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Joss Whedon On What To Expect From 'Dollhouse'

Joss Whedon returns to television on Friday night with the premiere of his latest creation, 'Dollhouse', starring Eliza Dushku (photosEliza Dushku photos).

We recently had the chance to participate in a conference call with the creator of cult shows like 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer', 'Angel' and 'Firefly', about what fans can expect from the drama.

On what initially got him interested in the concept of the show, in which a group of operatives called have their memories and personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with new ones for various missions for hire (more here):

I'm very interested in concepts of identity, what enounce is our own, what's socialized, can people actually change, what do we expect from each other, how much do we use each other and manipulate each other, and what would we do if we had this kind of power over each other? And in this, our increasingly virtual world, self-definition has become a very amorphous concept, so it just felt what was on my mind. I don't mean it felt timely like I was trolling the papers looking for something timely. It's just been something I think about a lot.

As for the characters, they sell out by necessity. I wanted to have a strong ensemble around Eliza, because I didn’t want her to have to carry the burden of every single day of shooting, or she would burn out. So it was the question of really just doing the math. You’re going to need the handler, you’re going to need somebody running the place, you’re going to need the programmer, and then realizing what all of those different perspectives would give us, even before we had the astonishing cast, started to make the show really live.

On reshooting the pilot episode to please network bosses:

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.

On the show's Friday night time slot, which is traditionally where all good shows go before they're cancelled:

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 and Eliza Dushku 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, and at the same time, it is 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.

On whether fans can expect a serialized or self-contained storyline each episode:

Ultimately, the show ends up going exactly where I hoped it would go. The idea was always to have a mythology that was counterbalanced by a standalone aspect that every episode would be self-contained, and that the mythology would play out, but you would feel a sense of resolve, be that an engagement, or some other aspect every week.

The mandate to go ahead and just really make the first several episodes pure standalone engagements is tough. It's more work for a staff to drum up that enthusiasm and that identification for the guest of the week. That's just difficult, but we knew that was part of the show going in, that every week, we were not only going to have to create a new world and care about it, but that she (Eliza) was actually going to have to join the guest cast, because she would be a new person. So it’s a challenge, but it’s one that we knew going in we were going to have to tackle, and I think we’re getting better at it. It is definitely a different skill.

On whether he supports the network's campaign featuring Eliza_Dushku nude, or sporting wet tops:

I do support it. I saw the photo shoot, and I mostly support it because Eliza was very comfortable with it and very pleased with the photos. She's very comfortable with her body. The premise of the show involves these men and women being hired and obviously, some of that has to do with sex. This is something that was in the premise from the start.

It came from my conversation with Eliza. We wanted to talk about it, she mentioned herself, wanted to talk about sexuality in whatever show she was doing, not just by virtue of her being all hot, but by really examining human sexuality and how it drives us and why it’s important to us. And the idea of objectification versus identification, these are all things that I’ve been working on all the time.

And I think there are going to be things that people react to different. I think some things will offend some people, some things will not. There are things in it that I'm not positive I support, and some of the things that bother me don't bother any of the other writers, and that’s something that I’ve been a little bit afraid of, but I haven’t shied away from, because part of the point is to look at these gray areas and to see what of this is unique in us, what is it we need from each other, how much do we objectify each other, how much do we use each other, both men and women, and what is actually virtuous.

The idea is to get the audience to look at their own desire, and to figure out what of it is acceptable, and what of it is kind of creepy. In order to do that, we go to a creepy place sometimes, and I will be very interested to see if people find it empowering or the other things. I may have crossed the line. Let’s find out.

'Dollhouse' premires Friday night on Fox at 9 PM EST.

February 13, 2009 |

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