In a wide-ranging discussion with reporters the week before the premiere of Dollhouse, creator Joss Whedon talked about the genesis of the show, its evolution during development, and how it will be different from his previous projects.
Can you talk a little bit about the process of finding this show through the rewritten pilot, and then the early episodes, and then talk about how it differed from finding your earlier shows?
I think this show definitely went through a tougher process, tough in a different way than the other shows. Probably most similar to Angel in the sense of what we had in our minds about what Angel was ultimately was different than what the network did. Our version was a little darker, and in this instance, it wasn't so much a question of reworking what the show was as it was a question of reworking how we get into it. There were definitely some differences of opinion about what was going on and what we were going to stress in the show, but mostly it was about how do we bring the audience in and the mandate was very much once they had seen the pilot.
They made some noise about this before. I don't want to say that they just thought it up out of the blue, but the mandate "was give us not just the world of the show, but the structure of the show." The original pilot explained everything that happened, but came at it very sideways, and they said let the audience see an engagement so that they understand that every week she's going to go to a different place and be a different person and that they have that sense of structure.
That part was simple enough. It was my idea to do a new pilot, because once I was clear on what it was they didn't have that I had planned to provide in the show anyway, it seemed like a no-brainer to give them something they could get behind more.
But there was some real questioning about what exactly we wanted to get at in terms of the humanity and what they do and why people hire them and there's a sexual aspect to it that makes some people nervous. Part of the mandate of the show is to make people nervous. It's to make them identify with people they don't like and get into situations that they don't approve of, and also look at some of the heroic side of things and wonder if maybe they were wrong about what motivated those as well.
So we're out to make people uncomfortable, but not maybe so much our bosses.
Do you feel like you've found the show now, or is it still just an ongoing process?
Well, it's always an ongoing process to an extent, but I would say emphatically yes. We had all of the elements, the characters, none of which were changed really, and none of the regular characters, and the premise, the concept, the way we were able to explore what makes us human, all of that is in there.
As the season progresses, it ends up going exactly where I had hoped it would go before all of this happened, so I do feel like we got back to our vision in a way that really works for the network. And the last few episodes that we just completed shooting got all of us extraordinarily excited.
What do you say to people who are already worried about the show before it airs?
Usually, words of calm in these situations lead to panic. If you say there's nothing to panic about, somebody says, he said the word panic. Basically, we found the show. My concern isn't whether the show gets saved. It's whether these fans who are panicking about it love it. They may get over their panic. They may see it and go, you know, actually, we're okay. The network should do what they think is right. Ultimately, the support is very sweet, and the fact that people care and they want to see the show get a chance. That's important to me too, because it really is a show that finds itself as it goes along, but, at the end of the day, my biggest concern is that I give them something worth panicking over.
With a show like Buffy, you had some episodes and you did some things that really stood out in people's minds like having a musical episode, having an episode where no one speaks. Do you have some of those ideas for Dollhouse?
Most of the things I think have been done at some point, and we don't think it's done for their own sakes, but one of the exciting things about the show, one of the reasons why we're excited to have more runs at it is that you can really come at these stories from a lot of different perspectives; from the perspective of a client, from the perspective, as we do in episode six, from the man on the street, from the perspective of obviously Echo or any of the dolls or the people who are running it.
There's always a different way into the story, and since there is a basic structure of an engagement where somebody comes in, says what they want, and they build that personality and the engagement takes place, there is a lot of fun that can be had with how you come at those stories.
But I don't have anything specific in mind, and no, I'm not planning a Dollhouse musical just yet.
The second episode is more outrageous than the pilot. Why did you delay it to the second episode, and how many more of those sort of hooks can we expect?
Outrageous is always good. That episode was meant originally to be around episode five, or possibly even eight, and it was the network who said, excuse me, did you say bow hunting? That will come second please, because we already had the pilot working, so it kind of got bumped up further than, but you're not the first person to say why didn't you just open with that, and my answer would be I don't know. I had the other idea first.
Basically, I think its one aspect of it is the bigger than life adventure, but we have episodes that I think are equally insane and, in some ways even more beautiful. So if people watch episodes and wonder they should've opened with this, that means the episodes are getting better, and I'll take an upward curve any day.
Somebody said well how come things go wrong with the Dollhouse? That's a question I've gotten. It's like so that we can have a show. Obviously, something is going to go wrong, or strangely right in every episode.