Joss Whedon: What it will take for Dollhouse to survive

Joss Whedon, creator of Fox's sci-fi series Dollhouse, told reporters that there is still a chance that Fox will pick the show up for a second season, provided the remaining four episodes do well—especially with a new lead-in, Prison Break, which replaces Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles in the timeslot before, starting April 24.

"The question is, with a different lead-in, will anything change?" Whedon said in a group interview Wednesday in Hollywood before appearing on a Paley Festival panel about the show. "Will Prison Break be a worse match for us because it's such a different show? Or will it be better because more people watch it? Do more people watch it? I don't know what the numbers on Prison Break are. So there are a lot of X factors."

The following Q&A features edited excerpts of Whedon's comments. Dollhouse airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on Fox.

I have all-new questions for you today.

Whedon: Well, good, because I have an all-new personality. Well, I changed my shirt. I know how to bring it. I've learned from the celebrities.

Have you heard anything official from Fox about when you'd hear about cancellation? Or have they told you if you hit a certain ratings number, that would be more favorable to a second season?

Whedon: They haven't said anything about a number, and they haven't said anything about a date. What they have said is "We get it. We get that the numbers are soft, but it's not a Nielsen world. The DVR numbers are good, and the show's getting better, and the demographic is good, and we all have a crush on [star and producer] Eliza [Dushku]." So they're basically fans.

Obviously, there has to be a number we reach that is viable for them economically, or it would be senseless for them, unless they were insane fans like me. But they get it. They get the show, and they get what works. So they're anxious for it to stay at a level where they can justify throwing down some more. Hopefully that'll happen.

Rumor is that Terminator, your lead-in, is essentially canceled. Does that give you any pause?

Whedon: No. I mean, Terminator did very poorly. I don't know why. I love it. That's why I'm not on that side of the fence, because I'm not a marketer. I don't know how these things work. It started strong, and it fell off for some reason. I liked it as a lead-in because, artistically, they were just a nice match. They both had a similar sensibility, and I think Terminator was a really interesting show that really plumbed the depths of its premise really well. So I was happy to be with it. But the fact is it was doing poorly, and we were doing better, but not great. I think, ultimately, nobody blames us. We did build on Terminator and usually on our own half hours most nights. It's anyone's guess at this point.

Did you sense you needed to wrap up the story if the season finale ends up being the series finale?

Whedon: I always have that sense. The trick is to do something that has a sense of closure and only asks questions, which is what we did. It does have a total sense of closure and a ridiculous number of cliffhangers at the same time in its own way, in a way that's very hard to describe. It's not like anything else I've ever done.

If you get a second season, have you already thought of a story arc?

Whedon: Yeah. Not an absolute total arc, but there's a bunch of stuff that we're already chomping at the bit to get to. We feel like this story is just too rich, and we barely scratched the surface. Although, I'll tell you, for the next four episodes, we scratch it really, really hard. It's going to bleed.

What would it take for fans to rally for a season two?

Whedon: I don't think it's a "Save Dollhouse" campaign. Basically, we've got a few more times up at bat. It's going to be up to the fans to be vocal in their own community to make sure people are watching, that we get those DVR numbers, that they don't slip. If they want to cold-call executives, that's good too, I guess. Or Twitter. A lot of people are Twittering. Ultimately, it's just holding the course, because I honestly began to think that we were dead in the water, and the people at Fox made a point of calling me to say, "That's not the case. We're still working it out. We're fans. We want this to work."

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