarter of this year, live prime-time viewing of cable networks rose an aggregate 9.4%–the fastest quarterly growth for cable in five years. It was the fifth consecutive quarter of double-digit declines (13%) in live broadcast prime-time viewing. As a result, the price of a prime-time spot declined 12% in the first quarter, with NBC down the most at 25%, according to Targetcast ... Even before weakening economic trends are factored in, Wall Street was forecasting the worst-ever year for broadcast advertising in 2009–falling 4% to about $14.6 billion and erasing all of this year’s gains.

With this awful news, I can't imagine that the networks will let negotiations with SAG and AFTRA collapse into another strike.
Fox Forgoes Pilot in Favour of Sets. Anyone read this as Fox Forgoes Pilot in Favour of Sex?

I first thought that the execs were going to scrap the series, in order to buy a life-size dollhouse for them to play in.
I'm with Willowy on this, in the case of 'Dollhouse' it seems like a distinction without a difference.

Wouldn't the cost of the "elaborate set" normally just be rolled into the cost of the pilot ? Isn't that, in fact, part of what makes pilots more expensive ? In which case I don't really see the difference - seems like instead of an expensive pilot (including set) they've chosen to go with a "normal opening episode" (which just happens to introduce the characters and open up future plot lines) PLUS they're building the set (that they'd presumably have had to build for the pilot anyway).

Aren't they basically just saying "We're gonna make the pilot for less money and not call it a pilot, even though it'll fulfil the same function as a pilot. Oh, and we're gonna spend the money we save up-front on the, err, ... um, first episode" ?

(it actually sounds to me a little bit like Fox're worried that their "reputation precedes them" i.e. they're trying to defuse the idea in folk's heads that it might not be worth tuning in because the show might well only last 7 episodes and then get cancelled - "Hey everyone, we're the new Fox, and to prove it, we're investing in a big impressive set *cough*like we did for 'Firefly'*cough*" ;)
I don't imaging the set to be darkly lit; instead, I see it as bleached white... kind of like a representation of their innocence to the world with a wiped memory.

White light- living quarters for the dolls
Cold high-tech blue- the labs, of course
Dark/ black; abandoned and forgotten- the records room of the dolls previous personalities
Darks/ blood red- office of high woman running the joint (forgot the character's name)

Did anyone else see the colors on the set this way? To me, each time a doll gets a "job", they are imprinted with memories, raw and real, and then cast out of "paradise" (dollhouse) to complete the mission before returning. Kind of like a twisted version of the hero's journey.

How do others picture the dollouse?
I always was under the impression that the whole point of a pilot was to sell the show to a network, maybe attract advertisers, but had absolutely nothing to do with the audience. (There are hundreds of pilots produced that never make it to series.) Reading this just made sense to me. Why spend money on a traditional pilot when you've alreay bought the series? Yeah, you're probably gambling on the fact that the attached talent will bring you the ad revenue you want, but it's a weighted gamble. I'd imagine many, many people are looking forward to this show, and I expect it to get a big advertising push from Fox before it debuts. I know I should have my issues with Fox (and I do), but for some reason, I'm willing to put all that aside and just have faith.
@Simon - yes, yes I did.
I think I remember Sarah Fain and Liz Craft saying in an interview linked here that they were really impressed with what his purpleness had in mind for the set of Dollhouse. So, yes, I won't be making any judgments until I see the show for myself.
Oh I see, they're doing seven-episode pilots instead of one-episode pilots to make it more cost-effective in the long-run. Seems pretty sensible to me. (Most decent TV series over here only run six episodes anyway, so no biggie.)

I hope Joss creates a cohesive singlular run that leaves the door open for more, like he did with Buffy season one, rather than letting it trail off towards nowhere expecting to make some more, like he did with Firefly.
If they had only produced a pilot and not ordered seven episodes right away, then they wouldn't have built sets for the pilot (why build sets, if they might not pick it up?), but shot on location. Shooting on location is more expensive than shooting on a set.
It makes me happy to know that, somewhere out there, a giant dollhouse is being constructed and that Fox is paying the bill.

Just waiting for the first photos to be released now!
I think the set issue may simply come down to a matter of overall expenditure.

For example, let's say that the cost of the Dollhouse set is a million dollars. If they were to order the script to pilot, Fox would have to put up the million up front, and the show may never even go to series. Could be, they spent all that money for a set that is used for 9 days with no return on investment.

Instead, Fox is willing to spend money on the Dollhouse set (maybe even more money than a normal set budget) because of a couple of very specific factors. For one, they know that if they order 7 episodes, each episode will have a specific budget and if they build a huge set that can be used for (total guess here) 50% of each episode's locations. The cost of the dollhouse is guaranteed to be amortized over the budgets of all 7 episodes, instead of spent up front on one episode that may never air.

The other factor here, of course, is Joss himself. The network has to know that even if the show does poorly in the ratings, they have a guaranteed 7 episode DVD set that will sell 6 figures worth of units without even trying. It's a much smarter long-term financial decision to build a large set for several episodes with guaranteed financial income than it does to spend so much for a pilot that may never air.

And I would not be the least bit surprised if Joss made this very argument during the pitch for Dollhouse. :)
Maybe without so much emphasis on a glossy pilot, Fox will be less tempted to show the episodes out of order. Here's hoping.
Rupert Murdoch will then walk onto the set, pee all over it, and then order it burned and buried.
This story is confusing. You can't really make a pilot without a set (although you could make one with a throwaway set, and then build another set that will last for years if you decide to pick up the show; maybe that's the savings.)

Maybe it's just that they have figured out that story-telling is at least as important as effects, sets, and mammaries? (Not holding my breath on that one.)
I had a moment of real panic when I read the title for the first time. It sounded as if Fox had changed their minds about making Dollhouse altogether in favour of using the money for producing sets for their other shows. Thank God that's not the case.

I think it does sound like a vote of confidence for Dollhouse. As White Tiger pointed out, I think it really is in their interest to support Dollhouse as best they can, because even if the show isn't an instant ratings success, they know that their is money to be made on reruns and DVDs, so they might as well keep it going for as long as possible. Imagine if Firefly had managed to last two seasons instead of one, that might be potentially double the huge DVD sales the set has amassed (although maybe the injustice of the abrupt cancellation and attention surrounding it might have contributed to the Firefly sales too).

I did think it sounded a little strange that they were foregoing a pilot, though, because ultimately the first episode will function as a pilot. I think TaraMaclay's explanation seems to make more sense- from the network's point of view, the first episode won't be functioning as a typical pilot because it won't be produced separately in advance as a chance to sell a potential series. As they know it will get past the pilot stage, it doesn't make much sense to produce a pilot for that purpose. So for the audience the first episode will seem like the pilot but technically it's not. And it doesn't really sound like we'll be missing out on much- if Dollhouse is a success then it will hopefully get a full season order which would be the case regardless of whether it has an official pilot or not.

And I think it's also good news that they are invested the money that would have been spent on a pilot instead on sets, because maybe that will mean that all of the money that would have been spent on the whole production of a pilot (sets, CGI, actors etc.) will be used on building good sets. Ultimately it won't make difference to the majority of viewers or directly affect ratings (just look at the beautiful, unusual Serenity set on Firefly) but it will certainly provide more detail for those of us who are anticipating Dollhouse.
I, too, see this as a good decision. Bigger, better sets look nice, and if they save some money - great. The more shows cost, the higher ratings are needed to justify their continued existence. And I'll say no more, because I'm already dangerously close to violating my 'No premature worrying about Dollhouse' oath.
I think what studios call "elaborate" actually is more along the lines of Serenity's interior: the whole thing built in one/two pieces. As for the interior of the Dollhouse, I imagine the Dolls' quarters as fairly comfy kids' rooms... with an immediate switch to clinical sterility immediately outside.
My guess is that this is a good thing, as others have said. Pilots are often (though not always) shot on spec (in the hopes that they will be picked up), that's not the case here where there's already a commitment. Pilot's are also often shot differently from the show (not on the final set, not with the final actors, etc.) because they're not sure it will last.

I see this kind of investment as a vote of confidence in the show and in what it will look like out of starting gate (no need to tweak the setting or cast or whatever after running the pilot past focus groups and execs).
"I first thought that the execs were going to scrap the series, in order to buy a life-size dollhouse for them to play in. "

That's exactly what I thought at first. I went from fear to amusement to disappointment in the space of about 2 seconds.
You can add me to the positive interpretation camp. As far as I'm concerned this reads as a sign of confidence from Fox's part. They know they'll pick up the show, why waste money on a pilot? At least we know we'll get really cool sets. This could be the most visually stunning, high-concept Joss thing so far.
I think it's a good sign for the series what they're doing, we should try to get as many people as we can to watch this series and keep it going
I too totally freaked when I read the headline, somehow thinking it meant that FOX had decided to screw over Dollhouse this early.

*whew*

I do believe this is a vote of confidence, ladies and gentlemen...

[ edited by UnpluggedCrazy on 2008-04-07 21:44 ]
Isn't "life-size dollhouse" sort of an oxymoron?
I think, rather than a sign of anything in particular, this is probably just a knock-on effect from the writer's strike. For a pilot to be useful for the network in decision making it would need to be ready for May, which is almost here, so there probably isn't enough time left to script and shoot it in the time available. And apart from that, there is no real need for a pilot anyway since the decision has already been made, the show has already been picked up on the strength of Joss and Eliza's involvement. Better to focus on the opening episodes. Good move, in my opinion.
When I think of Dollhouse I get excited because of the stories I'm in for being treated to. But I confess the thought of an elaborate set wasn't factored in. Serenity being elaborate I understand because of her prominence in he stories; but a building being elaborate, I don't see the same significance. Unless it moves with the story somehow. Or the story moves within it. Other than that I don't see the necessity of an elaborate doll house but I leave room for Joss to be clever and tricksy and create another "tenth character" phenomenon.

I'm trying to think of shows where the building was important episode after episode after episode. All I got is "24." I'm lame. But my attention turns to Star Trek and Picard and gang. They were in a building, confined, so how did they go episode after episode? The intrest came from without but was solved within. What if the Doll (of the House) can't leave it (much)? I could piece something together in my imagination, and this grows into that, that into this, and then I got them...in my house!

All right, all right! I'm acutely minded, narrow, skinny, slack in the brain pan. Now I'm more interested than ever - what's Joss upto?!
DAYLIGHT, Joss did the same thing with Firefly that he did with Buffy. The difference is that Buffy did not get canceled halfway through its first season. And that season was a mid-season replacement and thus only a half-season total. Firefly would have had a full 22 episode run if it had finished it's first season, and still manages to have a longer first season than Buffy.

Point being, Buffy could have "trailed off" just as easily. If Joss was supposed to make something more contained with Firefly, where would he put the "end?" Every time he gets another 3 episodes ordered, he should start a new arc that ends on the third?

Nah, he did right by Firefly story-wise.

Topic at hand: The Dollhouse set will be terribly important. I'll take this statement by Fox at face value and be happy about it. No point in reading into it. In Joss I trust.
Point being, Buffy could have "trailed off" just as easily.

The entire first season of Buffy was shot and finished before the first episode was aired, so it was guaranteed not to be cancelled half way due to poor ratings, by the time ratings came in it had been completed. Of course there was an unaired pilot to sell the show to the network.

On topic, does this mean the set is on a proper studio lot and not an old warehouse in Santa Monica?
Just put me in the "I refuse to have negative thoughts" camp. It's all just speculation at this point anyhow.
As has been pointed out numerous times, the bad guys who did wrong by Firefly are long gone. And how could they possibly ax a series staring Morgan Freeman? ;-)
Isn't "life-size dollhouse" sort of an oxymoron?
barboo | April 07, 23:36 CET


Not if you have life-sized dolls. ;-)

This is a good thing. People have been confusing "pilot" with with the first episode or set-up episode. They are not always the same thing and they can have different purposes. A pilot is meant to convince the network to make a series. The first episode should be to convince the audience to watch the series. If FOX is not insisting on a pilot, it should be saying that they are already committed to the series. (Operative word "should.") As said above, pilots don't usually build sets because there is no committment that the series will be made. By putting the money into the sets, they are implying
that much more of a committment to making the series.

I'm guessing Joss will be careful to make it very self-contained with lots of possibilities for future story lines.
And how could they possibly ax a series staring Morgan Freeman? ;-)

Ok see now the rumors are starting to get my hopes up.
I dunno, even Morgan couldn't save 'The Return of Jezebel James' though admittedly he had a blink and you'd miss it cameo as "Famous Actor that Wasn't Actually In It" #3.

A pilot is meant to convince the network to make a series. The first episode should be to convince the audience to watch the series.

Yeah but aren't they the same actual episode about 90% of the time ? There're often minor reshoots or recasts from "sales pilot" to "air pilot" but only because the network had notes (and sometimes because of scheduling issues) - if there were no notes then the creators would (presumably) use the pilot they created as the first episode ?

Also (though admittedly, i'm not sure they'd qualify as "elaborate") most of the pilots that i've seen that made it to air (and i've seen a few "pre-air" pilots too) have had pretty much all the sets that the show uses in its first season already in place so i'm not convinced that pilots usually don't build sets either.

We already knew 'Dollhouse' wouldn't have a pilot in the "sales" sense because of the 7 episode deal, the set thing just doesn't seem to be saying much - like I facetiously alluded to upthread, 'Serenity Pts I and II' was a very expensive pilot ($12.5 million has been mentioned I think) with an elaborate set built up-front and we all know how that turned out.

Definitely hoping for the best but i'm no more or less convinced by this news.
I think all this means is that FOX aren't putting up extra money to make the first episode which is the norm. Usually a pilot costs more than any other single episode of the show, partly because the pilot has lots of big upfront costs - sets, etc - but also because it needs to 'sell' people on the show so often has longer to shoot, more time for post production and effects. So in this case they're not budgeting the first episode at a greater cost and using that saving to go towards a fancier set.
"A pilot is meant to convince the network to make a series. The first episode should be to convince the audience to watch the series.

Yeah but aren't they the same actual episode about 90% of the time ?"


Lately they seem to have been doing that so often that we expect it. I often see people here using the words interchangably. Years ago I think it was not as common. I think a lot has depanded on how much faith the network has in the property. The BtVS pilot was never meant to be seen, nor was the original Star Trek pilot. They were more like when a play is done in a workshop. They gave the studio an idea of what the series would be like, but then they set out to make the actual series.

BTW, some series use locations for their pilot and then construct a set that looks like the location when the series is picked up. BtVS, for instance, did a lot of that.
Well that's just underhanded. They're tricking us, the ... tricky tricksters ! ;)

Yeah, i've seen the "presentation" Joss made for Buffy and it's much less "finished" than most of the pilots we see today. I remember too that when we started hearing of 'The Sarah Connor Chronicles' pilot being reshot, the tenor of the commentary was that that's a bad thing, that it's a sign of a "troubled" production so I do think that nowadays the standard practice is to aim to air the pilot as the first episode more or less unchanged.
There's a difference between a full pilot and a pilot presentation which is shorter and intended to give a sense of what the show would be like rather than a full episode. I get the impression that the 'pilot presentations' are the shows the networks are unsure of or that get held up during the casting/production process. Seeing as recasting after a pilot isn't that uncommon (remember Amy Acker was in the original pilot for "The Unit") reshoots after a pilot aren't always a sign of doom and gloom though clearly as the critics base initial reviews on a pilot if they see something they love right away it helps build buzz.
MattK, are you suggesting that this is a gigantic scam on Joss' part to get Fox back for cancelling Firefly? :)

bobw1o, Buffy actually had its initial order shortened from 22 to 13 (when it became a "midseason replacement") to 12 (not sure about why that happened but the script that went AWOL was "Feared By Death"). And it was kinda obvious that Firefly was on the ropes. (Admittedly, the Serenity film serves as a more-than-satisfactory season finale.)

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