For any avid science fiction aficionado, FOX television represents a bit of a dichotomy: on the one hand, they have brought to the table some truly memorable shows like Firefly, Dollhouse, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. On the other hand, they have established a track record for systematically canceling said shows just when the going gets good.
It's happening again. According to some pretty convincing rumors, Dollhouse and T:TSCC are already over. While both shows had what could be considered a shaky start, they have over time grown to almost Battlestar-esque levels of entertainment. Sadly however, no amount of clever storytelling and intriguing character arcs can make up for poor scheduling, declining ratings, and ongoing competition from lowest-common-denominator programming.
Which brings us to the big question: why would a talented producer like Joss Whedon want to work with FOX again after the whipping they delivered Firefly a few years ago? If Dollhouse was partially the brainchild of protagonist Eliza Dushku, who is locked into a two-year contract with FOX, should Whedon have waited for the opportunity to go with another studio?
FOX's involvement with Dollhouse, beyond seemingly signing its death sentence, also changed its essence. At his recent lifetime award acceptance ceremony at MIT, Whedon described his vision for Dollhouse before FOX's inevitable meddling: dolls of all ages, shapes, and sizes, and story lines painted from a much darker, grittier palette.
Alas, FOX only has room for the young and the beautiful, resulting in the audience being presented with a somewhat bland version of Whedon's vision. Strike two for FOX, whose scheduling snafus and and demands for rewrites resulted in Whedon's past masterpiece, Firefly, meeting its demise after only one season.
Is Dollhouse the final straw for Whedon? With his relationship with FOX described as "poisoned," the repercussions of a Dollhouse cancellation could go beyond his involvement with the studio. Whedon's excellent Dr. Horrible was a demonstration that great things can be done without studio involvement, and may have represented a glimpse of Whedon's future outlook beyond television.
Will a Whedonesque web series be next? If Sanctuary was any indication, the potential for producing a high quality live action series exclusively on the web certainly exists. The online medium also seems like natural fit for someone like Whedon, whose humanist themes, morally ambiguous characters, and unusual settings may find a more appreciative audience beyond the mainstream of television.
Whedon's move to the web would also serve as a categorical statement of the medium's maturity as an alternative to mainstream TV, lessening the studios' grip on our entertainment. A nice prospect to be sure, but one whose outcome only time will tell.
While studios such as FOX would be unlikely to welcome a move to the web, talents like Whedon's spearheading the transition may leave said studios without much of a choice. Like the music industry before them, the likes of FOX may once again be forced to make the ultimate choice: adapt, or die.