Fox is yanking DOLLHOUSE after episode 12 and will not air the 13th episode. Now, on the surface, that would scream "The Show is Cancelled." But the folks at DOLLHOUSE are spinning this news in a very odd way. See if you can follow this explanation from producer Tim Minnear:

Okay. So maybe I can help clarify this somewhat. Because we scrapped the original pilot — and in fact cannibalized some of its parts for other eps — we really ended up with 12 episodes. But the studio makes DVD and other deals based on the original 13 number. So we created a standalone kind of coda episode. Which is the mythical new episode 13. The network had already paid for 13 episodes, and this included the one they agreed to let us scrap for parts. It does not include the one we made to bring the number back up to 13 for the studio side and its obligations. We always knew it would be for the DVD for sure, but we also think Fox should air it because it's awesome.

If I understand this correctly, and I'm not entirely sure that I do, he's saying that the Fox Network ordered 13 episodes, which included the pilot, which was scrapped and cannibalized in subsequent epoisodes. But the Fox Studios made commitments to networks overseas and to a DVD distributor for thirteen episodes. So, since they were one episode short after dumping the pilot, the studio alone bore the cost of shooting an extra episode that the network doesn't feel like airing.

Finaldh_13grouppool_1179_ly3bKeep in mind that the studio and the network are owned by the same people…Fox. They are simply moving cash from one pocket to another.

So here's the bottom line: Fox Studios paid to produce an episode that The Fox Network doesn't want to air (in other words, they don't want to pay a $3 million license fee for a show that's delivering terrible ratings). What does that tell you about the network's confidence in the show?
A lot.

25 thoughts on “Huh?”

  1. Yeah, but I heard that it’s after episode 13 that it really gets good because, you know, Joss wrote that one and…and…and…oh, fuck it. None of it ever made sense, not the least of which was the episodes themselves.

  2. Maybe for the DVD they could include the ‘scrapped for parts’ pilot in its original form? The first broadcast episode had a definite ‘too many cooks’ feel to it, all false starts and tangents, while the famous episode six reboot had a feel of ‘picking up pieces’. We might get to see if there was a cleaner vision of the show somewhere behind it all.

  3. I think the explanation is this: everyone knew the show was stillborn, but they needed thirteen episodes for foreign sales and to make the DVD boxset big enough (and a ‘includes an episode never seen on TV!’ is a nice bonus).
    The ‘from the fifth episode on, the executives got out of our way’ line so clearly translated as ‘after four episodes, they gave up on us’.
    It wasn’t a good idea for a show, it had some truly terrible no-human-being-behaves-like-that writing, the lead actress has all the charisma and versatility of someone in a hostage video.
    The fanboys keep blaming everyone but Joss, but you’ve got to note that it’s eleven years now since he came up with a show anyone watched. With people like JJ Abrams and Russell Davies around, just about every Whedonian claim that the general audience don’t like SF looks extremely foolish.
    The guy is a great writer – look at his Roseanne episodes or Toy Story. He should ignore his ‘fan base’ and pitch a sitcom that’s designed to be the new Friends. Something utterly mainstream, for primetime network television. Instead, he’ll just keep writing one off comics and webcasts. Because that’s much, much easier and his fans will forgive him anything.

  4. I understand that at Fox, the TV side and the DVD-producing side are two entities, which is why the TV execs don’t care if a show is a success on DVD — they don’t get credit for it.
    In other words, they’re working at cross-purposes.
    Or they’re all fuckwads. That theory holds, too. It takes super-fueled stupid to screw both Matt Groening over “Futurama” and Joss Whedon for “Serenity.”

  5. But FIREFLY was a lousy show, Bill. That’s why nobody watched and Fox canceled it. Simple TV Darwinism.
    DOLLHOUSE is lousy, too. You can’t premiere with lousy episodes and then reboot the show every few weeks and hope that will draw, or sustain, an audience.

  6. ‘TV Darwinism’
    Spot on. Dollhouse wasn’t some amazing piece of art, it was yet another cookie cutter show about a pretty girl who went on missions of the week. There was nothing above baseline about the show. This wasn’t The Wire, folks, it was Joe-90.
    The Whedon fans are trying to spin this as an evil network strangling the show. First of all, if any network wants to ‘strangle’ me by commissioning thirteen episodes of telly *again* after my last show bombed, please strangle away.
    Second … half the people who started watching Dollhouse had stopped watching by week six. Is that a sign of a show that’s working?
    TV is mass entertainment. Dollhouse was already coddled – if it had gone in the slot it was designed for, to hold its head up with House, it would have lasted three weeks. There’s no special pleading for SF – in the UK, Doctor Who’s the biggest thing on TV, and the reason is that it’s got a bona fide TV genius running it. If Joss was as good as his fans say he is, they wouldn’t have to say it quite so shrill and quite so often.

  7. I don’t think Firefly was all that lousy, Lee. Some aspects of it were pretty flimsy (I liked the characters, but a lot of the dialogue had this too-clever, ‘come on, nobody really talks like this’ shine to it) but I think it was a flawed but promising ‘space western’ on par with BLAKE’S SEVEN and COWBOY BEBOP that got helped into the grave by bumbling programming.
    I think that if Joss Whedon really wants to make a science fiction TV program, he needs to go to where his audience already is– Sci-Fi Channel. He’ll have a much smaller budget, but IMO that network will likely give him more room to experiment.

  8. Lee,
    Thanks for saying out loud what I’ve been muttering to myself for years. I just didn’t get Firefly. It’s faux Western mileau just was silly. The plots were straight out of Gunsmoke. In short, nothing special. Yet Fox is the villain. They even let Joss make a movie that cost tens of millions of dollars, and the damned public didn’t appreciate Joss’ genius.
    I have a theory. The genius behind Buffy and Angel was David Greenwalt. Granted this is just my opinion, but those shows got worse when David left them. Sometimes talent needs oversight. Joss is talented, no doubt, but that doesn’t make him always right. Sometimes even a genius needs guidance and someone to help shape ideas, or even just say no to bad ideas. Everyone has bad ideas. No one is always right -Joss- and no one is always wrong -evil network suits.
    Or I could be wrong, but I am glad that a professional writer who has done work that I’ve enjoyed agrees with me.
    Peace out.

  9. i immediately thought it was a dvd sales booster. those on the fence will pick it up to see the 13th ep, now. which is probably more looky loos than it would’ve got on telly.
    can’t agree that david greenwalt was the secret genius. i’ve not seen buffy, but season four (after greenwalt left) was angels best series by far and series five was better than the first three.

  10. Marcus,
    They are spending $3 million-plus for a DVD extra!? I don’t think so. Not when the DVD market is cratering. It’s a shame there are no real TV trade publications anymore…it would be great if some enterprising reporter out there did some digging and got the real story.
    I don’t know if David Greenwalt was the genius behind the curtain at Buffy…but I do know that he’s a remarkably talented writer and a very nice guy. He was at The Cannell Studios when I was there…and while we never worked on a show together, our paths crossed often. (His show PROFIT was way, way ahead of its time).

  11. $3m for a worldwide dvd? don’t forget some of us still have a pretty good exchange rate on the dollar and joss is international. i think it’d be a close call, financially. add in the original pilot, blah blah, i could see it recouping.
    although, yeah, i do think there’s more to it than is currently public.
    only time will tell!

  12. I’m not sure where the $3M figure comes from – the per episode budget is reportedly $1.4M, and so much of that must be amortized over the 13 episodes (they built the main set, they’ve set up a production office, they have actors and designers and musicians and so on under contract) that it won’t actually cost $1.4M more to make 13 than it would 12.
    They’ll make more than $1.4M if they can bring out a DVD and sell it abroad, which they can with 13 but not 12.
    Whedon *can* shift DVDs. Firefly was one of the top ten TV boxsets for 101 weeks according to, it sold 50,000 in the first week (at $50 a time).
    The ‘story’ seems pretty straightforward – everyone’s got out of their contractual obligations as soon as they possibly could, and the production team have slapped together a ‘standalone, coda’ episode (I’m guessing three or four actors mostly trapped on the main set, not doing anything too expensive, but making lots of quirky arc flashforward ‘oh, if only the show had carried on’ allusions) because they knew they could do it quickly and it would be a major DVD selling point / way of whipping up internet outrage (‘evil Fox didn’t even show the last episode, express your anger by buying the DVD’).

  13. Steve,
    I’ve heard the cost is $3 million per episode. But even if I am wrong, and that number is inflated by a few hundred thousand, there’s absolutely no way DOLLHOUSE costs $1.4 to produce. That was the cost of a low-budget show in 1998…I know from personal experience. That’s just about what were making DIAGNOSIS MURDER for (if you include the overage CBS gave us for Dick’s salary). That was a decade ago.
    Even now, a cheap, Canadian-produced series for Lifetime or PAX costs more than that…and that’s factoring in the Canadian tax breaks and the dollar vs. Canadian dollar savings. I know that from personal experience, too, producing MISSING in Toronto.
    The central DOLLHOUSE set alone cost $1 million…,0,1160268.story?track=rss
    and that doesn’t count the cost of entirely scrapping the pilot, which probably cost in the neighborhood of $3 million. But for the sake of argument, let’s say it was only $2 million (which is less than we were producing MARTIAL LAW for back in 2000, and it was very similar to DOLLHOUSE in terms of action, location and sets).
    Even if you amortize those costs over the remaining 12 episodes, that adds a $300,000 expense per episode on top of the production budget. But at least on those episodes they were getting a license fee from Fox Network to cover some of those costs. For the 13th episode, Fox Studios is paying the entire fee entirely out of their own pocket.
    So, in addition to the deficits they are already carrying (ie the difference between the license fee and the actual cost of producing the episodes), they can now tack on the full cost of an entire episode.
    That’s millions of dollars they have to get back from the DVD and international market on a show that’s doing very poorly in the ratings. Granted, FIREFLY did well on DVD…but that was how many years ago? Seven? Eight? You may not have noticed, but the DVD market has cratered since then and boxed set DVDs aren’t bringing in the money that they used to. The action has moved to hulu, where people can download shows for free.
    You write: “They’ll make more than $1.4M if they can bring out a DVD and sell it abroad, which they can with 13 but not 12.”
    Even if I buy that DOLLHOUSE only cost $1.4 million an episode to produce (which I wouldn’t even believe if this was 1999)…you still have to factor in the cost of scrapping an episode and shooting one for free (ie no cost to the network)…and the cost of producing, packaging and distributing the DVDs. Even if you factor in international sales, it will still be an uphill climb for them to make their money back.

  14. Trying to find the original source for it, but there’s been a crazy amount of discussion about the Dollhouse budget on TV By The Numbers, and they quote an average budget of $1.5M. Googling around, that figure’s quoted widely, and all the coverage is about budget cuts and how cheap it is.
    No argument at all that that’s very low, but that’s the figure being quoted. Looking at the show, they don’t do night filming, they don’t have big crowd scenes, they don’t close streets to film stuff, there’s no one in the cast who’s going to break the bank.

  15. Lee, Marcus,
    When I go on about my Greenwalt theory, it’s just that a theory. I have absolutely no evidence to support it. Just my opinion that Buffy and Angel went off the rails when David left. Characters, again just my opinion, acted differently. Moral questions were dropped. In Angel Cordelia was essentially ruined as a character, and David Greenwalt asked to bring her to Angel. But I do believe that certain people bring out the best in others when it comes to writing, but I have no proof. Like I said, I could be wrong.
    Keep on keeping on.

  16. “If they can bring out a DVD and sell it abroad, which they can with 13 but not 12.”
    They can sell the DVD with 13 eps, but not 12? Says who?
    If there’s a market for it, there’s a market for it either way. (Which seems unlikely at this point.)

  17. My Whedon fandom in a nutshell:
    I wasn’t much into BUFFY, but I respected it for breaking stereotypes and giving gravitas to a concept that flopped at the movies.
    I was a fan of ANGEL having seen the character on BUFFY, and because I have a preference for P.I. shows. As ANGEL evolved into an ensemble fantasy show, my interest waned, but I still saw just about every episode.
    I can see why FIREFLY was a difficult show for people to get into, but I liked it from first airing to last. I found the mix of Western and Eastern cultures and the new frontier mentality appealing. I liked that the dialogue was nuanced and yet fairly easy to grasp. FIREFLY is the kind of show you appreciate more with a second look, and I think that’s why it succeeded on DVD. SERENITY wasn’t profitable enough to greenlight a sequel, but it did make a profit, which has been augmented by DVD sales.
    DOLLHOUSE lost me with its second episode. As Lee has pointed out, it’s too similar in concept to MY OWN WORST ENEMY and THE PRETENDER. Its quirky questions of identity aside, Whedon is covering the same ground he broke with BUFFY–minus Buffy’s personality.
    FIREFLY may not have lasted sixty episodes, but FOX is partly to blame for viewers not finding it. First, FOX inexplicably did not like the original two-hour pilot, forcing Whedon and Tim Minear to write a substitute pilot over a weekend. Second, FOX pre-empted FIREFLY several times with its MLB playoff coverage, before any ratings trend had developed.
    By contrast, I think FOX has given DOLLHOUSE ample opportunity to succeed, but its concept, as the folks on FIREFLY would say, is “weak tea.”

  18. “They can sell the DVD with 13 eps, but not 12? Says who?”
    Foreign stations want 13 episodes, because a lot of them schedule things out in quarterly blocks – 13 weeks is enough, 12 isn’t (in the same way a show won’t get canceled after 50 episodes, they’ll make 52 so it can go into syndication in the US).
    As for the DVD … I’m just reporting what production team types have said in places like Whedonesque and TV By The Numbers. There comes a point where you can charge $50 for a boxset, and apparently 12 episodes isn’t enough, 13 is. Arbitrary, yes.
    Joss Whedon’s very good at feeding the outrage of his fanbase, and I think having a mythical ‘lost episode that Fox refused to show’ will make some Whedon fans shell out their cash out of a broader loyalty to him. Reports over the weekend have it as a short, cheap episode made on handheld video cameras. Which makes it sound more and more like a DVD extra. And it will allow Whedon fanboys to lord it over us, and explain over and over that if only we’d seen that episode we’d understand just how foolish we and Fox were to not give it a chance.
    “If there’s a market for it, there’s a market for it either way. (Which seems unlikely at this point.)”
    For just about anyone else, I’d agree. Joss Whedon – pretty much inexplicably, for my money – can get people to buy DVDs. Firefly’s been issued three times on DVD, once on Blu Ray, and I know people who have all four.
    He’s the most extreme example of the narrowcasting that US TV has got itself into in recent years – the idea that it’s better to have a million of a certain demographic (especially if they all also buy the DVD) than fifteen million random people.
    It’s a false premise – Doctor Who in the UK can deliver fifteen million people *and* a million DVD sales (and in a country a sixth of the size), but it’s been the way US TV’s been going since Friends killed Murder She Wrote.

  19. Steve wrote: “Foreign stations want 13 episodes, because a lot of them schedule things out in quarterly blocks – 13 weeks is enough, 12 isn’t (in the same way a show won’t get canceled after 50 episodes, they’ll make 52 so it can go into syndication in the US). ”
    That simply isn’t true about foreign stations. I happen to be in London at the moment, where it’s VERY common for a series to do only six or eight episodes a season. And those shows sell fine internationally and on DVD.
    I am leaving for Munich tomorrow. The studio I’m working with there has done two series for German television that only had eight episode first seasons and yet have been sold internationally and on DVD.
    (fyi — their latest series also just got an eight-episode order for the first season).

  20. I absolutely loved Firefly, and just didn’t find out about it until 2 years after it got cancelled. FOX did zero to promote the show (I never heard of it, for instance), premiered the series with the wrong episode to garner interest, and never aired 2 of the best episodes! I didn’t know about the MLB bouncing and time slot changes, but FOX didn’t seem to want this show to succeed. Shame, really.
    I can’t say exactly how many times I watched the DVD’s, though some bits are campy. But it was tongue-in-cheek and fun, and the characters were awesome!
    Serenity was a good film, but based on a CANCELLED show, I’m surprised it got made.
    Dollhouse, however, copied too many similar concepts (as stated above), and many other shows with this concept tanked after a season or 2. (Dark Angel comes to mind) I’m a die-hard SF geek. I couldn’t be bothered to watch the show, or find it to stream online. Sounded boring. I heard from others as they watched that it got good about episode 6 – too late!
    I’m sure Joss has another good show in him. Too bad the one I liked died in a single season.

  21. Thanks for the box office numbers, Steve. If you combine SERENITY’s worldwide box office take with its DVD sales, it has made a profit, enough of a profit to warrant special edition DVD and Blu-ray releases, but not a theatrical sequel.

  22. “It made more money than Titan AE, his previous attempt to make the same movie, though.”
    I’ve seen both SERENITY and TITAN AE; and I can’t see any similarity between the movies — except that both take place in the future, and are space operas.
    Now, FIREFLY and CRUSHER JOE, on the other hand . . . .

  23. From Joss himself:
    “The decision had to do with the studio saying, ‘We need another episode for our package, and we can’t afford one,'” Whedon said. “‘Can you do a clip show? Can we show the unaired pilot?’ I’m like, ‘No, you can’t. It wouldn’t make any sense. Besides, we cannibalized it for parts. Most of it’s in other episodes.’ And they were like, ‘Well, we really have to have 13 for foreign.’ And I said, ‘I’ll tell you what. I’ll shoot a post-apocalyptic thriller that’s all on our sets in six days with a cast of four other people, then we’ll pepper it with different bits from our regular cast, and we can do it all during the schedule. It’ll cost you half.'”


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