Who's the Right Boss For Joss? - Macleans.ca

Who’s the Right Boss For Joss?


No, I haven’t started doing everything in rhyme. (Though I do admire Muffy Mouse for her iconoclasm and courage.)  The cancellation of Dollhouse has made it clear that Fox is not the right place for Joss Whedon. With Firefly there was a credible argument that it might have done better if it had been handled better, but Dollhouse got a consistent — albeit not great — time slot, a second season, and terrible ratings. That network just isn’t the right fit for Whedon’s stuff.

But what is the right network for Whedon? One reason he’s been making low-budget internet musicals is that there’s really no place that’s quite right for his style of TV. As I’ve said before, he was lucky to come along with the idea for a TV adaptation of Buffy when he did. The WB was new, and needed what all new networks need: something that the established networks are not doing. They had no real “brand” as a network yet, so Whedon basically defined the network’s brand for them: teen shows, shows with humour and soapiness and geek appeal. Any network that already has an established brand will find Whedon’s stuff to be an uncomfortable fit.

One of the reasons Fox is a bad match for Whedon is that its core audience is getting steadily older (except on Sunday nights) and its brand, as a network, is not very closely associated with soapy relationship problems or geeky science fiction/fantasy stuff. (Fox used to be a geek-friendly network in the X-Files days; that’s no longer the case.)  The network that is closest in orientation to Whedon’s type of show is ABC, but as a big-time network, they would expect the kind of big ratings that Whedon’s shows can never deliver. He needs a network like the WB that doesn’t have high viewership expectations; the CW is like that, but they prefer shows that skew female, and most science-fiction/fantasy shows skew male (Whedon’s pick up more female viewers than most, but they’re still in a male-oriented genre).

That leaves cable. The highbrow channels like HBO are out, because they stay away from almost anything with a hint of trashiness about it. (Ron Moore once lamented that Battlestar Galactica should have been watched by the same audience that liked the HBO stuff, but because of the title and the premise, a lot of them wouldn’t check it out.) That makes SyFy the best option, and I’m sure they’re going to be courting him. But his shows may not be an automatic sell to the network’s audience. Even Galactica wasn’t a high-rated show, and that was a much purer science fiction show than anything Whedon is likely to come up with. 

So basically, with a style that’s halfway between lowbrow and highbrow, halfway between geek-friendly and anti-geek, Whedon is a creator without a clear outlet for his shows; now that the WB is gone, there’s no network that really matches up with his style. Oh, well. There’s always the internet, I guess.

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Who’s the Right Boss For Joss?

  1. Is there any reason why the internet couldn't be a valid place to create content that would be comparable to network television?

    If Joss Whedon was to cash in on his cult status to pitch a project for a serial directly to the internet mob, and say "if I raise X amount of dollars, I'll produce a season of that show (with a digital copy of the series for anyone who has pledged 50 bucks on a credit card). You could also control merchandising.

    Is there any reason that model wouldn't work that I'm not seeing?

    • Well, from a business standpoint, I'd look at risk. When a network is producing/ordering a show, they are the ones putting up the money, so they are the ones at risk financially if they fail, but they can afford those types of failures. If you do something online, it's much more at the risk of the people making the shows, who in general can't really afford to sink a lot of money into something just to find out no one wants to watch it.

      Additionally, the ability to grow your audience seems much greater on TV, given the opportunity for advertising as well as having certain lead-in shows.

      • Yeah, but if the money is generated upfront, then you don't have to worry about risk. I could see getting off the ground at all as an issue, but risk should be taken care of because only fans are out their money if the resulting series isn't any good.

  2. How about the Cartoon Network? My understanding is that they are getting more into live action shows, and it seems like a Joss Whedon show on the Cartoon Network might be a good fit for a week night show.

  3. He and Bryan Fuller should start their own Misfits network.

  4. Even Galactica wasn't a high-rated show, and that was a much purer science fiction show than anything Whedon is likely to come up with.

    In case you didn't notice, the entire purpose of the SyFy rebranding was to remove the perceptual limitation that everything on the network be hardcore Sci-Fi. Some of the network's best rated shows are no where near what one would define hardcore and they're looking for more of a broad base appeal. As long as Joss can come up with something with a Sci-Fi tinge to it that fits their budget window, I'm sure they'd give it a shot if they liked the idea.

    • Fair point.

  5. How about Showtime? Dexter is sort of a genre show, and although I haven't seen them, aren't Californication and The Tudors kind of trashy.

    Also, True Blood's success might cause HBO to move into that direction (although, once again, I haven't seen it so I might be off base).