I spent part of this morning dealing with a sick pet and much of the rest of the day trying to write a "How I Met Your Mother" piece I've been meaning to finish for some time. So I missed the Twitter heard 'round the world, at least the TV world.
Actress Felicia Day said on her Twitter micro-blog that the "Dollhouse" episode in which she makes a guest appearance, "Epitaph One," won't air on Fox. The Dr. Horrible Twitter, which is a Whedon family project, confirmed the news.
That led to speculation that the show has been canceled, which is not the case. Actually, I'm glad I wasn't on Twitter when this story blew up -- by late this afternoon, several capable TV writers had sorted out the situation.
And the situation is this: Fox ordered 13 episodes of "Dollhouse." It considers the pilot that was shot but scrapped to be one of those episodes. So as far as Fox is concerned, it is obliged to air 12 more episodes of "Dollhouse." That run of 12 episodes ends on May 8, when an episode titled "Omega" airs (there's more on upcoming episodes of "Dollhouse" here).
The studio that makes "Dollhouse" chose to make one additional episode, "Epitaph One," so that it can sell a 13-episode DVD set. Fox apparently will not air that episode, which is a standalone episode that does not resolve issues raised in "Omega." (Watch With Kristin has details on "Epitaph One" here.)
That is my understanding from reading the following sources:
Alan Sepinwall has an excellent breakdown of the situation: "Fox network won't decide the fate of 'Dollhouse' until Upfront week, near the end of May, and the decision not to air 'Epitaph One' has nothing whatsoever to do with renewal."
Watch With Kristin has another rundown and more details on "Omega": "'Omega' ... was written and directed by Tim Minear .... Focused on the Alpha storyline, sources say that 'Omega' apparently 'closes some doors and opens other ones,' and was always intended to be and serves effectively as the season one finale."
Minear clarified the situation on Whedonesque (which has many "Dollhouse" links today) in this comment to the site: "Because we scrapped the original pilot -- and in fact cannibalized some of its parts for other eps -- we really ended up with 12 episodes. But the studio makes DVD and other deals based on the original 13 number. So we created a standalone kind of coda episode....We always knew it would be for the DVD for sure, but we also think Fox should air it because it's awesome."
Daniel Fienberg has an excellent account of the current situation and also some thoughts about the show's future: "Will 'Dollhouse' eventually be cancelled? I can't tell you that today. I can tell you to look at the show's ratings. If you just look at overnight and Fast National figures, that will probably tell you that hopes are bleak for a second 'Dollhouse' season. If you look at DVR and iTunes and other ancillary numbers, it might offer hope."
Jace at the Televisionary site says "Omega" should offer closure to Season 1: "All lingering questions from 'Omega' won't be resolved until Season Two anyway," an insider told him.
My take is this: If "Dollhouse" is canceled, for the love of all that is holy, creator Joss Whedon should get out of business with the broadcast networks.
If the "Dollhouse" is closed, I would very much hope Whedon would not feel so scarred by another unpleasant Fox experience that he would stop making TV shows altogether. I want Whedon to keep making TV shows. He's very good at it. But I'd love for him to make a show with a cable network that believes in his vision and lets him do the things that he does well from the start. As it stands, "Dollhouse" didn't reach must-see status until recently (I wrote about its improvement here), mainly because Fox wanted more standalone episodes at the start of the season.
I would like to see what kind of wonderfully dense, risk-taking project Whedon would come up with when he is not hampered by the current conservative climate at the networks, which these days want most story lines to wrap up by the end of the hour. Can you imagine what a Whedon show on HBO, Showtime, FX or AMC would look like?
And the bonus would be this: It's almost unheard of for cable networks not to air complete seasons of their shows. Yes, I know we can get into hairsplitting about whether Fox is just airing what it asked for and all that. My point is not to demonize Fox (though you should feel free to complain about the network's decision, should you so desire). In these nervous times, the broadcast networks have shifted their priorities and become more risk-averse (a trend I wrote about here).
That's their right, and there are certainly standalone-style shows I enjoy a great deal. He can do that kind of thing competently, but Whedon's shows are at their best when they're allowed to be complicated and serialized.
My point is this: Whedon needs to make his next show on cable. End of story.