Saturday, May 16, 2009

FOX Renews "Dollhouse"

I'm really excited, and surprised, by this. "Dollhouse" is dark, thought-provoking, and frequently downright disturbing. And, in the course of a 12-episode first season, it didn't hit its stride till halfway through. It was buried on Friday nights, paired first with "Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles", a show I liked a lot but one that suffered a sophomore slump mid-season, and then with the already-cancelled "Prison Break".

But, as Maureen Ryan points out, the TV world has changed.


Could the tyranny of the Nielsen overnight ratings be over? If a network like Fox, which is not known for its sentiment and softness, renews a show like "Dollhouse," the paradigm has surely shifted.

Fox didn't renew "Dollhouse" because the show's fans would have been sad about the Joss Whedon show's untimely death. Fox doesn't care about how viewers feel (you saw "Moment of Truth," right?). No, Fox renewed "Dollhouse" because it thinks it can make money off the project -- enough to keep the enterprise profitable.

Fans have always been passionate about their favorite shows, but now they have far more ways to show it. Viewer passion translates to increased viewing in all these different arenas, which ultimately translates into more money in the pockets of the media companies.

The lesson the networks should learn from this new paradigm: Take chances.

The campaign to renew "Dollhouse" probably wouldn't have caught fire had Whedon never been allowed to make the weird, unsettling, unexpectedly moving and complex show that he ultimately came up with in the second half of "Dollhouse's" season. When shows are given time to develop, when they're allowed to be different, when they're allowed to be ambitious and strange and challenging -- all that can lead to the kind of fan passion that we're talking about here.

"Dollhouse" pulled big audiences via DVR and online viewing, and pre-orders of the season 1 DVD have been very strong (it's currently #9 in Amazon's sales rankings of TV box sets). Viewers today aren't limited to the ones who can sit down in front of their TVs each Friday night 9/8 central. And a good thing too; most of the cool people are out doing fun stuff while I'm at home glued to the tube. I wouldn't want them to miss out. :)

From what I'm reading, I can glean that FOX expects reduced costs and a new creative direction for the second season. I have a tiny, niggling fear that the show will develop "Murder One" syndrome, retreating from the absorbing arc of the last six episodes back to "assignment of the week" episodes in order to attract more casual viewers. I really, really hope that doesn't happen. Joss Whedon is a consummate storyteller, and he and his writers excel at bringing fascinating characters to the screen and letting us watch them grow. More of that, please!

And big thanks to FOX for taking another chance on this show.