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April 08 2009

LA Times blames FOX for Dollhouse numbers. In their Hollywood Hit or Miss column, LA Times praises "Man on the Street" but calls Dollhouse's treatment a "miss" for Hollywood.

Well, looking to the future, I like the writer's confidence in Joss, and shifting the blame to Fox.

By which I mean: when Whedon projects aren't commercially successful, it worries me about future ideas and creations. But when this writer sees the fault as Fox's and not Whedon's, and likes an unseen Whedon pilot better than what came out... that's a good thing.
The LA Times is such a fanboy.
Wow, I bet this is going to spark a long, contentious thread. You heard it here first!
I just hope Dollhouse gets picked up for second season. I have faith that Whedon could pull it together and that the show will hit its stride after the first season.
Blaming FOX for this is lazy and convenient and ultimately without merit. And, what's more, it requires calling Joss pretty much a liar, or at least a bit of slickster spin artist. Because Joss has very glibly and gratefully endorsed the mutual decision of reformatting around the episodic approach of the first six episodes, and also publicly supported the network's scheduling decision for Friday.

If the episodic approach is to blame, it's not for the logic behind it. It's like Warren explaining that shooting a Slayer works, and the guy saying you still have to be a good shot -- the episodic approach works, but you still need 5 good one shot episodes, and the goofy Britrihanna Spearswift Montana episode may ultimate bear the blame here. Worst word-of-mouth episode of the series so far, right when the show had gained some buzz momentum with "The Target".

Hopefully the reports are true that FOX is leaning toward renewal, the numbers following "Prison Break" will convince them that's the right call.
I disagree, KoC. Joss would not have "decided" to make the early episodes more "stand-alone" if Fox hadn't wanted it that way. Joss has said that this "mandate" from Fox was difficult for those involved in the show. He also rewrote the pilot to appease Fox, and I think most (though maybe not all) critics agree that the original pilot was better. I'm not saying that Joss is beyond criticism, or that he made no mistakes, but I am saying that Fox's involvement led to a significantly lower quality show, at least in the early episodes.

I do agree with you though (and disagree with the LA Times) on one thing, namely, that scheduling it Friday was not necessarily a bad idea.
How many critics have actually seen the original pilot, as opposed to just speculating on what they think it was probably like?

Nothing makes us sadder than thinking about the pilot that Joss Whedon had originally cooked up. It probably looked a lot like "Man on the Street," the recent sixth episode that dropped the boring case-of-the-week format pretense and finally -- finally! -- dug its teeth into the back story of the mysterious Dollhouse, its operatives and the guy hellbent on bringing it down.

How exactly does one review a show they've never seen? By using The Amazing Carnac or Dionne Warwick's Psychic Friends Hotline for reasearch assistance?
I also blame Fox. I don't know why exactly and am more or less entirely uninformed about which changes Fox wanted and which Joss (and the other writers etc.) came up with but still, I feel like it must be Fox's fault in some way. Pretty sure anything I don't like about the first 5 episodes was all their doing. Or it may have been a curse of some sort.
Well, presumably they could have at least read the leaked script.

I tend to agree that while Joss clearly bears some of the blame for the direction of the show, he also clearly made some changes at the behest of Fox. And, from what we can tell, those changes seem to have made the show worse. Now, that does not absolve Joss of all the blame (he could have shot a better new pilot, could have done better stand-alone episodes (whether those were his idea or not), or could have fought Fox on some of their sugggestions), but it seems undeniable that Fox had some influence and that it did not help the show. (Of course, whether the show would have been better, much less more successful, if Joss had followed his first vision is still purely speculation.*)

*(the opening scene in the pilot script was DEFINITELY better than the motorcycle-sexy-dancing opening we ended up with...)
<speculation>

I suspect the reality is that regardless of which pushes came from Fox and which came from Joss' own head, it's all part of the mix of working in the studio system -- and Joss has said (despite the system's problems and despite going around it for Dr. Horrible) that he understands and respects the studio system, certainly understands and respects that certain kinds of work doesn't happen without it.

It's true that I've suspected that in some ways Joss is being the dutiful son here, and that years from now he'll let loose with something more blunt about the Dollhouse experience. But even if that's the case, it's not like he'd be in the wrong to be understanding and respectful while he's actually working on the thing and waiting to see if he gets to keep working on the thing.

He chose to do this project, with all the goods and bads working with a television network entails. So even if some decisions were Fox's, not his, he chose to be part of a process where that's how it works, and so even if it's just diplomacy, it's how he should be behaving.

</speculation>
My completely unasked for psychoanalysis of Joss' thinking while interacting with Fox? He goes back to Fox, who he has felt betrayed by before, because he has this idea that he and Eliza came up with, and her deal is with Fox an' all, so he does a head check and says "ok, I'm going to try to be realistic about what the network wants and I'm gonna assume that there's a sweet spot between my vision and the realities of doing a Fox show that is potentially kick-ass, especially since I got no choice but to think like this if I'm gonna try to do right by Eliza and my idea without being whiny. Plus I hear these new guys aren't as bad as the old ones at Fox." So he does this and what happens? Turns out the new guys at Fox do appear more reasonable/easier to talk honestly with than the old crew and Joss really doesn't wanna be a bitter guy and puts a positive spin on everything, but the truth is, Fox is Fox: there are limits to what they feel they can get behind, and at some point, while all sides are really trying to play nice, Joss has gone into denial about how much of his vision can be forced into a Fox-shaped package, and this is why so many early episodes are weaker than they might have been in other circumstances.

Basically, not really a fault thing: Both sides were aware of the Whedon/Fox history, and seemed to be trying to be reasonable and up-front with each other, but that may not have been enough to result in arrival at a true consensus about how to succeed early enough. The show, given Eliza's key role in its existence was never NOT gonna be on Fox. And maybe, just maybe, the whole "I figured it out with Man on the Street" marks a true point at which the alchemy of Fox+Joss actually did finally gel (is that a mixed metaphor? Is Jello an alchemical product?) and the only remaining question then would be "did that alchemy/Jello occur too late in the game for the show to survive, or did it occur just in time?

ETA: and, of course, a show that treads a fine line along subjects like human traffiking was gonna be a tough balancing act on any network, not just Fox.

[ edited by doubtful guest on 2009-04-08 20:41 ]
All of my favorite shows have been poorly promoted this year. It's like the ad execs read my mind and then say, "Let's not run a lot of ads in prime timeslots. The ads we do run should be vague and misleading. Yeah, that should work."
Echo did have critical acclaim. Ghost didn't. So... I think they're totally right.
Thank you LA times 4 your candor and insight lm hoping fox gives this a chance just like it did 4 the OC it had poor ratings yet the powers that be at fox kept it on 4 five years this a a show that shows alot of promise
Was it poorly promoted though ? I know they maybe started later than a lot of folk would've preferred but weren't there quite a few ads and during huge, prime shows like American Idol ?

He chose to do this project, with all the goods and bads working with a television network entails. So even if some decisions were Fox's, not his, he chose to be part of a process where that's how it works, and so even if it's just diplomacy, it's how he should be behaving.

Facetiousness aside, this is what I love about this. It's one of the central ideas behind 'Dollhouse' writ large - Joss chose at the start to get involved even knowing what could happen. Some of the changes were no doubt pressured, some were maybe freely made (whatever that means) but he signed up for it.

Now a segment of the fandom seeks to entirely absolve him of responsibility for any of those choices (even though we've no idea which were his and which weren't) and wants to paint Fox as the out and out villains when the actual situation is almost certainly more nuanced. It almost couldn't be a more perfect fit.
It's a real pity viewers haven't had the patience to keep up


Should they have? If viewers think the show is not their cup of tea then I don't think they should be blamed for not tuning in. It's one of those elitist attitudes I can't stand.
Facetiousness aside, this is what I love about this. It's one of the central ideas behind 'Dollhouse' writ large - Joss chose at the start to get involved even knowing what could happen. Some of the changes were no doubt pressured, some were maybe freely made (whatever that means) but he signed up for it.

Gah! FOX has mindwiped him! They even sent Echo to lure him in.
And they knew about his "bathroom inspiration" Achilles heel. If I were him i'd check my ventilation system for cameras.
I'm not sure what part of me is my ventilation system.
doutful guest, alchemy refers to metals, as far as I know. Gel stands on its own, unless you prefer congeal. I've argued that Dollhouse still hasn't really congealed (MOS didn't do it for me), or gelled (I said gelled when I argued). I'll basically wait forever for it to do that, and keep watching, but I'm not sure how much that alchemical, cooking, or biological process has to do with the ratings, once a show does or doesn't get moving among the tv audience. The marketing+show magic that needed to happen didn't this season. I think it could still happen in a second. So I'll still have a reason to blame Fox if it isn't renewed. Some things are forever.

eta: B!x, I'm no biologist, but I'm guessing it's either that aperture just over the top of your dorsal fin, or those gelly greenish things under your ears.

[ edited by dreamlogic on 2009-04-08 21:01 ]
Thank you LA times 4 your candor and insight lm hoping fox gives this a chance just like it did 4 the OC it had poor ratings yet the powers that be at fox kept it on 4 five years this a a show that shows alot of promise

An excellent example of why punctuation is important.
Grr. While I liked what they said about Dollhouse, I'm baffled at the insult to Watchmen. Especially stupid is making fun of the 'gratuitous nudity'... hello? Did you even read the comics? The good doctor is always naked, and you see the rest that they showed naked in the movie in the comic as well. Was it ideal? No, but they criticized the wrong parts. The biggest issue was by far Ozymandias, not Laurie (who is not middle aged, as she was only 16 in the attempt to create the new group by Captain Metropolis). This attack, as well as labeling things like Britney Spears, The Bachelor and Mall cops as 'hits'... not to mention putting the Boss (the original one, mind) into 'Hollywood' is insulting to him, make me view the Dollhouse writing as less legitimate.

Simon, I feel that elitist is a complement, not an insult. To be an elite person is good, it means you are the best at what you do... certainly everyone aspires to that? I do not want to fight you for obvious reasons, but I am baffled as to the recent trend of trying to turn 'elitism' into an insult.

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-04-08 21:10 ]
Funny how some people only get squeamish about "gratuitous" nudity when it's penises that are on display. Or in this case, blue penises. Big blue penises that make other men feel insecure about their ... non-blue penises.
At what point should it just be accepted that maybe, perhaps just maybe, the average viewer is just not that into Dollhouse? Despite what FOX may or may not have done to the show, or Whedon's best efforts or whatever?

When do you just decide that the viewers, for better or worse, have spoken?

I mean, you can lead a whore to culture but you cannot make her think, to borrow a line from Spider Robinson Dorothy Parker.

[Citation corrected, thanks to b!x]

[ edited by BetNoir on 2009-04-08 21:36 ]

[ edited by BetNoir on 2009-04-09 01:48 ]
SteppeMerc: I've no problem with trying to do the best you can as that's an extremely vital part of our society. What I do have a problem with is the attitude "if the public don't like it then clearly they don't understand it". It feels wrong to me.
Big blue penises that make other men feel insecure about their ... non-blue penises.

Wait, my penis isn't supposed to be blue?
SteppeMerc... I hardly think Simon's point had to do with what you are talking about. How is having the patience to sit through a TV show you don't like mean you are the best at something?
BrewBunny, despite being a heterosexual male, I hardly had problems with it... like I said, it was in the comics, and any attempt to cover up Doc Manhattan's nakedness would have seen childish (not to mention causing getting more criticism).

Simon, I guess you and I see things differently then.

fortunateizzi, I was speaking of the actual definition of 'elite', which is indeed the best. My feelings on people that watch certain shows and not others that I feel are more deserving I won't get into, because I'm sure that I will get into trouble, which I have no desire to do.

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-04-08 21:23 ]

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-04-08 21:29 ]
I mean, you can lead a whore to culture but you cannot make her think

Ironic quote in light of the show's ostensible purpose of exploring human trafficking. By the way, I don't think Spider Robinson coined that expression.
I should add that as far as the ZOMG!GIANT!BLUE!SCHLONG! thing goes, note that nobody said a peep about Malin Ackerman being topless -- and in many ways I felt the "Let's christen Archie's gearshift" sex scene to be far more gratuitous than Billy Crudup's CGI'd penis.

It's like the naked male genitalia is the Final Taboo.
By the way, I don't think Spider Robinson coined that expression.

Indeed he didn't. It was Dorothy Parker.

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-04-08 21:22 ]
SteppedMerc, It was the reviewer who was uncomfortable with the nudity - I didn't get the impression that you were. It didn't bother me at all either.

b!X, I'm afraid that I'm not in a position to opine on the pigmentation of your penis.
BetNoir, I would disagree, if only because the ridiculous music sort of overrode any images on the screen. But yes, male nudity is far rarer (with the seeming exception of any movie Jason Segel is in).
BrewBunny, actually Dorothy Parker beat both of those sources to the quote. ETA Um, what B!x said.

[ edited by doubtful guest on 2009-04-08 21:30 ]
I didn't think that blogger invented it - she refers to it as an "old joke" and I just linked to it as an example of more widespread use. But I didn't realize that it was Mrs. Parker who coined it.
SteppeMerc -- and yet, when there is male nudity, it causes a huge stir in the press. Look at Viggo Mortensen's naked fight scene in Eastern Promises or the 'reveal' in Crying Game.

Such a fuss and a bother in the press in both cases despite the male nudity being utterly nongratuitous in both cases.

We can get naked ass of both genders on our TVs, naked boobs on cable or movies and not think twice.

But a penis, just hanging there? OH NOES!
I think it's fair to compare "Echo" to "Ghost", if one has at least read the script for "Echo", but I find it insanely impossible to judge how the show would have been, if Fox let Joss alone, even if I buy the fantasy that in that case they wouldn't have given him input he liked. This is like saying: "I like unicorns better than horses, nature sucks for giving us horses." It's a fantasy. There is no othe version of this show than the one we got, even if we think that we know what Joss would have done differently in unicorn-land. We don't. I don't think he really does.

We do have some criticisms that are commonly directed towards Fox, that actually are Joss' doing. Gossi summed them up a while ago.

We do know that Joss changed stuff, and some of it 'cause Fox wanted it. We also know that that always happens, and that the show seems to be dark enough to be only somewhat popular in his own fanbase, yet light enough for people to blame Fox for dumbing it down. Go figure.

So, what we have besides those fantastic speculations, is a leaked pilot script. I myself found "Ghost" to be the better pilot, the motorcycle scene a much better introduction than the first ten pages of "Echo" (that for me just scream "ART!"... and I'm always turned off by incomprehensible awesomeness), and the events depicted in "Echo" that actually found a way into the season felt better with the weight they had after a few episodes. The metaphors in "Ghost" had a much stronger emotional resonance for me than any of the stuff in "Echo". "Echo" felt a little bit like "Dollhouse light" to me. If Kidnapping and child rape is the dumbed down and lighter version that Fox forced Joss to do, than those have to be some pretty fucked up network bosses. Also, how lame of them to actually try to sell and promote the most offending and uncomfortable show this network (or any other, for that matter) has seen in a long while.
Fox didn't ask for the first 6 episodes to be pilots.

Fox didn't ask for the pilot to be scrapped.

Fox didn't ask for the episode order changes.
So you're saying Fox just ordered Joss to do all those things gossi ? It's even worse than I thought. Not only are they evil show ruiners, they've also got no bloody manners.

But a penis, just hanging there? OH NOES!

It's just a matter of what people're used to seeing onscreen, willies apparently press all sorts of Victorian discomfort buttons. I guess male nudity is still comparatively rare, in 20 years time i'd imagine it'll turn fewer heads.

Both the big (if you can call that big. Ahem ;) blue penis and the Nite Owl/Silk Spectre II sex scene are absolutely integral to the story and speak volumes about the characters so it didn't even occur to me to question them. I was only glad Zach Snyder and the writers stuck to their guns and stayed true to the spirit of the comic.
wiesengrund, I still feel the Friday slot is really hurting Dollhouse, as well as the seeming lack of promotion now. Yes they blitzed it early on, but I watch a good amount of Fox (probably too much) and haven't seen any advertisement for any of the really really good episodes. It is particularly frustrating when compared to the support given to Fringe, which to me is mediocre at best, especially since the main actress can't even do an American accent.

That said I really don't understand the feeling of "ok, now the show is good." I, as well as everyone else I know really liked the show from the first episode. I know people have different tastes, but I am baffled as to why people in the high up positions of critics or network or whatever never seem to have my tastes. Actually maybe I'm not all that baffled, just annoyed.

edit: Agree 100% Saje.

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-04-08 21:54 ]

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-04-08 21:55 ]
You can't work in TV without accepting that the studio will interfere/make suggestions/order changes/help. (Delete as applicable)
A good sculptor works with the stone. He either accepts the grain and texture of the stone he has or finds a new stone. But a good sculptor will get the best out of that stone.

Fox wanted changes. It's their money, that's their right.

What if Lost had started with the very first episode having smoke monsters, time travel and mysterious numbers? I'm sure many people would have been put off. It started slowly and almost tricked people into watching a genre/scifi show. It's not always the best idea to throw everything into the first episode. Many people could have been put off by Echo (the episode) as could have been hooked.
Lost would have been better if the network hadn't meddled. They were going to kill off Jack in the first episode, but instead they made them keep him. Sadly.

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-04-08 21:57 ]

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-04-08 21:58 ]
Technically, I would tend to suspect that the "Fox didn't ask" thing likely isn't the whole of the story either. A network has plenty of ways of indicating an opinion without asking or telling anyone to do anything in particular, and a producer will get what that means and make a bunch of decisions "on his own".

But anyway, as keeps getting stated, regardless of who did or did not make this decision or that decision, Joss signed up for this. If the show is working for you, it's ultimately on him. If it isn't, it's ultimately on him.
RE: Male nudity. I think Roger Ebert said it best; male nudity turns a movie into a documentary.

RE: Analysis of DH success or lack thereof. I am tired of reading the same arguments offered time and time again. Fox screwed it up, the pilot was great but it had to be changed, the show was put on Friday night, etc. It is like a built-in excuse if the show gets canceled after this season. Joss, of course, had nothing to do with it, even though from what I read he agreed with nearly everything they asked him to do.
It is like a built-in excuse if the show gets canceled after this season.

Truly. People are having a problem with the idea that correlation doesn't mean causation. If he has two shows "fail" at Fox, people will use it as an "I told you so" moment.

But, as an example, if someone I respected suddenly up and bought the bookstore I used to work at and wanted me to come work with them, and I did so, but then it didn't work out, I could hardly go, "Damn that bookstore, I should have known!"

Same thing here, ultimately.
Fox didn't ask for the first 6 episodes to be pilots.

Fox didn't ask for the pilot to be scrapped.

Fox didn't ask for the episode order changes.


Ok yeah maybe but I heard Joss went for some kinda treatment right before he did each of those things. FACTish.
re: Watchmen. I haven't been reading the press about it. A coworker mentioned that there was a dust-up over the sex scene and I said huh? Nothing about the double dismemberment by saw? I thought that was a little harder on the eyes.

gossi, insisting that each episode appeal to a new, hasn't seen it before, audience is sort of like asking for six pilots, if that's what they did. But I doubt that was the problem, even if they did.
So wait, is Joss a book ? And where does the stone come into it again ?

People are having a problem with the idea that correlation doesn't mean causation.

People always have that problem. It keeps the rainstick industry thriving.

Ok yeah maybe but I heard Joss went for some kinda treatment right before he did each of those things. FACTish.

Yeah but that was just a spa thing, nothing bad right ?
Fox has done a great job with these last few episodes.

Also, I'm in favor of the large blue penis.
xkcd on correlation vs. causation: http://xkcd.com/552/

I don't want to look at the spoiler thread at the top of Whedonesque, but could someone explain in a non-spoilery way what's going on with episode 12 being the finale?
The Fox press release for the May sweeps says episode 12 is the finale.
While Dollhouse isn't exactly along the lines of Firefly, Buffy, or Angel, it is still better than most shows that are on right now.

I watch Lost and find it to be convoluted and dragging. I watch 24 and find it to be repetitive and predictable. I watch Terminator: TSCC and find myself anxiously awaiting 9pm so that I can watch Dollhouse.

The Dollhouse characters are layered. It's a complex show. Not everyone's going to like it. But both my housemates enjoy it [although not as much as I do] and one even commented that "I need my shows to be more dumbed down than this or I get lost... but I still know this is a great show."

And as I was writing this, Simon shared the episode 12 news. Gorramit.

[ edited by CrazyKidBen on 2009-04-08 22:46 ]
Thanks Simon. OK, well, that seems bad. Don't want to go OT here, but does it seem like the press release has a mistake, or is it ... worse?
...but could someone explain in a non-spoilery way what's going on with episode 12 being the finale?

Episode 12 is where we find out that BRUCE WILLIS IS DEAD THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE MOVIE !

I remember with 'Journeyman' there was some confusion (OK, I was confused ;) because folk in the biz sometimes refer to the pilot as "episode 00" so that episode 12 would actually be the 13th episode. Could the same thing be happening here or have we just handed all the ammunition in the entire world to the "Fox killed our show !" camp ?
but does it seem like the press release has a mistake, or is it ... worse?


gossi sez

This might be a mistake. FOX have shifted back "Mental" a week so FOX *do* have a slot free they can use for the Dollhouse finale. It's also possible they just don't want to air Joss, Jed and Maurissa's episode. Speaking to PR people now.

I was warned about a month ago this could happen.

As I was saying, this in no way resembles the confusion over 'Journeyman'.
I may create a new thread so people can talk about the episode 12 finale bombshell without getting spoiled.
Selling advertising space is all well and good, but every network has thousands of hours of airtime to fill over the course of a year, so I don't understand how it can be worth their effort to create 13 hours of programming only to deliberately sabotage its' chance to build an audience. As a strategy, does this even make sense? You'd think their executives would have better things to do with their time.

On the other hand, if they've convinced themselves that they understand exactly what sort of hours they want to craft to fill their primetime hours on their network, they might honestly believe that the simplistic and linear stuff they seem to want is the only way to go. If that's true, I guess it's understandable that they'd feel justified in retooling JW's vision. If their vision really is that limited, it makes me wonder why they'd put him on the payroll in the first place.

I'd prefer to believe they're not that dumb, but hope springs eternal, right?
I just...sigh...

Look, I don't watch Dollhouse (and please don't take this as an open invitation to try to change my mind. Really).

My point, and I did have one, is that while it may be all manner of convenient to blame FOX/Whedon/viewers/the current banking crisis/global warming/FITB with horrific apocolypse of your choice, it's a false positive.

Sometimes, people just don't watch. And you can do all the analyses, scenario running, crystal-ball-gazing, second-guessing and tea-leaf reading you want, but sometimes, at the end of the day it just comes down to not enough people watched.

[ edited by BetNoir on 2009-04-08 23:30 ]
gossi, per below, Joss has clearly said that Fox wanted changes to the pilot, and that it wanted the early episodes to be "pure standalone engagements." That was their "mandate," and Joss felt obligated to make the adjustments. Most observers (critics and viewers alike) agree that these changes made the early episodes significantly weaker. And if the early episodes had been stronger, we might have different ratings, and greater chances for a second season. Of course, I'm not saying Joss is perfect or Fox execs are stupid, just that they should have left this one alone.

http://blog.zap2it.com/frominsidethebox/2009/02/dollhouse-week-joss-whedon-on-the-shows-origins-and-direction.html

[ edited by Squishy on 2009-04-08 23:34 ]
Yeah, well, I still agree with me.

(c:
So, what we have besides those fantastic speculations, is a leaked pilot script. I myself found "Ghost" to be the better pilot, the motorcycle scene a much better introduction than the first ten pages of "Echo" (that for me just scream "ART!"... and I'm always turned off by incomprehensible awesomeness),


Have to disagree heavily with you there, wiesengrund. I remember gossi also mentioning that the opening pages of "Echo" were not very clear, but I just don't feel that's the case. Sure, it's not clear from page one that we're dealing with an active in a dollhouse, but all that gets explained very quickly inside the original pilot script. That explanation is very clear (and, even better, feels unforced) and from that point on, no viewer should be confused at to what's going on.

What's more, it's obvious that - as viewers - we're supposed to be a little confused by what's going on during the opening scenes. The script is, in the beginning, clearly contrasting seperate imprinted personalities which don't quite mesh with each other to make the viewer (or, in this case, the reader) go "huh, wait, what's going on here". And then it delivers with an explanation.

Don't forget that we, as television viewers, have gotten quite good at understanding complicated scripts, there's no need to talk down to the public, or to dumb things down (not that "Ghost" was a 'dumbed down' episode, by the way). In fact: initial confusion is used by a lot of shows, most frequently (but not exclusively) when they open with a dream sequences that contrasts with our expectations (like Dollhouse did just last week). Admittedly, that usually doesn't happen in the pilot, but in this case that doesn't really matter because as long as it's clear one is supposed to be slightly confused, I don't think many people would be worried that they are. In fact: I think I'd find the opening completely intriguing and would've been drawn into the episode even more, because I would've wanted to know what the heck was going on.

Finally I think that the opening scene of the orignal pilot script is intense, has immediate emotional resonance (even if it's "only" an 'imprint of the week and even if we don't know the characters we're watching (yet)) and features some great whedonesque dialogue. I find myself massively prefering it to the way "Ghost" opened.


and the events depicted in "Echo" that actually found a way into the season felt better with the weight they had after a few episodes.


Again, disagreed. The early episodes of Dollhouse - to me - felt like we were struggling through lots of unnecessary 'imprint of the week' stuff, to get to the meat of the story: the things inside the Dollhouse and the way the characters function as a part of that. Many of my favorite scenes in those early episodes were actually from the original pilot script, and I don't feel the 'imprint of the week' stories greatly impacted those scenes. If anything, it worked the other way around: the rest became slightly more interesting because of the background we got from those types of scenes.

What's more, I feel that "Echo" instantly gives one a feel for the Dollhouse and the other characters. They have larger roles to play from the get go, and one gets an immediate sense that this is a new, lived-in world we're just starting to discover.

In fact, the script even takes some time to introduce the Dollhouse itself, the set, just like Joss did with 'Serenity'. It makes the big dollhouse set feel more like "home", grounds the show with a sense of physicality.

And finally, I think the original pilot sketches 'Echo' much better as a character. I was instantly ready to root for her in the pilot script, whereas it took some time for that to happen in the show, because we got to know more of her struggle and because they made her more important. Not by making her practically the only active we see (which is what happened in the first few episodes now), but by making her actively different and having others respond to her being different. It gave an immediate sense of where some characters 'stood' on that issue (not that that couldn't have been subverted later on) and gave 'Echo' a much clearer sense of purpose: finding "herself".

The metaphors in "Ghost" had a much stronger emotional resonance for me than any of the stuff in "Echo". "Echo" felt a little bit like "Dollhouse light" to me.


To me, "Echo" felt more like a basic summary of the show's premise and themes, which is what I like my pilots to be. The same thing happened with MotS in the actual run, which in many ways felt like the pilot to the "improved Dollhouse" because of it. But here we got some of that in the actual pilot and that, in my mind, isn't a bad thing. Plus: having those big scenes closer together, gave it a much more increased sense of purpose, urgency and rhythm.

If Kidnapping and child rape is the dumbed down and lighter version that Fox forced Joss to do, than those have to be some pretty fucked up network bosses.


This I agree with. "Ghost" tackles some large issues, but I felt it didn't do so in a very satisfactory or new way. And in the end, I find the struggles of this unknown case-of-the-week girl and Echo's 'imprint of the week' persona much less emotionally gratifying than the things that happen with characters we know we'll get to know better as the show progresses, even if the story does revolve around big emotional issues like kidnapping and child rape.

But then I prefer drama from the main characters and overarching storyline to loose 'episodes of the week'. It's why I massively prefer 'Serenity' to 'The Train Job', because it took time to explain the world and the characters living in it, and didn't have to cram in a 'story of the week' as well. It's also why it took me a while to really get into Angel during its first season (although it being a spin-off of Buffy did help).

But, all in all, I feel that "Echo" had better dialogue than all of the early episodes, had a greater sense of direction and was instantly involving.

Having said that, it does have one downside, when reading it now. Boyd and Dr. Saunders are slightly different, which is especially hard to accept in the case of Boyd, because he seems more 'cold' and 'distant', more like a 'part of the problem', while I much prefer "Boyd-the-hero" from the episodes we've got, because that makes us question his motives all that much harder and makes us all the more uncomfortable when it turns out that he's not all that hero-like after all (which we can pretty much assume is the case, given his current job).

So, in the end, Dollhouse has changed to the extent that "Echo" feels like a slightly alternate universe version of Dollhouse, a true might-have-been. But as a script, to me, it blows "Ghost" out of the water in pretty much every sense. I think MotS is the first episode of the actual show that is comparable in quality to "Echo", and if you'd ask me, I'd much rather have started with that.

Now as for who's to "blame" for changing it: I won't say I don't quite care, because I do, if only because I'm interested in what the process was like. But I'm not ready to actually blame anyone for the show we got. I'm just gratefull we, y'know, have one. And in the end, I'm pretty sure that the process of creating the show isn't as clear-cut as we'd like to pretend. I'm sure Fox offered up some good suggestions and I'm sure Joss wrote some of the stuff I'm less enthusiastic about.

In the end all that matters is that I've been finding Dollhouse more and more engaging every week - even though I'm still not a clear-cut fan, like I am of Joss' other work - and I certainly hope it survives to a second season. With MotS, I feel the show finally found its footing, although I still feel the show could, even now, be better. It's not as instantly great as Firefly or as instantly likeable as Buffy, but in the end it's really not fair to compare.

All in all, though, I would very much have liked to know what the show would've looked like if we started with "Echo". Who knows - it might've been absolutely riveting television (that would've been cancelled after three episodes ;)). There's simply no telling. But it is fun to ponder.

ETA: yikes, this post is frikkin' huge, heh :)

[ edited by GVH on 2009-04-09 02:39 ]
gossi, per below, Joss has clearly said that Fox wanted changes to the pilot, and that it wanted the early episodes to be "pure standalone engagements." That was their "mandate," and Joss felt obligated to make the adjustments. Most observers (critics and viewers alike) agree that these changes made the early episodes significantly weaker.
Squishy | April 08, 23:33 CET


Thanks for that. I don't get the "re-writing history" to absolve Fox of responsibility for fucking with the first five eps. I read more interviews with Joss than I could count, that made it clear that the changes were demanded by Fox.
No matter how diplomatically he put it and no matter that in the end, he said he "agreed" with the changes, when he was doing interviews promoting the show (what was he supposed to say, at that point?

Oh - and Yay L.A. Times. :)
It was blue, but it wasn't THAT big (comparatively speaking). Did no one else watch Queer as Folk?

Oh, are we talking about Dollhouse again? I got distracted.
That was their "mandate," and Joss felt obligated to make the adjustments.

What a wonderful way to spin things.

Quotes from the very article you linked to Squishy:
Changes to the first episode aside, though, Whedon says that the first season of Dollhouse "ends up going exactly where I had hoped it would go."

...

"There are things I miss from my original vision, and there are things that I think are better the way it is. Ultimately, the show ends up going exactly where I hoped it would go.

...

"The idea was always to have a mythology that was counterbalanced by a stand-alone aspect that every episode would be self-contained, and that the mythology would play out [over time]. The mandate to go ahead and just really make the first several episodes pure standalone engagements is tough. It's more work for a staff to drum up that enthusiasm and that identification for the guest of the week. ... So it's a challenge, but it's one that we knew going in we were going to have to tackle, and I think we're getting better at it."
(my emphasis)

So yeah, there's an element of seeing everything how we want to but I guess it's always the case with any spectrum of people and their varying approaches to evidence etc.

BTW, for another perspective on the changes Joss was "forced" to make (including offering to entirely rewrite the pilot) look no further than a little website I often like to call "here". It's the perspective of a fella that goes by varying misnomers but is kinda famous around these parts ;).

Is he very likely putting things in the best light as he sees it, trying to be a professional and not insult his employers ? Probably. Does that make what he actually says untrue ? Not to me, i'd prefer to assume he's not lying about the changes and how he feels about them (at the time he wrote that post obviously, who knows how he feels now).
You missed the bit where Fox greenlit Dollhouse because of the DVD sales.
Uhm, trust me, I'm not the one rewriting history. Joss has been pretty clear in the interviews, the problem is people just ignore him if he says something they don't like.
You missed the bit where Fox greenlit Dollhouse because of the DVD sales.

Yep, also totally 100% true. I for one am not gonna let a little thing like causality, the forward flow of time and what Joss actually says get in the way of a good myth.
Saje, I'm not really sure what your point is. Joss is clear that Fox wanted the changes to the pilot as well as the standalone emphasis in the early episodes. That was their "mandate," and he complied. Most people agree these changes negatively affected the quality of the early episodes. (Joss refers to these eps as "baby steps.") The fact that Joss tries to be as positive as possible about all this in public statements is hardly surprising. One doesn't generally publicly denounce their employer or emphasize that their soon-to-be-aired show has taken a hit in quality. This doesn't mean he's lying, just that he's no dummy. In fact, his statements that the series "ultimately" ends up going where he wants is, I think, pretty clearly just a diplomatic way of admitting that the early episodes are not what he wanted.

So gossi, I agree that Joss has been pretty clear in interviews, just not in the way you think.

And again, just to make super-duper clear, I'm not saying Joss would have made a perfect show; I think the show has some issues separate and apart from all this. But I think most people would agree that Fox's creative input (while perhaps well intentioned) negatively affected the quality of the early episodes.
I agree with Squishy on this, even thought that may mean disagreeing with what Joss, or even with what Joss thinks.

There was vision of the show that Joss had. Fox gave him comments/suggestions/mandates/whatever. Joss then changed the show in reaction to Fox's input. There is a different show now. Now, whether that original show would have been better is hard to say (though I've read the original pilot and prefer it). And, Joss may very well think that he improved on his original vision, or that the original vision hasn't changed that much -- because it "ultimately" goes where he wants it to, or because he, too, wanted five pseudo-pilots (which I dont' think is the same as five standlone episodes) -- but I suspect that's not true.
My point is we don't know enough about Fox's changes nor about what the early episodes would've looked like (apart from the pilot) to decide one way or the other. I.e. when Joss himself says "There are things I miss from my original vision, and there are things that I think are better the way it is." are we to assume that all the changes he likes are also the things we like ? Or conversely that all the things we dislike came from Fox ? Or that of all the changes he likes none came from Fox ? Pretty convenient (i.e. one sided) reading of the situation IMO.

When Joss says "One: They're not wrong." or "This kind of back and forth has happened on every show I've done, so if you liked those, chances are that was a part of why." are we to assume he's just being diplomatic ? Just pretending to give the network some credit for his past successes ?

We can read between the lines in all kinds of ways if it helps our case (i've noticed that's usually the only time people do it in fact) but isn't it easier just to assume he's telling the truth as he sees it and that of the changes he was asked to make some he didn't like (but made anyway while acknowledging that this has happened on every show he's worked on) and some he did like and even considers improvements ? Like he, y'know, says ?

Joss is clear that Fox wanted the changes to the pilot as well as the standalone emphasis in the early episodes.

Yep, Joss is clear that Fox wanted changes to the pilot and he's equally clear that he then voluntarily rewrote it from the ground up (despite Fox actually saying at one point that they didn't think that was necessary) as he says with "The original pilot was in fact thrown out. Again, at my behest." (after which he talks about how frustrating that was).
I hear you Saje, but I have to respectfully disagree. I think we definitely DO know enough about the changes to draw some conclusions.

(1) As you say, we have access to both versions of the pilot, and most people (admittedly not all) prefer Joss's original.

(2) We also know that Joss wanted more mythology balanced against standalone engagements, whereas Fox wanted a more "pure" standalone emphasis in the early eps. Almost everybody agrees that mythology aspect of the show (i.e., the ongoing story) is great, and the standalone engagement emphasis is . . . not so much.

Of course, I'm sure Fox had SOME useful input. And of course Joss's acquiescence wasn't "involuntary" in any literal sense -- a person can always choose to ignore the "mandate" of the people who pay the bills and hope for the best. But the bottom line, IMO, is that Fox's input resulted in the early episodes being significantly weaker than they would have otherwise been. (I suspect it also impacted the later episodes, which may feel more rushed because Joss had to cram in additional narrative originally intended for the earlier eps.)

[ edited by Squishy on 2009-04-09 18:04 ]
I'm still wondering how people imagine Joss being on the set, shooting the motorcycle scene and saying: "Well, it's crap, but the network wants it, so what the heck." Or the discussion about the "Stage Fright"-plot in the writer's room going "We totally don't like that, but we have to do it."

These creators and Joss among them did that first few episodes. They put their name under it. Joss wrote and shot that motorcycle scene. It might be uncomfortable to say that we don't like something Joss did but if we do (don't like it), then at least we should have the courage to say so without fabricating space... erm, scapegoats based on procedures we know nothing about and reading between Joss' lines the opposite of what he said in the actual lines. If people don't like the show, I think blaming the makers and creators is more appropriate than blaming the promoters. Even knowing of the network related troubles Angel had during Season 1, I still come out of it going "Joss (and David) dropped the ball." I most certainly don't go out going "Well, The WB, oh boy."

In the end, the story matters. And if the story doesn't touch you, the storyteller did his job wrong. Not his bookie buddy.
And yes, the pilot was thrown out at Joss's "behest," but he says he did so only because it would no longer have worked in the framework of what "the Network" wanted.
Wiesengrud, I don't know that I would characterize Fox's role as jsut "promoter" or "bookie buddy." They clearly took a creative role in it as well.
Fox loved Dollhouse until they saw it. It all went a bit pear-shaped after that.
Fox loved Dollhouse until they saw it. It all went a bit pear-shaped after that.

Not far off. Remember the later Joss remark that it somehow managed to transpire that the show Fox thought they bought wasn't the same show Joss thought he'd pitched them.

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-04-09 18:35 ]
Which is funny, because I think FOX would love Dollhouse if viewers loved it. But then viewers had the same problem.
I get the feeling Fox panicked when they saw the first few episodes and downplayed expectations accordingingly. That's the impression I got from interviews with Fox execs in the weeks and months before the premiere aired.
I agree. I also think the panic was threefold: 1) this isn't what we though we were getting, 2) this isn't going to sell like we need it to, 3) this is some pretty disturbing stuff and we're not sure we're ok with that.
That's the FOX meeting memos right there.
I don't know what "actual lines" you're referring to wiesengrund. As far as I know, Joss has never said that the show was, on the whole, improved as a result of Fox's mandates --that's a pretty telling omission by someone who presumably wants to attract people to the show. And his "actual lines," i.e., what he's actually said, pretty clearly indicate that he would have done the early episodes differently but for Fox's mandate.
It's sad, really. FOX is so much more willing to do edgy, for a US network, that they have earned a reputation for tastelessness. (Which is to say, really earned it). I think if the show was doing decently, they'd be ordering a second season, because they're willing to do rather questionable things for ratings. And I expect that's not true of other networks that maybe expected something sexy-thinky and got whoa-moral-greyness-of-bad-sexy.

I find that the shows I hate most and shows I love most are all on FOX, and I think that's why.
... what he's actually said, pretty clearly indicate that he would have done the early episodes differently but for Fox's mandate.

Yes Squishy but (also respectfully ;) we don't know in what way and we don't know if we'd have preferred them, agreed ? So in what way can we say that the episodes we got are weaker ? Has anyone seen the first 5 episodes that Joss would have made ? No. And yet some of us are somehow judging these non-existent episodes as better than the ones we ended up with. That conclusion isn't supported by the evidence simply because, apart from the pilot, that evidence does not exist.

If you're literally just saying they would have been different without any network input well that's tautological and as such entirely impossible to disagree with. Of course they would've. They'd also have been different if that light had stayed on amber for Joss that morning, if he didn't have indigestion after those burritos, if, if, if ... I do not blame those traffic lights for the things I don't like in Dollhouse eps 1-5 and i'm very much pro burritos ;).

Now the original pilot's on the DVD and I may prefer it when I see it. But that still doesn't mean more people would've watched and it still says nothing about the hypothetical uninterfered with 4-5 episodes following. And it obviously doesn't even say "It's better", it just says "I thought it was better".

I don't know what "actual lines" you're referring to wiesengrund.

Without putting words in wiesengrund's mouth, i'd suspect it's lines like the previously quoted:

There are things I miss from my original vision, and there are things that I think are better the way it is.

I.e. Joss feels some things are improved, some things are worse. We don't know what the balance is in his mind (for instance it might be 20 things improved, 5 things missed or it might well be vice versa).

And there are others, not just in his post here but in interviews leading up to the premiere.

I'm still wondering how people imagine Joss being on the set, shooting the motorcycle scene and saying: "Well, it's crap, but the network wants it, so what the heck." Or the discussion about the "Stage Fright"-plot in the writer's room going "We totally don't like that, but we have to do it."

Exactly. He wrote that scene (AFAWeK). I believe (admittedly without knowing him ;) that Joss has enough integrity to NOT put his name to something he doesn't believe is the best he can make within the limits he's given and I also believe that if it didn't meet a minimum standard of quality, if it were something he felt was just plain bad then he wouldn't be involved with it at all.

Ultimately if he parted from Fox after "creative differences" then a) he wouldn't be the first showrunner to do so b) he'd certainly work again and c) he'd have protected his reputation from being associated with TV he didn't believe in. He chose not to do that (along with the rest of the writers/producers).

It's similar to the discussion about the early racy photos of Eliza and everyone immediately assuming that Joss would be against it (or knew nothing about it) and that it was all down to Fox. Well, turns out he wasn't against it and did know about it, turns out he was 100% behind Eliza making her own choices and believed in her ability to do so. That's maybe not what we wanted to hear but it's still the truth.
Saje, I suspect we are unlikely to convince each other but I'll offer a brief response anyway. I agree that no one can say for certain exactly what eps 2-5 would have looked like, but that does not mean we have "no evidence" that they likely would have been better. We know that a lot of what people are complaining about is the "engagement of the week" stuff, and conversely, that a lot of what they love is the "ongoing story" stuff. Since we also know that Fox mandated more of the former and Joss would have preferred more of the latter, I think we can fairly infer that there would been less to complain about and more to love (at least in the early episodes) if Fox had never gotten involved. (And of course, as you say, we can also compare the original pilot screenplay with the revised pilot.)

Can we assert this absolute certainty? Of course not. Is it a reasonable conclusion? Darn tootin. And if I'm correct, I also think there's a fair likelihood that the ratings would have been better (though again, no one knows for sure).

Of course, no one is suggesting that Joss thinks the early episodes are crap (I don't think that either). Nor am I "uncomfortable" questioning Joss's own creative decisions when I think its warranted. (As I've said elsewhere, I tend to agree with the critics who worry that the DH characters are difficult to identify with.)

All I'm saying is that I can reasonably conclude (along with the LA Times and anyone else who looks at the evidence) that Fox's "mandate" hurt the show's overall quality and (probably) its ratings.

Lastly, let me just say that I have no objection whatsoever to racy photos of Eliza.
The photos aren't the point, people's assumptions about Joss' involvement with things they may not agree with are the point.

All I'm saying is that I can reasonably conclude (along with the LA Times and anyone else who looks at the evidence) ...

Yeah, you guys are looking at the evidence and people who disagree aren't, I know the drill ;).

Can we assert this absolute certainty? Of course not. Is it a reasonable conclusion? Darn tootin.

No, it really isn't. In order for that to be reasonable we'd have to know that what we're complaining about now is entirely Fox's doing and not even partly Joss' (i.e. given his head maybe Joss would have made it worse) and you don't even believe that yourself. The most reasonable conclusion is "We don't know" though various speculations are entirely possible.

We all love Buffy right ? And yet Joss himself says Buffy (as with all his previous shows) went through the same process i.e. was also changed by the network "to and fro". So it's just not valid to say that the network "to and fro" is what caused what you don't like in 'Dollhouse'. We don't know. Not knowing isn't a sin, it's not a character flaw, it's the default position for most people about most things. In this realm i'm perfectly happy with not knowing personally.

And re: the "engagement of the week stuff" i'll once more quote Joss (though i'm starting to wonder why, you seem determined to read between his lines rather than reading his actual lines and have so far failed to respond directly to any of the statements he's made):

The idea was always to have a mythology that was counterbalanced by a stand-alone aspect that every episode would be self-contained, and that the mythology would play out [over time].
(my emphasis)

Was it more standalone than he wanted ? Seems safe to say so. Was it always based around "engagements of the week" ? Well, that's what he says is the case. I choose to believe him, it fits with both early Buffy and early Angel, both of which were very "monster of the week".

Ultimately I guess it comes down to how you feel about the first 5 episodes and how much store you place in the "critics reponse" to those episodes. On balance, I liked them personally and thought the critics were singularly unperceptive and unwilling to (temporarily) see beyond surface issues like unlikeable characters (3 and 2 - in that order - are my least favourites, 'Ghost' is, 'Serenity' Pts I and II aside, the best pilot for a Joss show i've seen). Clearly if you agree with the critics (and from the episode discussion threads you largely seem to) then you'll be keener to make the case that they weren't what Joss wanted to make.

edited for parentheses

[ edited by Saje on 2009-04-09 21:46 ]
Hmm, my comment about the photos was an attempt (obviously unsuccessful) at levity. As to the rest of it, I'm not sure I follow all your points. I guess I'll just say that I don't think I'm the one who's not acknowledging what Joss has said -- notwithstanding your selective quotation above. Of course, you're free to adopt some other interpretation, and to accuse me of being biased, but I don't think further discussion will likely change either of our minds.
Well, i'm actually quoting Joss at least, if you think i'm being selective you're free to quote him in order to prove your own case (to be honest i'd have preferred it if you did rather than just talk about subjective "between the lines" interpretations) and wherever i've "selected" quotes i've included a link to the entire statement/interview for people to read for themselves (i've also made an effort to present the other perspective as with "(after which he talks about how frustrating that was)" or "(for instance it might be 20 things improved, 5 things missed or it might well be vice versa)").

Totally agree though, I doubt we'll change each others' minds. See, common ground after all ;).

(sorry about missing the photos levity, I don't know you well enough yet to know your sense of humour so mea partly culpa - maybe a smiley in that situation, just to start with at least ?)
Pretty much, everything Squishy has said. If I had the time, I'd go back and find all the interviews where Joss made clear, without blatantly dissing the network that holds the fate of his show in there hands, that the first five eps were seriously compromised (as to his original intent) by FOX tampering.

Remember the later Joss remark that it somehow managed to transpire that the show Fox thought they bought wasn't the same show Joss thought he'd pitched them.
The One True b!X | April 09, 18:35 CET


Yeah, that's an example of what I'm talking about, that one I remember specifically. Not much "between the lines" there, Joss made it very clear that there were serious creative differences, which led to changes that obviously were not what he would have chosen. Because no matter how diplomatic a spin he put on it after the fact, the fact is that the first five eps we saw were not the first five eps Joss originally filmed.
Now he actually has filmed five original episodes? Wow.

I think no ones is denying that Joss has very often said (not between the lines, but very clearly) that the network had creative input. I think what I like to remember here, is that Joss reminded us every time that this is part of the process and that it has happened with all his other shows too. It does not mean: "This is the first time my vision got compromised by a network." It means, it happens every time. And yet, the show has no "Written by Kevin Reilly" or "Directed by Peter Liguori" credit. The show still is created and executive produced by Joss Whedon. Like Buffy, Firefly and Angel. Someone still needs to explain to me, why Dollhouse had more meddling than any show before. And if the answer is "Because it's just not as good as the old ones.", well then I think it is just getting more obvious that people are not ready to accept that Joss might do stuff they don't like.

Or the other way around: I'm pretty sure there are episodes of any old Whedon-show that people didn't like. Are they also result of network meddling?
Well, one thing might be to look at the "body of work" from the two "collaborating' "creators," Joss and Fox, to get a sense of the kinds of things they tend to produce.

And, not surprisingly, I think the stuff that Joss produces tends to be better than the stuff Fox produces. That is to say, even though there is always input/collaboration from the network, the effect of Joss collaborating with the network seems to be better than that of the network working with others. That leads me to think that overall I prefer Joss's work/vison/input to that of Fox. And that leads me to speculate that the aspects of Dollhouse that I like have more to do with Joss and those that I don't like have more to do with Fox (and this is not even getting into what the specific aspects are: standalone episodes, accessibility, a particular use of sex, feminist leanings, quirky dialogue, etc., which I can identify with one or the other collaborator).
When Firefly was first pitched, it was 5 characters and there was no Blue Sun etc. Who asked Joss to go back and beef it up? THE EVIL USELESS NETWORK!! OMG!1!
And still we are talking about Fox like they are creators and artists. Now Dollhouse was compromised by Fox, because Bones is not as good as Buffy?
Blue Sun was FOX's idea. They demanded a cameo, being FOX, they got it. FACT.
Well, to be serious for a second, I was trying to make the point many of the reasons people love Firefly are because of the creative/business process with the network, i.e. FOX.

Of course, it's swings and roundabouts, because some network issues related to Dollhouse are reasons why I have problems with the show (read: the sex of it). But let's be clear - FOX are not some evil empire trying to ruin their shows. Some of the changes they talk about and ideas they bring to the table have led to things being better, believe it or not.
the fact is that the first five eps we saw were not the first five eps Joss originally filmed.


In fact, I think it would be better to state that they weren't the first five eps Joss might've had lingering in his mind somewhere, or they didn't go in the general direction he'd figured out. He didn't actually film them, or even write drafts for them or do any other work on them at all. All we may assume is that there were general episode ideas in the back of his mind, maybe, somewhere. Right? :)

Apart from the original pilot that is, which I - at least in script form - massively prefer to "Ghost". But then I don't - like Saje does - think "Ghost" was Joss' best pilot.

I think 'Serenity 1 & 2' was the best pilot Joss ever wrote, just like Saje does. But I also prefer "Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest", which was one of the high points of Buffy's season one. And while I do probably prefer Ghost as a pilot to 'The Train Job', I still prefer 'The Train Job' as an episode. And although 'City of' wasn't the best 'pilot' ever, you can't quite compare it to his other pilots because it reintroduced characters and only had to make a sort-of general 'mission statement' for the new show. Which it did quite nicely.

All in all, 'Ghost' is probably my least favorite Joss opener for a television show. While the script for 'Echo' would've probably only just lost out to Serenity, but would've certainly been his second best pilot with ease.

Someone still needs to explain to me, why Dollhouse had more meddling than any show before. And if the answer is "Because it's just not as good as the old ones.", well then I think it is just getting more obvious that people are not ready to accept that Joss might do stuff they don't like.


Well, yes, this is partly true. And I'd completely agree with that, if we had no evidence to the contrary. But we do. We have an original pilot script which - at least to my mind - was superior to the pilot we've gotten. It was critically well received (unlike 'Ghost') and early indication were that it was a fan-pleaser. Now it's fair to disagree with that, but I would say that the differences between them were major, pointing towards a gear change. It's silly to say that everything bad came from Fox and they ruined Joss' vision. But it's also silly to assume the network had no influence. And if we concede there was influence, we can also extrapolate how we feel about that influence, in this particular case, given what we know.

So, just to be clear: I'm not saying that there has been a bigger influence with Dollhouse, than there has been with previous shows. I'm not even saying that the new direction is Fox' fault, because Joss still wrote and oversaw those new episodes. This is still a Joss Whedon show we're seeing, there's no doubt about it. I just feel that in his wish to conform to what the network was expecting, we got a different show. And on the basis of what I thought of the original pilot, I think it's fair to guess (not know, but guess) that I might've liked the original pitch and direction better, even if in the long run (say from MotS onwards) we have gotten as close to that original vision as possible (which, by the way, is also a guess, seeing as we have no idea of this 'original vision' and are extrapolating on the basis of one data point, which at least in science would be weak ;)).

Also: I've seen people in this thread who are saying that these 'engagement of the week' episodes were always the plan. Well, that's factually wrong. The original pilot centres on the story of the characters in the dollhouse, the arc-y moments. So we know that the opening at the least would've not been an engagement of the week, in the first instance. And I feel that if we then proceeded to have four actual 'engagements of the week' to bring in new viewers, it would've worked better for the non-casual viewer, because we would've had a firmer grasp of the characters, the themes and the arc. It's the way Joss has always done things in his more stand-alone first seasons: open up with background and arc, then retreat for standalones and sprinkle a few arc episodes in there to build to a arc-y climax. That - for me - works better than what we had now, as especially in the beginning, it was very hard to connect to the engagements, because we were still only beginning to invest in the characters. If 'Echo' had played, that would've been different. In my estimation, obviously.

(heh, this thread has grown as I was typing this. Here's hoping it's not superfluous now, as I'm on my way out and have no time to edit according to the posts above :))
Yeah gossi, I get your point. It's a good point, it needs to be made, it's just I feel like it's continually falling on deaf ears. Hyperbole is at least fun.

[ edited by Sunfire on 2009-04-10 16:59 ]
As for the first 5 episodes not being the ones Joss intended, if you go back to the November 2007 interviews when the show was very, very first announced, Joss and Eliza talk about the episodes they have in mind. Joss actually pitched those episodes to the network at the very first meeting. Guess what they were? Here's a hint. They included bow hunting.
And if we concede there was influence, we can also extrapolate how we feel about that influence, in this particular case, given what we know.

I totally agree. I was just trying to point out, that I really don't know what the actual influence was. And instead of reflexy saying "It's gotta be Fox", I prefer to stand clueless. And that's just for the small stuff I don't like, since - all in all - I am deeply, madly in love with this show. (Which is kind of weird, since I'm participating in discussions about who to blame for wrongdoings I don't see as wrongdoings at all...)

And I do think each and every one of Joss' pilots had a story-of-the-week: The Vessel, Russell and Patience.
I was just trying to point out, that I really don't know what the actual influence was. And instead of reflexy saying "It's gotta be Fox", I prefer to stand clueless.

Precisely. We don't know.

But it's also silly to assume the network had no influence. And if we concede there was influence, we can also extrapolate how we feel about that influence, in this particular case, given what we know.

I don't see anyone here claiming the network didn't influence what we saw GVH (i'm certainly not).

And if it's just down to how people feel about episodes they haven't seen then have at it, feel how you like about imaginary episodes (and also the existing pilot, assuming all of those arguing the other side have read it, let alone seen it). Anyone can assume that it "just would" have been better if Joss had been totally left alone (for the first time ever by his own account) and I won't argue with them. It's only when folk start claiming that that's where all the evidence points that I take issue.

Also: I've seen people in this thread who are saying that these 'engagement of the week' episodes were always the plan. Well, that's factually wrong.

Well then Joss is factually wrong about his own show since the quote I used that claimed that was directly from him in this interview (which Squishy provided the link for), to wit:

The idea was always to have a mythology that was counterbalanced by a stand-alone aspect that every episode would be self-contained, and that the mythology would play out [over time].

(he goes on to say they had to do it more after Fox's input and that that was tough - again that's right there in the interview, i've never claimed otherwise and have actually explicitly pointed it out in a previous comment in this very thread. It's interesting to me BTW that despite all the talk of stand-alones and 5 "pilots" i've said myself in the episode discussions that I was surprised how much arc stuff appeared early on)

Still, as i've tried to make clear using words, whether Joss feels the episodes were better or worse before Fox interfered (and again, he explicitly says he personally feels some things are better and some things are worse) is absolutely irrelevant to the question of whether they'd have been better to us without that interference (since, again from what Joss tells us, we've never seen a show exactly as he intended it to be i.e. we don't even know if we'd have preferred the purely Joss version of e.g. Buffy since we haven't seen a purely Joss version of Buffy). And it's only arguably relevant to the question of whether the ratings would have been better - one thing i've noticed time and again with US network TV is that shows I consider to be good and shows that succeed in the ratings only rarely overlap.

Now that I come to think of it though, "Teacher's Pet" was probably down to studio/network interference and i've always found the scene in 'Prophecy Girl' where Buffy walks accompanied by loud music to be pretty cringeworthy - despite it being written and directed by Joss I bet the network was also to blame for that. Yay, makes me happy to think he had nothing to do with those bits ;).
I was just trying to point out, that I really don't know what the actual influence was. And instead of reflexy saying "It's gotta be Fox", I prefer to stand clueless.

Precisely. We don't know.


But we do, Saje. We have two entirely different pilots. We know that Joss rewrote it because he felt that it would be better to start over to conform more closely to what Fox's idea of what they bought was. And we have Joss confirming that Fox influenced the show. Now, let me again state that I'm not saying: everything that's wrong, has got to be Fox' fault. Again: I'm not. And to say it one last time to drive the point home: I'm not. I really can't be clear enough on that aspect. Because although I've stated it twice in this thread allready, my previous comment seems to have been lumped in with the 'camps' that are forming - which, for the record, I think, are both partly correct and partly wrong ;) - and that's just not a correct representation of what I'm saying.

In many ways I think of Fox, in this, as a sort of 'watchmaker God' - to throw this into the terms of the religion discussions Saje and I like to have ;) - I think that it's highly probable that Fox kickstarted this whole thing with some comments. I'm not saying they told Joss to rewrite it, came up with new parts of the show, etcetera. We don't quite know their influence in the whole scheme (although we do know reshooting and rewriting the pilot was Joss' idea). So I make no claims to know exactly how that worked. The only thing we can state with absolute certainty is that the pilot changed and that Fox had influence on the creative process. And based on that, we can have some opinions. Like the one in my previous comment, which I really can't state any clearer than I did there.

Also: I've seen people in this thread who are saying that these 'engagement of the week' episodes were always the plan. Well, that's factually wrong.

Well then Joss is factually wrong about his own show


Well, Saje, you know I love (and I use that word in the most non-physical way possible ;)) and respect you, but that's just not a very fair representation of what I'm saying in my post. Because I went on to clarify: "The original pilot centres on the story of the characters in the dollhouse, the arc-y moments. So we know that the opening at the least would've not been an engagement of the week, in the first instance." And we know this. Sure, the other four might've been 'engagements of the week'. In fact, I assume they would've been. Although, like you are quoting Joss, they might have been less so. But we would have opened with an arc heavy episode. That's a simple and undisputable fact.

Still, as i've tried to make clear using words, whether Joss feels the episodes were better or worse before Fox interfered [...]is absolutely irrelevant to the question of whether they'd have been better to us without that interference


Well, I wouldn't say that that's completely irrelevant. But it's also not what I'm arguing, so it's beside the point. I'm arguing on the basis of one episode - which, granted, is pretty weak statistics, like I mentioned upthread - that I think it's possible, maybe even likely, that I, at least, would have preferred the so-called 'original vision' (although I do think 'original vision' sounds pretty dramatic ;)). This is simply because I already know that I would've preffered the original pilot. Again, I'm speaking only for me, not as a representative of the 'blame Fox' or the 'blaming Fox is silly' camp ;).

I totally agree. I was just trying to point out, that I really don't know what the actual influence was. And instead of reflexy saying "It's gotta be Fox", I prefer to stand clueless.


But don't we know it's Fox's influence, either directly or - and this is the important one - indirectly, wiesengrund? Didn't Joss rewrite the pilot because he felt it would work better with the vision of the network? (And again, I'm aware this was his decission and I'm aware that he wrote the new pilot and I'd even say that whatever we don't like in that new pilot is not Fox's fault, because our man Joss wrote it - as far as we know - all by his lonesome). Or are we assuming that this rewrite was inevitable because he wasn't pleased with the original all by himself and this was something that was completely uninfluenced by Fox? That even if he would've had complete creative control (which again: we have never seen him have, apart from with Dr. Horrible, so I'm not saying that network influence is a bad thing or anything), he would've changed the pilot? Because that's not what I'm taking from what has been said so far.

As for the first 5 episodes not being the ones Joss intended, if you go back to the November 2007 interviews when the show was very, very first announced, Joss and Eliza talk about the episodes they have in mind. Joss actually pitched those episodes to the network at the very first meeting. Guess what they were? Here's a hint. They included bow hunting.


But gossi, didn't he also have plans for a romantic comedy episode? And don't we have a pilot script which got scrapped? I think it's beyond question that his first ideas on the show were different, even if some of them were they same. In fact, we have him on record saying that the show he was selling was not the show that Fox thought they bought. And we even have him commenting on Fox' influence on the show. So again I'd say that this is beyond question. One can then argue about why this change happened, if it's a good thing, etcetera, etcetera, but I don't think that the changes themselves are debatable. It's just fact.

Reading this thread and seeing these reactions to my post, I think what we have here is a contra-reaction to the 'it's all Fox' fault' vibe we've been seeing in some threads. For the record: I think that's a silly sentiment, just like you guys. But this does not mean that we can't discuss changes, mention that Fox changed things, and wonder whether their actions had positive or negative influence on the show. Not all 'well, maybe Fox' influence in this case had undesired results' automatically equals 'everything Joss does is good and everything he does that I don't like, is Fox' fault'. That's such an undeniably silly opinion, that I wonder if there's even anyone out there truly transcribing to it, even in the 'Fox = evil' camp ;)

ETA: some more sense

[ edited by GVH on 2009-04-11 02:23 ]
But don't we know it's Fox's influence, either directly or - and this is the important one - indirectly, wiesengrund? Didn't Joss rewrite the pilot because he felt it would work better with the vision of the network? (And again, I'm aware this was his decission and I'm aware that he wrote the new pilot and I'd even say that whatever we don't like in that new pilot is not Fox's fault, because our man Joss wrote it - as far as we know - all by his lonesome). Or are we assuming that this rewrite was inevitable because he wasn't pleased with the original all by himself and this was something that was completely uninfluenced by Fox? That even if he would've had complete creative control (which again: we have never seen him have, apart from with Dr. Horrible, so I'm not saying that network influence is a bad thing or anything), he would've changed the pilot? Because that's not what I'm taking from what has been said so far.


Well, I have to kind of retreat here, since I can hardly argue about that point. I liked "Ghost" better than "Echo".

And the problem for me is going in both ways: Just as I don't wanna blame Fox for stuff that didn't work in the first few eps, I also will not say that their notes made "Ghost" a better pilot. I think we have Joss on record saying even the dumbest person in the room can have a better idea, and that this is the reason why he has always listened to creative input from anyone involved with the show including the network. Since he is the Big Brewmaster of all these little snippets, suggestions, notes and whatnot I tend to give him credit for the mix. I - of course - like to find out that Andrew Chambliss pitched the Blind Echo idea, and that Jane Espenson wrote the "Every night I save you."-line, and that the thriller aspect of MotS was Fox's wish all along, but I tend to background this stuff in both like and dislike when it comes to overall finger-pointing.

So, basically, yes, the network had influence, of course, like always. Joss did stuff differently because of the network, of course, like always. Joss called his behavior in that regard a "rookie mistake", because of the "like always".

I think "Echo" was broken by Joss, Liz and Sarah before any other stuff of the show came along, and I have no way of knowing how it would have developed if it would have stayed between these three people. You know, at some point some people had to make a set and cast somebody. :) The way I see it, it could have just as easily been someone like Jed or Tim or Eliza saying: "You know what, 'Echo' is great, but how about we up the action a bit? I know you wanna meditate obtusely on the what-it-means-to-be-human-question, but let's have some episodes that actually do have a plot and some action and fun in it." So, yeah I don't care who suggested it. It was an improvement, in my my opinion, and I like the show insanely. And I will always credit Joss for it.
Fair enough, wiesengrund. And for me, it's not like I hate 'Ghost'. I don't think it was that strong an episode, but it was an acceptable pilot with a few nice high points. I do really prefer 'Echo', though, by a pretty wide margin, but I basically said all that I wanted to say on that particular aspect in this giant post upthread ;).
The only thing we can state with absolute certainty is that the pilot changed and that Fox had influence on the creative process. And based on that, we can have some opinions.

Yep, totally agree. It's largely those opinions becoming the received wisdom that i'm challenging. I.e. claims that the evidence says "Fox ruined Dollhouse".

The evidence says nothing of the kind, the evidence only says:

Fox interfered and changed the show.
The first 5-6 episodes became more standalone than Joss originally wanted to make them and that caused frustration.
Joss [re]wrote 'Ghost' himself, at his own instigation but based on what he felt the network wanted.
Some people prefer the pilot script for 'Echo' to 'Ghost'.

We've no "control" show to look at the first five episodes and decide if Joss being left entirely to himself makes it better because, as Joss tells us, every show he's made has had network/studio interference. Apart from the pilot that is, and again, some prefer it, some don't - you preferring it or critics preferring it doesn't prove more people would have watched, doesn't even prove it's "better" in any meaningful sense (and anyway, I also challenge the implication that critics overwhelmingly preferred it - again that seems a slightly selective remembering of the initial responses to 'Echo' since they may have preferred it to 'Ghost' but not always and reviews of 'Echo' were decidedly mixed as I recall, that was when I personally started to feel the first flutterings of not everything being rosy in the garden of Eden).

Well, Saje, you know I love (and I use that word in the most non-physical way possible ;)) and respect you, but that's just not a very fair representation of what I'm saying in my post.

*hugs GVH then, err, ahem, punches him on the shoulder and talks about sports ;-)*

GVH you said:

Also: I've seen people in this thread who are saying that these 'engagement of the week' episodes were always the plan. Well, that's factually wrong.

I.e. "engagement of the week episodes" and the claim of mine was in response to a complaint about the first five episodes, not just the pilot. You then go on to talk about the pilot not being an "engagement of the week", well fine, agreed. But that's not clarification, that's specification, it doesn't mean the show (or even, as you say yourself, the first 5 episodes taken as a whole) didn't originally centre around "engagements of the week" and that's the claim being made by others, that's the claim I disagreed with and used a direct quote to disprove.

The actual simple indisputable fact is that the show was always designed to have "engagements of the week" mixed in and around arc elements, whether it started with one or not. That's presumably not a shock to us here because every single Joss Whedon show ever made has had that mix.

I think we just disagree on the extent to which our knowledge in this instance let's us extrapolate and draw conclusions about the actual real world. As I say, i'm fine with your take being your take, not so fine with your (or anyone's) take being "the" take i.e. I can already see the fan myth being written and I don't think it represents the truth as we know it (as ever it comes down to the extent to which folk impose their internal state on the state of the world, the extent to which "I think it's the case" becomes "It is the case" - reality's reality and no-matter how hard we might wish it, it's separate from what we want to be true).
Apart from the pilot that is, and again, some prefer it, some don't - you preferring it or critics preferring it doesn't prove more people would have watched, doesn't even prove it's "better" in any meaningful sense


Agreed. In fact, I wouldn't dare even argue the 'more people watching' point. There's no way I can know that. And aside from that: Dollhouse's ratings are dropping at the same time as I'm starting to like the episodes more and more. So one might even infer that because I like 'Echo' more than 'Ghost', the right decission was made, ratings wise ;).

Having said that: if 'Echo' would have been better received, critically, than 'Ghost' was, it would probably (but not certainly) have helped the numbers a bit. I do believe the negative buzz surrounding the show on release hurt it, ratings wise. But then: we can't know if 'Echo' would have been more well received and we don't know if a better critical reception would have actually helped the show, so like I said before: there's no point in arguing any of that :).


(and anyway, I also challenge the implication that critics overwhelmingly preferred it - again that seems a slightly selective remembering of the initial responses to 'Echo' since they may have preferred it to 'Ghost' but not always and reviews of 'Echo' were decidedly mixed as I recall, that was when I personally started to feel the first flutterings of not everything being rosy in the garden of Eden).


I think that's probably the case, yes. I have the impression that 'Echo' was better received, but I have no data to back it up, so it might be selective memory rearing it's ugly head. I do remember the major criticism of the script being the first few pages were too complicated/confusing (something I disagree with after having read it), but I also remember outright glowing reviews and a lot of the same people who noted the confusion mentioning that the rest of the script was pretty good. But again: selective memory is entirely possible, here.

*hugs GVH then, err, ahem, punches him on the shoulder and talks about sports ;-)*


Heh ;). How about those Fifa world cup qualifiers last week, eh? Did you see that the Netherlands have almost certainly qualified now? ;)

I.e. "engagement of the week episodes" and the claim of mine was in response to a complaint about the first five episodes, not just the pilot. You then go on to talk about the pilot not being an "engagement of the week", well fine, agreed. But that's not clarification, that's specification, it doesn't mean the show (or even, as you say yourself, the first 5 episodes taken as a whole) didn't originally centre around "engagements of the week" and that's the claim being made by others, that's the claim I disagreed with and used a direct quote to disprove.


Well, this is rapidly becoming a minor technicality (what else is new? ;)), but the point I was making is that the pilot is a part of the first five. So given that, it's factually untrue that the first five episodes were always going to be engagements of the week, seeing as the first of those five originally wasn't going to be one (although, to be fair, it does offer one or two 'minor engagements' in the first few pages). And that's actually quite essential. I think less people would've had a problem with the standalone nature if the first episode had done a stronger job of not only establishing the world and the set-up (which 'Ghost' did just fine), but also strongly sketching all the characters invloved and making us care for them. But again, this is all extrapolation and guess work.

I think we just disagree on the extent to which our knowledge in this instance let's us extrapolate and draw conclusions about the actual real world.


I'm not even sure we disagree on that, because:

As I say, i'm fine with your take being your take, not so fine with your (or anyone's) take being "the" take


I agree with this. Then again, that goes for most situations were interpretation of facts is required, but still ;).

i.e. I can already see the fan myth being written and I don't think it represents the truth as we know it


Agreed that the fan myth of 'Fox ruined Dollhouse' is untrue and is lurking somewhere in the shadows, waiting to grow. In fact, I'd even argue that Dollhouse isn't ruined. It just took a bit longer than it could've to get to the level of quality I expected from the get go. And while that might've been caused either directly or indirectly by Fox, I don't think they're to blame.
... it's factually untrue that the first five episodes were always going to be engagements of the week ...

Yep agreed on the technicality cos that's fair enough, I don't think i've said that anywhere but if I have I take it back cos it's not what I mean ;).

(I mean that "engagements of the week" were always a part of the show, from the very beginning - NOT that the very beginning of the show was always an "engagement of the week")

Having said that: if 'Echo' would have been better received, critically, than 'Ghost' was, it would probably (but not certainly) have helped the numbers a bit.

Yeah, that's a perfectly reasonable speculation. Course, i'm constantly amazed (because I never learn ;) by how often TV I love (and FWIW, also think is well made) is met with indifference at best among mainstream US viewers so it's impossible to say. I've mentioned in another thread (yep this topic has spawned ;) that many comments I read seemed to feel there was more wrong with the early episodes than the relative lack of arc elements but then maybe not being allowed to include those elements negatively affected how the writers approached everything - again, it's hard to know (though new - to me - evidence from Joss' Harvard Q&A suggests that might well be the case).

Heh ;). How about those Fifa world cup qualifiers last week, eh? Did you see that the Netherlands have almost certainly qualified now? ;)

I may or may not have a specific recollection of what may or may not have been a complete drubbing of Scotland by the Netherlands. Ahem. Hey, we could still make second place which might lead to a play off *doesn't count his chickens though* (frankly when you're a Scotland supporter and you end up in a group with Holland second place is pretty much the best you're hoping for anyway - when you guys aren't self-destructing due to player friction you're a great side).
And finally, we've reached more-or-less agreement. As per usual ;). I haven't looked at the recent 'Dollhouse' topics, becuase I haven't been able to watch the latest episode yet, so I haven't gotten into this discussion anywhere else ;).

As for Holland: yeah, we're usually a pretty strong side. I actually think we're slowly getting back to the level we had in '98, which was the best Holland team I've ever supported (they should've won the World Cup right then, but got kicked out after penalties by Brazil in the semi-finales, who were then so tired from that grueling game, they lost to an inferior France in the finale ;)). So I'm looking forward to the World Cup. Also because that's were things start to get interesting. In the qualifiers, the only opposition worth any note this time 'round is Scotland (who really should take the second position). But I'd like to see what this more experienced Dutch side can do at the world cup, after an exhilerating but disappointing Euro Cup (booking big number victories against the likes of Italy and France in the group stage, and then being kicked out by an amazingly good Russia in the quarter finales).
Yeah France '98 was a good World Cup (not just cos Scotland qualified either ;). My boss let us bring a TV into work for a lot of the daytime games, good times (gotta say Brazil were a bit underwhelming for most of it though, even we were bloody unlucky to not hold them to a draw in the opening game - ricocheted own goal gave them 2-1. They cruised a bit when their opposition maybe merited a bit more intensity - still looked good doing it of course, that's just how they play).

And yep, we could save time by just saying "I disagree quite strongly now but will probably largely agree in about 20-30 comments time" ;).

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