Joss Whedon, creator of Fox's upcoming sci-fi drama Dollhouse, has a message for the haters out there: Give the show a frakkin' chance!
Responding to my questions for the first time about the swirl of buzz surrounding the much-anticipated show, Whedon said in an exclusive interview on Tuesday, Dec. 6, that the show's found its groove, that he's very happy with the way it's going and that he's confident viewers will like it.
But with characteristic candor, Whedon also admits that the negative buzz—based in part on reports of reshoots, a scrapped pilot, production halts and a Friday night "death slot"—weighs on him and that he also struggled to find the show's voice during a lengthy development process.
"You do [think about it]," Whedon said in Los Angeles during a Fox press day. "I mean, you notice things. The fact is, it's not a seamless birthing process. But ... it seldom is. For me, never. And the only difference is now everybody in the world knows everything about everything. But that doesn't really change what's going on. And it's been hard, and I've had despair, and I've had joy and excitement, and, ... ultimately, it has nothing to do with whether or not you will respond to the TV show." And he has more to say.
Eliza Dushku plays Echo in Joss Whedon's Dollhouse.
The chatter about the show's development—including, we admit, our own speculation that it may be doomed before it hits the air—has been premature, Whedon says. "All the business speculation is just that," he says. "So when people start saying, 'Well, clearly this is an attempt to ... ,' and they actually start deconstructing the show before they've seen it, and I kind of go, 'Well, wait a minute.' But ... it's just part of how it works now. You notice [the bad buzz] just to make sure that you know what people are thinking, and then you shove it down."
Dollhouse tells the story of a group of people, called "dolls," whose minds have been wiped and who are implanted with artificial personalities—memories, skills, even physical abilities and infirmities—in order to perform tasks for hire by a secret organization: escort service, assassination, kidnap negotiation, etc. The show stars Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast member Eliza Dushku, former Battlestar Galactica cast member Tahmoh Penikett, Olivia Williams, Harry Lennix and former Angel star Amy Acker. It debuts Feb. 13 and will air Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/PT, after Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Following is an edited version of Whedon's interview with SCI FI Wire.
How happy are you with the way the show is now?
Whedon: I'm happy with it. It's been hard for me, too. There was a point where I literally was, like, "What show am I making? What's going on? Wait, which part did I like? Why did I let Eliza buy me lunch?" [Whedon hatched the idea for the show at a lunch with Dushku.] But now it's gotten really exciting for us. We feel like it's found itself. You know, all the pieces are there, because the ensemble is extraordinary, the premise is really challenging and fun, and now, as we're working on the episodes a little further in, those episodes are becoming more than the sum of its parts. Which is exciting.
At what point are you in the process right now?
Whedon: We're shooting the 10th episode. We have the last three, which are being written by Jane Espenson, Tim Minear and myself. And Jane's finishing a draft, Tim's working on his, and I'm working on mine, because we're actually going to shoot it simultaneously. It's a very weird production thing that we're doing, partially because we junked the pilot, so we're creating these other episodes.
[At this point in the interview, Dushku—dressed in a slammin' tight black dress—comes up behind Whedon and says hello.]
Dushku: Wanna make out? [laughs] ... I'm a little sick.
Whedon [to Dushku]: I like you, I mean, I love you, as a friend. ...
[She laughs, they exchange more pleasantries, she runs off to do her own interviews.]
Whedon: Oh, sorry. Now I remember why I'm making the show. Forget all the stuff I said about interesting storylines. Have you seen her in that dress?
So, how is the show sort of coming together? It seems like you were trying to find the show's core for a couple of episodes.
Whedon: Fox came down with the mandate of stand-alones, and ... higher stakes and adventure and stuff. And all of that was part of the show, and so we just had to bring it to the fore. And ... this is a mistake that I often make, which is I'm interested in what's underneath, and so that's where I start, and you sort of can't. You kind of have to start with, "Well, you know, here's how it works, here's what you do every week, here's the adventure," and let the questions, ... the humanity of the thing, really sort of sneak in under. And ... now that's sort of happened, and after a few episodes, all of which are stand-alones, we're at a point where ... we know the characters well enough that there's a little bit of shorthand, and the interactions start to become really, really fascinating. And ... we hint at a lot of stuff in the early episodes, while we're doing stand-alones. We're sort of laying out threads, and now we start to get weaving some of them, and, ... without getting too caught up in its own mythology, that's where it starts to get really exciting. ...
How do you feel about the timeslot?
Whedon: You know, I feel fine about it. I know that it has a bad reputation. But so do the executives who built the sort of Terminator/Dollhouse entity, and they've been very up-front about a different expectation about audience numbers and slow growth. I think that they get—in a way that they really didn't back in the days of Firefly—that genre is ... something where a small group embraces it, and then it bleeds out. I mean, occasionally you get something like Lost, where it's like, "Bang! America's watching!" But that doesn't usually happen. So these are both shows that ... have, ... in their own way, kind of complicated premises. Even though Terminator has a sort of slam-dunk of, "There is a Terminator." And there are some real similarities between them, so I really like that pairing. I was never comfortable being paired with 24. That's not exactly the kind of thing that I'm behind. ... And I'm a devotee of Terminator, and I feel like the only problem I have is in the case they do something so much like what we're doing. ... Sometimes we'll come to the writers' room the day after it airs, and all look at each other and go like, "OK, back to work. We've got to change that."