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May 03 2008

Joss And Four Acts! In response to the comments to her spoiler-free review of the "Dollhouse pilot" here on Whedonesque, Jill Golick explains the structure of one-hour-long tv shows and once again praises the pilot of "Dollhouse" as "a terrific story", that "leaves you with lots to think about". No spoilers .

[ edited by zeitgeist on 2008-05-03 20:36 ]

And then in her next post, she realizes that Joss shows always have four acts--although if Dollhouse isn't going to have a teaser (and since she's seen the script, there's no reason not to trust her word), that is going to be a pretty drastic shift.

Makes one wonder where the opening credits will go. Maybe just a lead-in (including previouslies, probably) with no real title sequence, the way SCC does?

[ edited by alixtii on 2008-05-03 14:00 ]
alixtii, all of Joss's shows so far have had very traditional cast-names-over-faces main titles sequences, so I hope that's something Dollhouse will have as well, because I'm a big fan of those.

Most hour-longs have a teaser and four acts, except pilots often don't have a teaser, or air the teaser and first act back-to-back, putting the main titles at the end of the first act (and then inserting the extra commercial break for reruns). In the past few years, FOX and ABC have switched to having shows with a teaser plus five or six acts.
I'm a big fan of those

I'm not. Running the titles over the action means the show has stolen back some story minutes from the ad-obsessed networks. I don't like X seconds of potential story time being wasted by an opening title sequence.
The tag closer; I seem to rememebr that mroe clearly from 60s and 70s dramas like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea or Cannon than I do from 90s dramas like ER Chicago Hope PIcket Fences the Practice or Xena (the only ones besides BtVS and Angel that I was able to watch regularly; my ex-wife's idea of prime-time TV was true-story TV-movies and real-life hospital documentaries. Well, okay I saw few L&Os but I hated that show)

There's a point to closing tags , but not in every show. Heck, I know some people who don't even like teasers; they think a show should start with the credits.

But how about that shot of ELiza? Aye-yie-yie-yie-yie! (Hey, we Pennsylfawnische Deitschcakes say it too, it's not just Cuban.)

[ edited by DaddyCatALSO on 2008-05-03 17:16 ]

[ edited by DaddyCatALSO on 2008-05-05 17:59 ]
Running the titles over the action means the show has stolen back some story minutes from the ad-obsessed networks. I don't like X seconds of potential story time being wasted by an opening title sequence.

I'm a fan too, despite what you say; which is true, except I'd argue it's not time wasted. The title sequence sets the tone, becomes something memorable. Can you imagine Buffy with just a Lost-esque "Buffy" on the screen for a few seconds instead of the brilliant titles we had. Not to mention the music . . . Firefly, too, you could argue the tone of that was set by the opening song, it's the first thing you notice, and it sticks in your mind.
Right on, MattK! Also, you don't have to check IMDB to find out which actor plays which character.
Well, in the past 15 years, we've gone from around 13 or so minutes of ads in an hour program to 15-16 minutes of ads in an hour program. So, yeah, in this day and age I'd rather have a Lost-esque "Buffy" floating by if it steals back story time.

I get the tone-setting of opening title sequences. But they aren't why I watch the shows. I watch the shows for the story.

[ edited by theonetruebix on 2008-05-03 17:44 ]
I would never trade the opening credits of Firefly for a few more seconds of story. It is the one show with an opening I refuse to skip through.
Is there a way to allow the author of this blog to join Whedonesque?

Thereís a comment thread on Whedonesque Ė the Joss Whedon fan site ó about my post about Dollhouse and the fact that the script is written in four acts. Iíd leave a comment there but you have to sign on to do so. I tried to join but the site is not accepting registrations. I guess they canít handle any more users.

I dropped her a line about an account if she wants to comment.
I think Saje started all this by forgetting a smiley.
Pretty impressive.
I think Saje started all this by forgetting a smiley.
Pretty impressive.

I was thinking the same thing...but then we have some impressive trouble-makers here. ;-)
I'm also a fan of opening credits, and hope that Dollhouse has one. I think they can make a strong statement about what the show is about and really set the tone. I've never met a Buffy or Angel fan who wasn't energised by the opening credits, and I think Veronica Mars also managed to do that. The Firefly credits in particular seem to tell a story in their own right, which really beautifully reminds us of the key themes of the show.

It's a shame that they seem to be becoming almost obsolete, with a lot of shows opting to just show a brief title, probably to make room for more commercial time than increasing the length of the episodes, so I don't entirely buy the idea that they allow episodes to be longer. After all, every episode always varies in length and I'm sure most shows probably vary in at least a few minutes between their longest and shortest ever episodes.

I absolutely love the opening titles of HBO shows, and I think they really appreciate that they can be almost like art- Six Feet Under and The Sopranos both spring to mind, although of course they probably had more freedom with producing intricate, unusual and slightly longer opening titles. I hope that Dollhouse continues in a similar tradition.
I think Saje started all this by forgetting a smiley.
Pretty impressive.

Pfft, you should see what I can do when I forget commas (for instance it turns out there're a couple of ways to interpret "No surrender" ;-).

I do like a good credits sequence though I can also see the point about "stealing" story time, some US "hour" shows are about 42 minutes after adverts are removed (and "half-hour" comedies come in at about 21 minutes) so there's hellish little time to waste (it's different on cable though - the 'Dexter' and 'Carnivale' credits stand out from recent years as great examples of sequences that totally set the tone for the upcoming show).

Not thought about act structure much (being more a TV user than a pusher ;) but I sometimes think you can tell a BBC show that's been created with the US market in mind because there're places you could have an act out, even if it's not a huge "fade to suede" moment like Buffy, 'Angel' or 'Firefly' had.

... probably to make room for more commercial time than increasing the length of the episodes ...

Yeah but that's a chicken/egg thing surely Razor ? I'd speculate that the networks decide they want to sell more ad space and then figure where it's coming from so "micro" credit sequences do save actual story time.

Be a pity if structure became too dictated by fitting ad breaks into shows but I guess that's the fine line commercial television has to walk (and as costs keep going up it's only gonna get finer).
I can understand why people would be against an opening credits sequence, what with the precious moments of story stolen from us by them, but I'm a sucker for opening credit sequences. All of the Star Treks had 'em, Buffy and Angel, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5... just about everything I loved had one, so I'd like to see it in Dollhouse as well. Guess it's a nostalgic thing for me.
I adore opening credits, but I admit I also like Lost's no-opening-credits.

So I'm good with either.
Like others, I can see the point of not having opening credits, and some shows just plain work better without them--LOST, 24 (from what little I've seen, anyway), maybe even Heroes--but for me they're a major part of the TV watching experience, especially when watching on a weekly basis. They pull me back into the world of the show better than anything else, and they provide a nice little bit of familiar ground before heading into something new. It sounds, and is, incredibly lame, but I'm really hoping Dollhouse has 'em.

Plus, it's another aspect of the show for me to get excited about and fall in love with.
I oh-so-adore the credits for 'Buffy', 'Angel' and 'Firefly', so I do hope Joss keeps 'em for 'Dollhouse'.

Anyway I need a new ringtone, and am holding out for it to be the 'Dollhouse' theme!
Yeah, I really want an opening theme song too. In interviews and the like that I've read, Joss seems to think they're important as well.
I agree with Supersym, if done properly, the opening sequence can add substance to a show, particularly when segments of the credits aren't static. I for one would love to see a Battlestar-in-reverse sequence where we are treated to flashes of the images Echo has recalled up to the episode to date.

Clearly the beginning episodes would have few, if any, Echo flashback flashbacks, but I think it would be pretty neat to see the library grow with the show.
I'm going to echo the "opening credits are rad" opinions. I definitely prefer it when shows have them.

As for the music itself, I kind of see it being sort of Radiohead-y. Like a soft, kind of creepy song. It'll probably be an original piece though, going by past Whedonverse opening sequences.
I'm joining the line of people who like opening credits sequences. They really set the mood for the show and I wouldn't want to miss the credits which "Buffy" and "Angel" had. Not to mention that OPENING CREDITS give me a song for my ipod which I can associate with the show and therefore I can always carry a part of the show around. I also loved the credits for HBO shows, although I must admit that I don't see the need for shows with giant casts like "Lost", "Dirty Sexy Money" or "Ugly Betty" to have a opening credits sequence, but "Dollhouse" has less people, so it would be okay for the show to have one.
Opening credits can add a lot to a show if done right, which they have been in Joss shows, must admit to not really liking the BSG 'flash forward' sequence, that time could be used to do more storytelling.
I never watch the BSG flash-forward sequence, just too spoilery (luckily they have the drums at the end so I know when to open my eyes ;). 'The Rockford Files' also had upcoming scenes at the start, guess in a sense it's the most genuine form of teaser.
I love opening credits. They're a part of the show to me. Imagine The Simpsons and the couch gag; the truth is out there; who lives in a pineapple under the sea... And as long as I live, I'll never get the Wonderfalls theme song out of my head.

But I also like the stark and simple LOST title. It fits the show.

So I guess I'm good either way, so long as it fits the show.
Not thought about act structure much (being more a TV user than a pusher ;) but I sometimes think you can tell a BBC show that's been created with the US market in mind because there're places you could have an act out, even if it's not a huge "fade to suede" moment like Buffy, 'Angel' or 'Firefly' had.

IIRC, during the first season of Bugs (a fairly dire 1990s hi-tech action series shown on BBC 1) the episodes were 45 minutes long and had fade-to-blacks where the commercial breaks would go. I think the producers were trying to sell the show not to the US itself but to foreign countries where American series were popular - they tried to make the setting non-specific by putting false number plates on the cars, avoiding mentioning real places, etc.

Later on, they dropped the fade-to-blacks and each episode was 50 minutes, from what I remember.
Saje:"I never watch the BSG flash-forward sequence, just too spoilery"

This really bugs me along with the coming next weeks at the end of so many programmes. For a long time I had no idea how many humans were left thanks to the usefulness of DVD chapter skipping.

[ edited by moley75 on 2008-05-04 20:45 ]
I dropped her a line about an account if she wants to comment.

Excellent move, z! I take it there been no replies as of yet?

I never watch the BSG flash-forward sequence, just too spoilery.

Amen to that, always cover my eyes. Must be a SicFi ideal...
The coming next week part I suspect is pure marketing department, something the writers have to live with as the price of doing business with networks, but a teaser that people prefer not to see because it reveals to much of upcoming events somehow seems to miss the point, on the other hand the people that actually might be 'teased' not to change the channel, how much do they really understand of the short clips ?
Might have been better with some best of BSG Space battles, depending on what type of audience they are trying to stop from changing the channel.

Just watched the movie 'The TV Set', reminded me of that Joss quote of how much developing Tv shows felt like being punched with bricks or something similar, really hope his experiences with Dollhouse is better.
Wow, I'd forgotten about the preview at the start of an episode! The Incredible Hulk was another show which I now recall showed clips of the episode you were about to watch as its "teaser". Interesting that the BSG deal is actually just a revised version of an old, retired television tradition.

And the preview segments... With a show like Buffy, I was often hungry enough for more that I was glad to grasp at a few seconds of hints. But, I do think they may have gone a bit too far when they showed the final few frames of the next episode, as "Entropy's" preview of "Seeing Red" did... :(

Big fan of the "previously on"s, though. The one big disappointment I have in the BtVS and Angel DVD sets is that (almost) none of these are included, even as an option, with the episodes. Was quite happy to see them on the Lost season 1 set. (OTOH, the Mutant Enemy DVDs have far, far, FAR superior subtitling to Lost.)
I enjoy the BSG teaser-snippets-within-the-credits. For me they're so brief that they are intriguing rather than spoiler-y (like, "ooh, Starbuck will be holding a gun at some point in this episode," or "ooh, Baltar will have a bloody nose AGAIN at some point..."). However, I have recently stopped reading back-cover blurbs on books that I already know I'm going to read, because it seems like they too often give stuff away that I'd rather discover as I go...
A good opening credit sequence can elevate a show, but conversely, I think a mediocre opening sequence can seriously harm it. I remember when it first aired, there were a significant amount of posters on Firefly forums who loathed the opening sequence. It grows on you after a while, but first impressions can count for a lot.

So in the interests of longevity, I'd probably prefer that the Dollhouse has either a stellar opening credits or none at all.
Love opening credits, especially to all Whedon shows. I'm at the point in my Friends and Fresh Prince of Bel Air watching where I skip the intros, but they're a part of the show.

The music definitely sets the tone: you could have an uninitiated person listen to the opening song for AtS and BtVS and be able to tell which is darker; a person could get a good stab at at least one of the main themes of Firefly just by listening to the song.

I like what Dym mentioned about longevity, as well. A lot of older shows live on in their theme songs, like Beverly Hillbilles, Cheers, Charles in Charge, Green Acres, I Dream of Jeannie, etc. etc.
For example, I've seen only one of those shows--Beverly Hillbillies. But I know all of the theme songs.

As for the "Previously on...", I like them for TV, but find them useless on DVD. I think that anyone who's enough of a fan to buy or rent the DVDs will have some idea of what's going on.
Previously on is also usually not so necessary on DVD though... I wish wish wish they had kept it on the DVD for "The Gift." (Perhaps it is on a different edition of the Season Five DVD than mine.) When introducing my friend to Buffy, it was sad to not be able to show the brilliant way that particular "Previously On" bit went through the seasons before it and accelerated into the classic Buffy fights with vampire scene for the big 100.
I love the "Previously on.." segments, especially well-edited ones. They're extremely helpful when you're just watching one episode out of context. And they usually have great music. I hate how, on the Angel DVD's, the episodes usually start in the middle of a note because the previouslies have been chopped off. And sometimes they cut off the beginning of the actual new content as well ("That Old Gang of Mine," "Habeas Corpses," etc.).

Though sometimes they tell you way more than you actually need to know, like the three minute-long "previously..." for the Veronica Mars episode "The Quick and the Wed," but it's so well edited that I have to find the episode (with "previously") on somewhere like before watching the DVD episode.
Really, it depends on the show. Whedon's shows all work very well with theme songs, and the credits sequences themselves are great. A show like Lost is the polar opposite though. The quick, mysterious rotating zoom in of the title is the perfect way to end the teaser. Plus, could you imagine how long the credits sequence of Lost would be if they didn't do it over the action of the show itself? So many actors to list!
My favourite "Previously on..." was probably for the last episode of 'Farscape'. Sci-fi had complained that it was hard to get into because of its serial nature and after the producers knew it was cancelled (despite being promised a fifth season, hence the huge cliff-hanger) they created a "Previously on..." that flashed frames up from every single previous episode ;). Which worked both as a nod to the fans, kind of a "thanks for coming with us" and IMO as two fingers to the network.

... the episodes were 45 minutes long and had fade-to-blacks where the commercial breaks would go.

Aha, don't remember that Gag Halfrunt (i've mercifully blanked most of 'Bugs' from my memory ;) but that's interesting. Also about the placenames/reg numbers etc. Nowadays of course, they seem to have realised that if you want to sell something abroad (especially to the US) you're better going in pretty much the opposite direction (i.e. give it a very distinctly British look and feel) which makes sense - clearly we can't do the stuff US shows do anywhere near as well (for budgetary reasons among others) better, within reason, to stick to what we're good at.
"The Kids from Fame" also had flash-forwards at the start of each show, as well as 'previously on' (guess which 80's show of my childhood I'm re-discovering!).

I like teasers, I'm pretty easy going on opening credits - as long as whatever is used is good quality.

As for 'end tags' I'm not a fan: the only series I can remember seeing them on was Charmed (don't disown me! I liked it but saw it's flaws as well as it's benefits in keeping me entertained) and they did feel like someone coming up and saying: AND HERE IS THE MORAL OF TODAY'S STORY WHICH WE THINK YOU ARE TOO DENSE TO PICK UP UNLESS WE SPELL IT OUT V-E-R-Y CLEARLY

I do however, rather obvious as I'm on here, love Joss' style of delivery - giving you the moral/emotional message throughout the episode and not having the "clunky" delivery of it at the end.

Also, I'm VERY excited for new Joss-ness to be on the TV soon!!!!! :-D
My (British) DVD sets all have the "Previously" segments on them, including The Gift. If I'm watching a string of episodes in a row, I tend to skip them, but for one-off viewings they are useful reminders - and come in handy when I'm teaching English using Buffy.

And I love the opening titles and theme tunes.
Hi all,
I guess this thread started with a discussion of a post on my blog about the Dollhouse pilot script and I am flattered by how many of you dropped by to read it. I'm also grateful to Damon for letting me into the space to join the discussion.

I'm going to read all the comments above before chiming in, but I wanted to say hi, I'm here.

Here's a thought about Dollhouse that struck me:

This setting is going to be more accessible to a mass audience than Whedon's previous series. As a rule, sci fi doesn't attract the big numbers of a crime show say, but I think some of Joss's settings have kept him on the fringes (no disrespect, an observation).

Some people may have thought Buffy was only for teens because it was set in a high school. And probably lots of people were afraid to try out a space western.

But Dollhouse is here and now. Present day, could be you or me people. I think that will mean a lot more people will give it a try. And as a result, a lot more people will get hooked.
I was thinking something similar. There is a hole in the TV landscape for an Alias-y show (which a lot of folks will see this as being similar to) and I think that it has the opportunity to draw in folks from outside the typical sphere of Joss' mighty reach. Looking forward to lots more database timeouts at Whedoneque... wait... ;) In all seriousness, it could be a whole new era of Joss fandom. Imagine all of the Dollhouse fansites cropping up overnight... wait... ;) What if (jinx!) it becomes a Lost sized phenomenon?
What if (jinx!) it becomes a Lost sized phenomenon?

Hmm. This is a bit troubling. Not that I don't wish everyone involved success, I just am troubled by my imagining of a world where I browse the internet for Dollhouse information similarly to how I browse for Harry Potter information. Which is to say, very warily. Eh, small price to pay for the show's success.

but I think some of Joss's settings have kept him on the fringes (no disrespect, an observation).

I am deeply offended on behalf of the Hellmouth. What is not appealing about a portal to hell hidden underneath a high school? I mean, seriously. There's the attractive locals (eternally young), the interesting local color (various demons), points of cultural interest (the Seal of Danthalzar and that nifty Satanic temple Willow found that one time), and the beautiful scenery (there's uh... the beach). Not to mention famous people who are known to drop by for visits (Dracula; mysterious military types). And... a booming funeral industry.

Yeah ok, I see what you mean. It's just that the tourism brochures are so glossy.
The settings thing just ties in with our theory that Joss is actually a cyborg from the future. Clearly he's overclocking or has everything set to 11 or is possibly using Future AC (like ours but precisely out of phase so that they cancel). 'Tis a future cyborg's lot to be forever enfringed. Ask any of us them.

Yeah i've thought from the start (i.e. since we knew the premise) that it's probably the easiest sell of all of Joss' shows to date. It's got hooks up the wazoo. Which, thinking about it, is only a good thing figuratively ;).

(in a sense it really has every hook, just by the way the show can change from spy thriller to romance to cop show to medical drama to anything else week on week. Or even within the same episode. Then you have the overarching philosophical questions and sort of ground-up character development as well. If that's not made of win then it's at least held together with win cement ;)
see sunfire, i think if people had got past that high school facade and found out about the portal to hell they would've been hooked. it's was the school that kept them away. :-)

The other thing is the world seems way more receptive to sci fi these days doesn't it? What with Heroes and Lost?
What if (jinx!) it becomes a Lost sized phenomenon?

I think to some extent it needs to become a TV phenomenon to survive. That's the harsh reality of American network television.

So the more accessible, the better.
Lost was stealth scifi. Some of the folks at ABC didn't even realize it was scifi until it was a hit and way too late to cancel it. Thank you JJ Abrams.

Dollhouse is stealth scifi too and will most likely be Joss' most accessible show and therefore his biggest hit.
Don't worry, there's still the title to overcome. ;)
Don't worry, there's still the title to overcome. ;)

I still hope for a House/Dollhouse double bill.
I was just talking to somebody about that earlier. We think it'll get paired with House, or Bones.
If it was paired with House people might think it was a spinoff. Well I would if I knew nothing about it.
I still have looong arguments with my siblings (who have watched BtVS, but little more) about the brilliance in Joss's titles.
I think that different things turn different people off about the show until someone converts them. I think the movie damned it to a large degree...

For my older bro, who was a vampire snob, all it took was one day when he was too sick to protest. He was hooked.
My sister was turned off because the first episode she saw was Prom, and she was underwhelmed by the hellhounds. She's converted now.

I think that the high school stuff should have appealed to people, as everyone, no matter how Cordelia-esque they were, had some bad, hellish high school moments. Everyone, except for kids who haven't been there yet. (Just you wait, Henry Higgins!)
Talk about universal appeal.

I'm not sure if I agree with Dollhouse as being stealth scifi. I think that it seems more outwardly dystopic than anything else Joss has done, which is a more accepted way to present scifi. After all, most people have read things like 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit-451.

The whole wiping-minds thing and letting people live their fantasies through the dolls seems new, but slightly familiar. I think that one thing this show has going for it is that more and more people have started to watch Joss's other stuff, and will be set to watch this new show.

As for the double bill, isn't the only thing House and Dollhouse have in common is the title? Hmmm. ETA: I think that Bones would be the perfect pairing. Would probably increase viewing for both, for people like me who like DB, but couldn't be arsed to take time out of my life to watch the show.

[ edited by BandofBuggered on 2008-05-05 22:56 ]
You know, Dollhouse is pretty uniquely crossover-capable. In a creepy way though. You could seamlessly insert a Doll as some guest star character in one show... and then Dollhouse could show a much darker flip side to that glimpse you got of someone who's really entirely not what you thought.

ETA: Err and my logic flow there was imagining a Doll in one of those twisty-dark House plotlines.

[ edited by Sunfire on 2008-05-05 23:05 ]
I follow you, Sunfire. If Bones & Dollhouse were paired up, then what will I fill the other days of my week with? And what about Terminator? I'm not saying Echo & Cameron are the best paired matched for a TV night, but we could use something there.
Oh, I'm not suggesting any particular scheduling. Just was struck by the idea of Dolls more or less being guest stars every week in shows of their own, unawares of course.
I think Dollhouse is going to need the 10 o'clock slot. Isn't House also a 10 pm show?
Fox doesn't program at 10 pm. House is on at 9pm eastern/pacific.
House was on at 8 PM at the beginning of its third season, and FOX shows reruns at 8 all the time.

We can't predict whether Dollhouse will air at 8 or 9 PM (eastern), but we can assume that its time slot won't be constant, this being FOX.
On Bones...

"We need some sort of bug specialist to determine where and when this body was deposited."

On Dollhouse...

"Echo, you're being programmed with special bug information that makes you a specialist in chronological and geographical information to point time of death."

Just to follow up on the "Previously on"s - one of the things I enjoy about them is seeing exactly what moments the writers/producers/editors(?) felt were especially relevant to the ep you were about to watch.

And (some?) British editions have them included? Lucky! At least you have the option to watch them. And, Raggedy Edge, you weren't the only one disappointed by the lack of The Gift's one... to the point that they made it an easter egg on the (US) season seven set! (Yeah, a little late; but...) On the set's disc 6: click on Special Features; there's a second, smaller "special features"; highlight it, then click left from there and a Buffy-styled "B" should appear. Click on that, and there should be the super clipfest which opened the 100th episode.
I'm not sure if I agree with Dollhouse as being stealth scifi. I think that it seems more outwardly dystopic than anything else Joss has done, which is a more accepted way to present scifi.

'Dollhouse' isn't really dystopic because the dollhouse itself is totally illegal so it doesn't present a "society characterised by human suffering" anymore than, for instance, a drama about human trafficking does.

I agree it's not particularly stealth sci-fi though, the concept from the outset is very sci-fi and presumably, since we have tech characters, there'll be machinery to facilitate the imprinting. One of the things that make 'Lost' or 'Heroes' "sneaky sci-fi" is the lack of an overt technological element to what we see ('Heroes' has the handwavy "genetic mutations" but that's effectively magic the way they use it anyway) and rightly or wrongly, most people think sci-fi = futuristic technology.

('Dollhouse' may well be sneaky in the way that BSG is though i.e. a lot of people that don't know much about sci-fi and expect it to be all lasers and spaceships will be surprised at its darkness and complexity - so in the same way that BSG and 'Firefly' attracted a lot of fans that might ordinarily avoid the genre, hopefully 'Dollhouse' will too)

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