Fox Execs Keep Playing With 'Dollhouse'

The Reporters Who Cover Television were shocked right down to their ganglions late last week when Fox renewed its ratings-starved "Dollhouse" for next season.

"What the heck?!" they said in overwrought features, columns/blogs/tweets. "Joss Whedon's latest exercise in ultra-feminist heinie-kicking-and-tight-tank-top-wearing didn't even cop 3 million viewers the other day! That's not even a decent FX number -- much less an acceptable return for a show airing on the country's No. 1-ranked broadcast network and home of 'American Idol'!"

But, of course, "Dollhouse" is produced by 20th Century Fox TV, which is owned by NewsCorporation, which also owns the Fox broadcast network. While "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," for instance, is not.

Eliza Dushku, right, and Fran Kranz in Fox's "Dollhouse." (Fox)

And NewsCorp. expects Dollhouse's first-season DVD sales to be strong, and overseas sales look good and some of those people who couldn't be bothered watching "Dollhouse" on Friday nights were instead watching on Hulu -- which, in one of those astounding coincidences which makes you feel certain life is just one darned unfathomable mystery after another, just happens to be co-owned by NewsCorporation.

And, of course, what with the threshhold for Brilliant Success Status on Hulu being so much lower than it is on broadcast TV (in much the same way that, say, 1 million CD sales takes you platinum but 1 million viewers gets you cancelled on broadcast TV) these "Dollhouse" viewers help made Hulu look like a success.

Oh, and Whedon has reportedly discovered a way to make episodes on the cheap --cheap for Whedon, anyway.

So Fox ordered a second season of "Dollhouse" which, some industry navel-gazers note, may be the lowest-rated series ever to get a renewal in the history of broadcast TV. They're probably right.

A case of the tail wagging the dog you say? (The Reporters Who Cover Television certainly did.)

Not at all. Because, starting this season: Broadcast TV is the new tail.

This season it's all about that "other stuff" that does so much to make a network's parent-company happy. Expect to see more "Dollhouse"-like announcements at the Broadcast Upfront Week presentations over the next few days -- headscratch-worthy show returns.

Of course, this only works if the company that owns the network also owns the series. Those unfortunate shows owned by studios that DON'T own the broadcast network on which they air -- a moment of silence for Warner Bros. and Sony series -- have been offering up pounds of flesh to their networks over the past couple weeks in order to secure renewals for next season. It's gotten pretty tragic in some cases and little rivulets of their blood will be trickling through the aisles at New York City Center, Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall, Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden, where the broadcast networks will officially unveil their schedules over the next several days.

On a brighter note: also in store for you this week are announcements of shows that have been running on one network but will move to another. "Medium," for instance, has aired on NBC but CBS had been mulling a pickup -- easily explained once you know NBC talks had stalled and CBS is the company that makes the show. CBS would like to see more episodes made of "Medium" to enhance its viability in off-network syndication. NBC? -- couldn't care less.

Meanwhile, have you long wondered why Fox's fall schedule didn't look more like its January schedule - you know, the schedule with two nights of "American Idol" and millions more viewers?

Well, Fox is announcing its 2009-10 primetime scehdule today and -- turns out -- the very same thing had occurred to Fox suits.

And yet, while those same Fox execs worked so tirelessly this season to gum up "American Idol" -- what with judges vetoing viewer votes, Kara DioGuardi adding nothing but blah-blah-blah and a stage cluttered up with gaudy Stairways to Paradise and Leaning Towers of Idol -- the Fox braintrust is not quite ready yet to make the Ultimate American Idol Mistake and do a second run of the show in the fourth quarter.

So instead , Fox is going to add another edition of its summer reality series "So You Think You Can Dance," which will stand in for "Idol" in its Tuesday/Wednesday peformance show/results show configuration.

Other than that, don't expect to hear about wholesale change to the Fox slate for the 2009-10 TV season because, as Fox suits have been saying for weeks, this is not the year to blow up a primetime schedule -- it throws too many ad dollars into the air.

Skittish advertisers want to know exactly what they're getting next season. And that doesn't just mean plunking their dollars down for returning series they've come to love. It means plunking their dollars down for returning shows they've come to love -- broadcast in the same timeslots in which they've come to love them.

So expect to see grumpy-doc drama "House" to stick at 8 on Mondays; JJ Abrams's paranormal drama "Fringe," to follow "So You Think You Can Dance" Tuesdays; procedural crime dramedy "Bones" to kick off Thursdays; "Dollhouse" back on Fridays; "AMW" and "Cops" on Saturdays; and animation nation on Sundays.

And "Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles"? It's dead -- finally succumbing to a chronic condition of being produced at Warner Bros.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  May 18, 2009; 8:00 AM ET Broadcast TV Upfronts 2009
Previous: Goodbye to Danny on "American Idol" | Next: Fox's New Primetime Schedule: The Details


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Lisa -

Dollhouse may have had low direct Nielsen ratings, but as you noted, the Hulu and DVR ratings were good.

I think that FOX is basically letting Joss Whedon wrap up the story arc, and eventually benefit from the DVD sales. (The current season is ranked at #80 at Amazon for TV & Movie sales, and #11 in just TV box set sales in it's pre-order status.)

After all, FOX screwed themselves out of a successful series with "Firefly" - a show so popular in DVD sales it generated a movie to wrap things up. (That Universal failed to promote it effectively was just weird - it wasn't up against the last Star Wars movie or anything...)

This is about Joss Whedon reminding FOX that they screwed the pooch by pulling the plug on the last series of he provided to them just when it was getting good.

If Whedon cut the budget, then everybody will profit from the DVD sales, which is probably what drove this agreement. The hardcore set of fans is happy the story will be completed (without the necessity of a movie or a !@#$%^&* "graphic novel" series), the actors and crew can prep themselves for themselves to have new gigs when the job is over - it's all good.

Not to mention - it's only a 13 season season. If it goes off the air next year (and it probably will), they will have only ponied up for 26 episodes, not 44. It'll also go on in the fall when there's no American Idol - they don't have a lot to lose, really. And maybe its' ratings will go up (doubtful, since they left it on Friday night), which also benefits everyone. As many have noted on the Internet, there isn't a Joss Whedon show that didn't improve and garner more audience in its' second season.

Sometimes it's not about those Nielsen numbers - which are so freakin' flawed anyway. I mean, there are some really, really crappy shows on out there, but if the Nielsen families are watching them, they get to stay on. Niche shows don't stand a chance outside niche networks.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | May 18, 2009 10:23 AM

I agree with Chasmosaur, if you look at the most popular shows on Hulu for all time, Dollhouse is in the top 15. Nielsen ratings are flawed and thats something that has been known. There are such better ways to gauge how popular a TV show is other than the Nielsen ratings. With Hulu in the game that gets revenue back to NBC, FOX and soon ABC that should be a huge contender for ratings data. I ditched my cable and have a PC hooked up to my TV and mainly watch Hulu and have encouraged my friends to do the same. On another note Dollhouse was one of the most pirated TV shows throughout the season as well, another indicator of its popularity. Wish Lisa had done some more homework.

Posted by: harrythe3rd | May 18, 2009 12:01 PM


Posted by: maris1 | May 18, 2009 1:24 PM

Sigh. Terminator made a serious push for 'best show on television' in 2009, but no one was watching. We'll never get to see how that season-ending twist would eventually unravel. It's a shame.

Posted by: Gonzai | May 19, 2009 10:01 AM

When the rumors came out last week that they were renewing Dollhouse, I was actually upbeat about the fate of TSSC. If you're going to save Dollhouse why wouldn't you save a better show in both quality reviews and ratings? Virtually all the blogs and comments indicated a stronger following for TSSC.

Well, that does it! They terminated TSSC, I'm terminating FOX. I will never watch another prime time show on FOX live again ever! I may still view their Sunday animated shows, but only Tivo'd or on line. They will not get me to watch another commercial on their network ever again! It's that simple and that easy! Enough of FOX and your execs who could care less about the quality of a show or the feelings of your viewers! I hope your network goes down the tubes.

For the rest of you TSSC lovers who are mad too, take the pledge too and let FOX know it. Pledge to never watch another live FOX prime time show again ever! If you're hooked on something they haven't cancelled yet, only watch it recorded, (make sure to skip any commercials), or on line. Send them a letter telling them so. They will be glad to hear they just lost a few million more viewers! Think about it folks, this is a pledge that's pretty easy to keep. Even if you still like a few other of their shows. These guys need to know they can not continue to treat their viewers like dirt and not pay the consequences. And when you write to FOX, tell them about others you know taking the pledge too. While you're at it, copy the folks at Nielsen too, they should know how flawed their data is too.

At some point the viewers need to take back control of network TV. The ratings system is outdated and the so called 'target audience' is not an accurate representation of the viewing audience. The target demographic is just one piece of the total. I would also suspect that many outside that target group are actually bigger consumers. Over the air TV is supposed to be for public use and not just a single segment of the public.

Well let's take network TV back. Join me in the pledge and let FOX know about! Time to teach them a lesson.

Posted by: DocSteele | May 20, 2009 3:43 AM

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