A 'Dollhouse' for Which Fox Doesn't Want to Pay to Play

Season shortchange? Harry Lennix, Fran Kranz, Eliza Dushku in "Dollhouse."
Season shortchange? Harry Lennix, Fran Kranz, Eliza Dushku in "Dollhouse." (By Greg Gayne -- Fox)
Friday, April 10, 2009

Joss Whedon fans are in an uproar over news that Twentieth Century Fox TV has produced a 13th -- or 14th, depending on how you do your math -- episode of "Dollhouse" that Fox network is not going to air this season.

Eliza Dushku stars in the sci-fi series as a "doll" who lives at this high-class place run by a creepy, mercenary, fix-things-for-rich-people firm, which wipes her brain clean -- or nearly clean -- each week so she can be imprinted with a new personality and skill set to help the latest client in trouble. It's a feminist manifesto, according to ardent fans. Personally, we're not seeing it.

Anyway, the drumbeat started this week when Fox announced that it would air the season finale of "Dollhouse" at 9 p.m. on May 12. That episode is called "Omega."

Then word got out -- "somehow" -- that there exists a 13th "Dollhouse" episode, "Epitaph One," which Fox has declined to air.

Fox ordered 13 episodes of "Dollhouse" last spring from Whedon and Twentieth Century Fox TV, which, like Fox, is based at News Corp.

Fox also paid for 13 episodes.

But Fox got only 12 episodes that its execs considered good enough to air. The first episode that ran -- the one called "Ghost," on Feb. 13 -- was not the first episode shot.

The first first episode of "Dollhouse" was deemed unairable by Fox execs -- which, of course, makes us wonder why they picked up the show in the first place. But that's a story for another day.

What you need to know is that Fox paid for 13 episodes and got 12 for its money. Whedon and gang scrapped the original pilot for parts, using bits and pieces in the remaining 12 episodes of Fox's 13-episode order.

But, because Twentieth Century Fox TV made its DVD deals and international sales based on the magic "13" episodes, it had to produce another episode -- officially called the 13th episode but actually the 14th. And because times are tough for everyone, including Hollywood studios, Twentieth Century Fox would like to find a way to offset the out-of-pocket cost of producing this extra episode.

So it has suggested that the Fox network air "Epitaph One" as a "stand-alone kind of coda episode," in the words of "Dollhouse" consulting producer Tim Minear. But the network would have to pay extra to get the "extra" episode. Nobody's saying how much Twentieth Century Fox TV wants Fox network to pony up for the episode, but a drama series can cost more than $3 million an episode these days. Anyway, because "Dollhouse" hasn't exactly been a ratings barnburner for the network, odds of this happening fall between slim and none.

No one at Twentieth Century Fox TV is commenting on its campaign to persuade Fox to buy the episode. But Minear, on the Web site Whedonesque, said, "We . . . think Fox should air it because it's awesome."

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