Just How In Trouble Is Dollhouse?

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We told you earlier this week that new Joss Whedon series Dollhouse has shut down production for two weeks, along with passing along the official Fox statement that everything is fine and that there's nothing to see here, move along. But since then, rumors have been sneaking out that more may be going on than meets the eye, so we started wondering: Should we be worried about Dollhouse already?Despite the official line that the production hiatus is simply to give Whedon a chance to retool scripts to his own satisfaction, Television Week has heard a slightly more believable take on the situation:

A person familiar with the thinking of some Fox executives told TelevisionWeek that there have been concerns raised inside the network about the fundamental underpinnings of the show. Specifically, because the heroine of the show, played by Eliza Dushku, has no free will or ability to do much beyond what she's told to do, viewers might find it hard to root for her. In addition, some executives have expressed concerns that early episodes of the series have been confusing and hard to follow.

This is, of course, the second time that Fox execs have voiced concerns about the show. The first time, the pilot ended up being replaced by an all-new episode, but Whedon himself made great efforts to calm fans down and tell them that this was actually a good thing:

The network truly gets the premise (this is a whole new crew, as you know), loves the cast, is excited about the show – but they're also specific about how they want to bring people to the show and I not only respect that, I kinda have to slap my forehead that I didn't tailor my tone and structure to the network's needs, since that's something I pride myself on.


So, does this second course-correction - whether you believe the rumored version or the official version, it's clear that the scripts written so far aren't meeting someone's approval - bode ill for those who were looking forward to a creepy, complex show? The Television Week article suggests that that may be the case, noting that Fox executives feel that the problems that forced the filming of a second pilot still exist in later scripts. It's understandable why Fox are so nervous; Whedon may be your Master Now, but compared with the ratings (and, thanks to Mission Impossible III and Cloverfield, box office) clout of JJ Abrams, he's a nobody; if his much-hyped (and much more straight-forward) Fringe got disappointing ratings for its premiere, then what are the odds of a mass audience embracing a show about the concept of identity where the stars aren't recurring characters as much as recurring faces with brand new characters each week - especially when NBC's My Own Worst Enemy approaches the same MeMePlex personality idea from a much more mainstream angle? (To make matters slightly more dire for sci-fi on Fox, the premiere of the second season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles also underperformed - although Fox's ratings in general have been disappointing so far this season.) The two-week hiatus isn't necessarily the end of the world - Fox's 24 made a similar move last week - but the show that comes out on the other side of it is either likely to be more dumbed-down to please both Fox executives and a wider audience, or more likely to be taken off the air before it's completed its thirteen-episode run. Either way, it won't be the show that everyone wanted it to be.