Dollhouse : Why We Fight
Today I was reading through an email from my best friend and collaborator on End Of Show, Kevin Beaumont aka Gossi. It was rundown of his efforts so far to get fans to make a late rally to save the Joss Whedon show Dollhouse. It was only when I looked at the send date on the email that I realised what day it was. On this day four years ago I was on my way to the premier of Serenity, a feature film which rose from the ashes of a TV show called Firefly. Firefly was a Joss Whedon show which was cancelled and pulled by Fox after it achieved low ratings. Four years later, to the day, and here we are again. Dollhouse barely made 2 million viewers last week in its 9pm slot on Friday on the Fox network. Whether this is down to lack of publicity, lack of interest, or some kind of ancient curse, the fact remains that the show is in trouble.
I was never part of the fight to save Firefly. I first saw the show on DVD a year or so after it was cancelled – my fight was the Battle for Serenity, trying to promote a film which, if it was a success, might keep our ship flying. I got in touch with Gossi after he mused on the idea of making a documentary about our efforts. I got involved in the promotion of Serenity, and we quickly realised that Universal, the studio and distributors of the film, were going to be of limited help to us. I had sat in a hotel in Birmingham as a group of us frantically tried to register a domain which Universal had printed on 2000 matchbooks (and turned out to redirect to a porn site) before we ran a fan table at the 2005 Memorabilia event. The fan table was the only presence for the film, and consisted of a plasma screen showing the trailer, and a lot of fan made merchandise. The only thing that Universal provided were the comedy matchbooks.
Virtually everyone we knew had ‘fan packs’ – a padded envelope containing a Serenity magazine, stickers and some badges. Some claimed to have received a keyring – these rumours were never substantiated. We did our best with what we had, infiltrated the press screenings and previews, cosied up to journalists and irritated our family and friends beyond belief. On October 5th I travelled over 300 miles to appear on MTV as a ‘super fan’ alongside three others, Joss, Summer Glau (River) and Nathan Fillion (Mal). Later that night, we had breathed a sigh of relief at the post-premier party in central London. It was obvious that we were fans, we were the only ones who were scruffy and knackered. The Big Damn Movie had become, for me, just the Damn Movie, and I was glad it was finally out. I’d stood on the red carpet interviewing the cast at the World Premiere in Edinburgh, dancing to Green Day with Joss that night was another surreal moment. I spent most of 2005 expecting someone to tap me on the shoulder and say “You shouldn’t be here.”
When I tell people these stories now, they call me lucky. In my mind, I wasn’t lucky, I had earned it. I was training to be a teacher, stressed out and exhausted most of the time, and the gargantuan effort that I, Gossi and others had put in was just another thing which occupied my mind constantly. The day after the free bar and madness of the premiere, I taught my first ever class. I was in the staff room of the school where I was doing my first placement when I found out that Serenity had gone to number one in the UK box office. I looked around and realised that nobody in the room would give a damn. I also realised that when I got home and got online, my friends would be going apeshit.
This moment told me all I needed to know about real life and fandom. If the only people in my life had been the disinterested parties in the staff room that day, the efforts of the previous months would have rung hollow, but they weren’t the only people in my life. The fact that I knew all hell was breaking loose online while I sat there waiting for the final bell made me think that it was all worth it. People would be happy, my friends would be happy, and the thing that bound us together might bind for just a little bit longer.
This is why we fight. Yes we love our shows, but that affection doesn’t stop dead as the credits roll. Increasingly, it’s about community. It’s about having Twitter open as you watch because you can’t wait for the water cooler. It’s about the water cooler being quite a desolate place for you these days anyway. It’s about the stupid inside jokes and the moments when your phone goes off and a text says “They put that in there for you”. We’re no longer watching in a vacuum, cut off from other viewers. We’re all together, and when the thing that binds us is threatened, we fight to keep it alive.
For Browncoats in particular, this is the rematch that we could win. Let’s face it, for some of us this isn’t just about Dollhouse, it’s about Fox. They screwed us once and we’re damned if they’re going to do it again. This Spring I was involved in a tiny way in a grass roots campaign to save Chuck by targeting the sponsor Subway. Other shows have managed to rally and buy themselves a reprieve, and I think that Dollhouse can do the same.
Unfortunately it looks as if Fox might not be with us on this one. The promotion for the show has been woeful, wrong airdates, wrong times, a trailer with the wrong show title on it and money wasted on nonsense like Virtual Echo when at the same time no-one knows the show is even on. The mistakes and false starts are so unforgivable that you’d be tempted to cry ‘conspiracy’ when actual it’s more of a cock up. This was a show that needed to come out all guns blazing but instead there were a few false starts and then a whimper. Did you see the ‘slapstick’ trailer for episode two? No, we’re on our own. Fox can’t promote this show, so we’re going to have to do it for them.
If you think you can help, please, help. You can go to www.dollverse.com and find out exactly what you can do to help save Dollhouse. If you don’t want to help, and are happy to see the show die, then in the words of Joss Whedon himself, we will enjoy your silence for now.