While I didn't get to Comic Con's Dollhouse panel because the line was totally insane, and while I didn't get a lottery ticket to get to meet Joss Whedon in person, I did get to participate in a conference call with him on Friday, and that was sort of the next best thing. Well, at least I got to watch the first episode in the comfort of my own office, so that's something. The Buffy mastermind dished about his new series, where he's paired up again with Buffy badass Eliza Dushku, which is a twisted tale about a group of men and women (most notable Dushku's Echo) who get programmed to perform tasks by a company and then regularly have their memories wiped. These girls can be anything you want them to be, but will the show be what fans want? Or will it get axed early like Whedon's other Fox series Firefly. Whedon talked about that and much more in his call. Here are the highlights.
On fans already starting "Save Dollhouse" Campaigns:
"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."
On network changes to the pilot:
"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 once they had seen the pilot, 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."
Has he found the show now?
"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, 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."
Will the show have his signature sense of humor?
"There is a lot of fun and a lot of humor in it. What it doesn't have is an inherent silliness that both Buffy and Firefly had, and even Angel, where we could just take one step back. Part of the fun was deconstructing the genre we were in. This has to be a little bit more grounded in order for it to play, or it would become campy, and with vampires and spaceships and horses, we had more leeway to be a little less realistic in how we plotted things. But humor is a part of the show all over the place, because we have really funny actors, and these situations do become absurd. And besides, we would get really bored if we didn't."
On why he wanted to work with Dushku again:
"She's overcome her homely shyness over these years. [Laughs.] Eliza is, apart from being, in my opinion, as great a star as I have ever known, she has a genuinely powerful electric and luminous quality that I've rarely seen. She's also a really solid person. She's a good friend. She's a feminist. She's an activist. She's interested in the people around her. She has a lot of different things going on, and I've watched her over the years, as a friend, try to take control of her career, and try to get the roles that weren't available to her, and protect the ethos and the message of what it was that she was doing, and I respect that enormously. Being part of that progression is, for me, one of the greatest benefits of this show."
On being stuck in the Friday night timeslot:
"Honestly, I really do see the opportunity there, because the deal with the Friday night time slot was you don't come out, bang, opening weekend, and it's all decided. It's about growing a fan base, both for Dollhouse and Terminator. I think Terminator is a remarkably good show, and the kind of show that makes sense to be paired with Dollhouse, so I feel great about that, plus I get to see all these posters with Summer [Glau, who starred in Whedon's Firefly] and Eliza together and that's just too cool. Ultimately, this is a show where people will hopefully become intrigued and then hang in, that really builds, so it needs the 13 weeks, and it needs the 13 weeks of people paying attention, but not so much attention that it gets burned out in the glare of the spotlight. I've always worked best under the radar. Most of my shows people have come to after they stopped airing, but I would like to buck that trend. At the same time, it's part of how I work that you stay with it and it grows on you and it becomes family, and the Friday night is a much better place for that to actually happen."
Will more Whedon alumni appear?
"You know, the basic mandate for me was to find new people, because I had Eliza, and I didn't want to feel like it was going to be Faith or just a reunion for my pals or anything like that, and I found some not only amazing new actors, but amazing new friends. But then, eventually, a person has to wake up and smell the "Acker" and realize you just have to cast anything that you can with [Angel alum Amy Acker], so that happened. Apart from that, we've put on some old faces in some guest roles, but not too often, and sometimes we've been very much behind the eight ball in terms of production, and when you know somebody can do something right, and you don't have time to go and find somebody else who can, you hire them. But apart from Amy and Eliza, it's a new crowd."
On who would win if Faith and Echo got in a fight:
"Faith would win, unless of course Echo had been imprinted with Faith's personality, which then I'm going to call it a tie."
On if there'll be a comic book for this, like there is for Buffy and Angel:
"There won't. The science fiction of this is much more fiction than science. Ultimately, its actors acting differently, which is not something you need to see drawn. There is however, a CSI comic book, so I guess everything could be a comic book, but I don't feel it lends itself in the same way that my other fictions have."
Can someone miss an episode and get caught up?
"We absolutely made sure of that. We always refer to the first seven episodes as the seven pilots. The first five are all individual engagements where the premise is made clear and the cast of characters is made clear and relationships are made clear. Obviously, there is some progression in those relationships, but there is nowhere where you have giant pieces of information missing, or where you have to sit through a three-minute 'Previously On...' in order to get to the show. We really care about that, and that was one place where we were completely on the same page as the network."
On those neverending Buffy movie rumors:
"There is not going to be one. I think that's pretty much it. Nobody has ever broached the subject from the studio side. I think everybody is busy working, so I think that it probably won't happen. That's my guess."
Really? No Buffy Movie?
"What am I, in charge? I never know. The landscape changes constantly, but until somebody who has millions and billions of dollars asks me that question, the answer is pretty much the same."
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