May 16, 2009

Surprise: Fox RENEWS 'Dollhouse'

Dollhouse3 UPDATED: In a stunning move, sources say Fox has renewed Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse” for next fall.

The official announcement will not be made until Monday at the network's upfront presentation, but sources confirm a deal has been struck for another 13 episodes. Fox plans to continue the show on Fridays next fall.

The low-rated series was last seen given up for dead by the media in a field somewhere.

But the show's DVR numbers are huge (averaging a 40% bump), online streaming is strong. It’s a sci-fi show, which tend to bring in strong ancillary revenue such as DVD sales for sister-company studio 20th TV. And it’s said that Fox execs rather like the series, especially the latter half of the season. Besides, a show airing in the fall on Fox is a bit like running in midseason on most networks -- it’s not the network's strongest part of the year and maybe ... maybe ...

All right, fine.

The move is tougher to explain than most, especially based on the show's ratings. A “Dollhouse” pickup is a shock, an underdog comeback that blows away NBC’s will-they-or-won’t-they hand-wringing over “Chuck” (psst, they almost certainly will). In fact, "Dollhouse" might very well be the lowest-rated in-season scripted drama to ever get a renewal on a major broadcast network. Almost certainly if based on where the show concluded -- a 1.0 among adults 18-49.

Basically this is a case of a bunch of minor decision-making factors successfully ganging up on the biggest factor (ratings). In addition to DVD sales, streaming and DVR influences, Fox received some serious budget concessions from 20th TV and Whedon to continue the show, with 20th now shouldering a greater portion of the load.

Another factor was the show's unaired 13th episode, which Whedon shot on a shoestring budget for the "Dollhouse" first season DVD set. Whedon presented it to the network as an example of how "Dollhouse" can achieve a high-quality production with a lesser budget.

The renewal also means Fox is bringing back all three of its freshman dramas for a second season -- "Fringe," "Lie to Me" and "Dollhouse" -- which is a nice boast in challenging year for broadcasters.

Along with NBC renewing low-rated "Friday Night Lights," and strongly considering modestly performing "Chuck," and the CW stations considering bringing back very weakly rated "Reaper," there's seeming trend this spring toward networks looking beyond live-viewing ratings when contemplating the fate of shows with passionate fanbases that they can monetize in non-traditional ways.

Last year, in the wake of CBS canceling fan favorites "Jericho" and "Moonlight," the sense was that vocal minorities could no longer sway the suits.

This year, cult TV shows have been like creatures in a George Romero movie; you can never trust that they're dead.

Source: THReviews

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