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April 10 2009

Joss Whedon: Made for basic cable? After yesterday's debacle, an columnist argues that Joss might be better off working for a basic cable network.

Didn't Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune do a similar column yesterday? Otherwise, this seems inevitable, because they're the only ones who want to do different programming rather than the major networks copying each other(coughFox's"Mentalist"knockoffcough).
impalergeneral, yes.

And yes.
In this one I may disagree with myself in the other one, just for variety.

No, Joss Whedon on basic cable would be built from bricks baked in the fail kiln ! He's such a bad fit with basic cable it's embarrassing !
3 words: Mutant Enemy Digital.
Joss should start his own station.

JossTV :D
Copying a tweet I sent to @drhorrible: Mebbe instead of tweeting at FOX we should tweet at cable networks to pickup Dollhouse & give it the Pretty Woman treatment!

I mean, it makes sense, right? Even if we stormed the FOX Castle with pitchforks, I highly doubt they'd listen (unless we substituted pitchforks with *bags of money*). Perhaps instead of being reactive, fans should start getting proactive. Why not let the cable networks know that if they pick up Dollhouse, or Joss in general, we will flood the intarwebz with goodwill and free, awesome PR for their network. Sweeten the pot for them, if you will?

I don't think Joss is opposed to working with cable networks. He's said in interviews about his other ideas and projects (that usually don't get off the ground) that if someone offered him the money, he would have done such-and-such. And from the origin of Dollhouse story, it seems like Joss only ended up back at FOX simply because Eliza was already contracted with them. So I'm going to speculate that he likely would go to a cable network *if they offered him a show*.

So. Why can't we help get that to happen?
I agree with Krusher ;)
Backwards and wrong. The internet was made for Joss Whedon.
Mackenzie, I doubt Fox would give up the rights to Dollhouse to another station, even if they didn't want it. I believe that was the situation with Firefly. They didn't allow Joss to offer it to other networks. I wasn't around these parts back then, so I may be wrong, but I think I remember that happening.
Wow that's entirely wrong. Fox the production company absolutely allowed Joss to shop Firefly to other networks.
Pretty sure 'Firefly' was shopped around to everyone when it was axed but nobody wanted it. If anyone knows more detail that'd be great, wasn't in the fandom back then so I don't have direct knowledge myself.

ETA: Yep, becoming more and more sure ;).

[ edited by Saje on 2009-04-10 22:30 ]
Firefly was shopped to every conceivable outlet all with FBCs blessing. Pretty sure Eliza's deal is with 20th and not with FBC so there is no reason that 20th couldn't ask to shop Dollhouse as well. It doesn't have to air on Fox, but it is an extreme longshot that anyone else would take it.
What Tamara said. I guestimated the cost of the first series of Dollhouse to be around $40m to both network and studio (including marketing) the other day, which would make it likely the most expensive cable show in the history of ever. Given the ratings, there would be no way to justify the cost. Either everybody would have to take a massive pay cut, or, well, they rename it Dollshed.
I think Joss would do marvelous things on QVC!
Dollhouse should be able to pay for itself in product placement, quite frankly. Take a page out of "The Island". It's not just cynical, it's just true -- everything in a place like the Dollhouse, were it real, would have some label on it or another, because they'd want to get things as cheaply as possible through long term deals. Actives should be drinking G2 after a workout on their Nordictracs and wearing Reebok workout gear.
I think Joss would do marvelous things on QVC!

It'd be kinda awkward when the 3-arc Jewelryshopper's Dilemma ended with the other salesperson's dramatically faked death scene. But I bet those earrings would sell.
I can't disagree there, KoC. I was actually surprised when the first episodes aired that there wasn't any product placement like that. It seems like the perfect venue. Shows what I know. :/
I like Bisquick (c) brand banana pancakes!
Gossi, "Dollshed"! I LOL'ed.

Anyway, I've always wondered why Joss isn't on networks like HBO and Showtime. With recent shows like Dexter and Trublood, I think his quirky style and longer arcing plotlines would fit right in.
The problem, creatively, with product placement is that it creates another level of execs giving notes. "No, the can has to be placed just so." "The character can't obscure this part of the label." "Noone can be shot/stabbed/mutilated by bears while wearing this workout set." "The car can only be shot from this angle to make it appear bigger and its warranty has to be mentioned 3 times per episode."

The companies providing the products and the MONEY will all get a say in the creative process or they simply won't play. It makes it difficult for everyone involved and probably a horrifying soul-sucking experience to any writer trying to tell good story.
My impression is that cable's got much smaller budgets to work with, from discussions I've seen on this site in the past. And from what I've read in interviews and heard on DVD commentaries, I think Joss is good at working within a budget's constraints but generally has a tv vision that would have to be adapted considerably to work within the smaller budget that is typical for cable tv.
I think I'm officially turned off.

I love all things Joss Whedon except the internet TV critics who insist on telling me the shows I love are shit.
I dunno, I like mackenzie's idea of using Twitter even from a non-SAVE DOLLHOUSE perspective. Just letting them know if they bought a show from him--any show--we'd be there, helping to promote it and spread the word and support it in any way we could. Based on the cable shows I've seen, I'd be surprised if Joss couldn't work within those types of budgets--whoever's doing these shows hides the lack of money well, and I think Joss could adjust as necessary. Greater creative freedom, probably a guaranteed season of Joss TV... sounds kind of ideal.

Do these guys actually have Twitter accounts, though?
I don't think Twitter user goodwill is a real incentive for FOX or any other network. Our powers combined are currently unable to flood the show with more than kinda-hopeful-kinda-dreadful ratings, so I don't think they're going to be impressed by how much social network activity we can generate.
My dream is:

Joss Whedon making a series for a cable network with Kristen Bell as lead.
Anyway, I've always wondered why Joss isn't on networks like HBO and Showtime. With recent shows like Dexter and Trublood, I think his quirky style and longer arcing plotlines would fit right in.

Didn't Bryan Fuller leave early into Dead Like Me over creative differences? So premium cable doesn't guarantee no network meddling. The show itself was cancelled after two seasons. He then tried Fox=>cancelled. Then ABC=>cancelled.
A few of my favourite shows have been cable shows which have got cancelled. I'm just working my way through "The Comeback" as it happens, which got cancelled. The grass isn't always greener.
Always wondered why he didn't try to get something on HBO - perhaps its harder than one thinks, after all they are all characters there.
Don't remind me of Wonderfalls' cancelation :(
I realize cable doesn't guarantee no exec meddling and no cancellation. That said, the odds seem better there. Joss has experience dealing with executives at this point, he's become good (well, one assumes, given the quality of his shows) at reaching a compromise. And given the quality of shows cable is putting out, either exec meddling is reduced, or it's more helpful than network meddling. Or they're just lucky. And cancellation is of course a risk, but the fact is a cable show requires fewer viewers to be financially viable.

I'd say in this case the grass is definitely greener, it's just not as green as it could conceivably be.
Wow that's entirely wrong. Fox the production company absolutely allowed Joss to shop Firefly to other networks.

As I said, I wasn't around back then. I heard (a long time ago) that Fox didn't let him, but I guess that was incorrect. I believed it though because it seemed like something they'd do.
I'll stand by my statement that I think that Joss himself is going towards the big screen and/or independent projects.

I'm frustrated with the networks, maybe the BBC would be a better place, maybe we could steal him back ;).
AMC has scored with Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Both are excellent shows, with intelligent scripts and believable characters. I could definitely see Joss working with AMC on a quality show.

I also wish Andy Richter had made his two shows with a cable network instead of doing deals with NBC. (I loved Andy Barker P.I.) FX has continued with Rescue Me, despite a weak Season 4, and it looks like Season 5 is going to be much better.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that the pay scale is lower and budgets are smaller. However, I don't think Dollhouse necessarily has to be a high budget show. Firefly probably had a high effects budget, but the show really rested on the characters. (My favorite episode was "Out of Gas.") Both shows used mostly unknowns in major roles, which is perfect for cable.

Now, I must go cry a bit over The Middleman. Still missing it.
Am I the only one that doesn't get why yesterday should lead to Joss on cable. Should he go there because of the better PR departements? That said, I would love Joss on cable.

Didn't Bryan Fuller leave early into Dead Like Me over creative differences? So premium cable doesn't guarantee no network meddling.

Fuller has explicitly stated here that the problems were at MGM the production company and not with Showtime, the cable channel kinda like with Joss and Fox broadcasting and Fox the production company only then reversed.

"The Showtime people could not have been sweeter to me," commented executive producer and writer Bryan Fuller. "They were very respectful, but it was very much a traumatic experience dealing with the MGM-TV Studio people.
I like the idea of Joss on something non-fox. Of course that means I'll have to get some sort of actual TV package.

Perhaps Sci-Fi could pick it up if Fox cancels it? That would be amazing. I love Sci-fi.
I've always thought FX would be a perfect fit for Joss, given his strong relationship with 20th Century Fox Television.
To be fair to "Lie to Me," impalergeneral, it is a very different kind of television show from "The Mentalist." Appearances can be deceiving.

Is there a dearth of good television? That's subjective. I have plenty of television I enjoy, Dollhouse among them. But could it be more "revolutionary" with the likes of Joss doing projects that are ripping up new territory? Sure. But I don't think it's necessarily the network, it's the project. I'll be frank and say that as a fan, the way I see "Dollhouse" is not like how I see "Buffy" or "Firefly." I'm just not getting the passion behind it, the innate Joss Whedon touch. With "Buffy," "Angel" and "Firefly," it was there, it was tangible, that love for the material and for the characters, even from the very beginning of "Buffy." And I think the reason is that each of those projects began out of difficulty. "Buffy" the movie was torn apart, "Angel" was a risky venture, "Firefly" was woefully mashed by FOX, and "Dr. Horrible" was born from the writers strike conflict. The first glimpse of that fire that I got with the other shows came with "Man on the Street" - that was when I really felt that it was a Joss Whedon show, and I think that's what has been putting me off from LOVING the show.

With that said, I think good material and good writing always end up being brought to life eventually. I definitely see Joss fitting in at Showtime or HBO, especially now that HBO is floundering without the Sopranos. I think it's important to note that the style for a Showtime show is different, and Joss may have more room to offer more of an edge to his viewers. And a great deal of the fan support will translate from TV viewership to iTunes sales since I'm sure a great deal of those with cable and satellite subscriptions do not receive Showtime, and could not afford to.
Actually, I don't think "Dollhouse" is doing as poorly on FOX as all the doomsayers are saying. Yes, the ratings are low, but they've been holding steady. For that reason, FOX is considering moving the show to another night (oh, if wishes were horses!) Yes, still holding my glass half-full.

With that said, I wouldn't mind seeing Joss score a show on one of the cable networks. At lease there, he would have some freedom in saying his piece (peace:)). Often, one of my dreams would be for Joss to land a show on HBO or SHOWtime. Ahh, wouldn't that be awesome!

Sigh. I know, I dream alot.
Now this guy hit the nail on the head fox just keeps sticking it to Joss he should try cable and tell fox 2 put it where the sun don't shine excuse me 4 saying this but fox makes me sick
I'd happily add HBO or Showtime to my package if a Joss show aired on one.

Agree with jlp, FX seems such a good fit for him. I get that they run on smaller budgets... but better than nothing, no?
I could see Joss making the 'Weather Channel' really watchable.
There could be a whole narrative about precipitation, with someone turning evil in an alley in the rain. Plus, having babies.
A beast could block out the sun, and birds flying into windows could be a sign of the apocalypse.

Hang on, wait a minute...

3 words: Mutant Enemy Digital.

Well, yes. And here's a thought. 1,000,000 fans at $40 each = $40,000,000. For the last six months many of us have lost that much every week in salary, pension, property value, or just anxiety. Each month? Drop in the bucket, or rather in the torrent leaking out.

And we would own it. Or rather, we would own little bits of an entity that would own it. For planning purposes a budget for Serenity II would be ... in the low 10's of millions, right? (And our Captain would kick Kirk's spandex-clad butt through a dozen movies easy. Right in the middle of one of those dra-matic-pauses, kapow.)

Yet, there is nothing so unmanageable as a fan with a sense of entitlement - ask any sports franchise.

And yet. And yet. And yet. Can you not see Mr. Whedon doing a Warren Buffet with each year's annual report and stockholder meeting? We would get the same kind of education into creating entertainment and "the biz" that Buffet provides his shareholders each year. Seriously. Reading his backlog of annual reports is a better education in business than any b-school I know of. When Mr. Whedon talks about the biz it is at least as educational.

The folks to talk with are not the Wall Street structural finance goons. Nor are the usual entertainment "deal makers" in LA the right folks. They'll be looking to fit anything new into the models they have already. But, put Mr. Whedon together with some creative angel / private equity types from high-tech-ville and come up with a structure that works. (Not the name-brand VCs, who tend to be trendistas themselves.) I'm thinking a buy-in membership organization, with both retail sales to the masses and extended offers for members - kind of like REI.

This is one move to throw something different in the mix as media & distribution changes. So, yes, why wouldn't we want to be a company that generally executes half-page, fair contracts with the actors and other talent? Three problems.

1 - Distribution, production & etc. is pretty incestuous. Doing something different closes a lot of channels, while requiring new art for a lot of stuff that's already figured out doing things the old way.

2 - People work best with some constraints, and we wouldn't want Mr. Whedon doing all the admin & etc. You'd need a business function, but one that realizes it isn't in charge, or rather that it is in charge via authority delegated to it (exactly the way the US Federal government does not.)

3 - You'd need massive education / outreach to the fan / supporter community. Sophisticated investors are far more helpful than the naive and the same love that would have millions willing to pony up would tend to make them a little excitable. You'd need an ongoing outreach program. This would include at least insight into current & potential projects, normal promotion / media relations kind of stuff, and community building & support.

That said it's not just within the realm of physics, but it's within the scope of current art - financial & business organization, distribution, community building & of course the talent, stories and love for both that is (are? Words hard.) the point.

I'm not the guy to drive this. But I'm in with what I have.
"The Mentalist" and "Lie to Me" isn't the thing, I think it's the fact that "The Mentalist" is a complete and unabashed ripoff of "Psych". On the "Psych" season finale, the lead character even cracked a joke about watching "The Mentalist" with his dad.
I think Joss on cable could be done with the right premise, but I stand by my suggestion from months and months ago that Joss hook up with some internet whizzes and start his own Whedonverse subscription online channel. I'd certainly pay $20-30 a year or more to get exclusive access to web serieseses and clips as well as a kind of portal for Whedon alumni shows. I'll even let you call it Mutant Enemy Digital if you want, but I personally think Whedonverse is more inclusive. ;)
Public Access Television!
The big animal stomping in the corner is begging the question, is Joss capable of delivering a show attracting a mass audience ? As long as both the networks and Joss thinks he can then playing the network version of russian roulette with 5 bullets and only one blank makes sense, having your spirits crushed on a daily basis is a normal part of the tv writer experience after all at least as I understand it.
Now if there was an acceptance that the Whedon fanbase is a niche audience the whole cable vs digital question comes into play, personally I'd agree with Cabri that the internet Whedon channel, a global paid subscription channel filled with with the undiluted Whedon goodness with the mushortios and the odd 13 eps internet series would be an interesting way to go, combine it with the best of the Whedonesque commentary and it could have real long term potential and be a pathfinder for other internet content distributors.

Or Cabin in the woods could go on to be the big hit movie and make Joss the big busy filmmaker, leaving little time for all that other crap, except when he talks about his humble beginnings in his oscar speeches.

[ edited by jpr on 2009-04-11 11:24 ]
Big duuh, I've been saying this forever. TNT would be my basic cable choice, they do quality shows, even the ones I don't care for personally (The Closer, Saving Grace). The amazing Leverage is in production for a second season. They stand by their shows and promote them well. I'd be over the moon if Joss hooked up with a cable net.
Of course HBO is the gold standard and how sweet it would be to have a Joss series with no commercials, out of the gate. But I would so settle for TNT or AMC (Mad Men).

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