At a first glance, Dollhouse's story is a Firefly retread. A show with a promising premise gets moved around a lot, and as a result gets a low viewership, and gets cancelled. Executive Meddling
strikes again. But if one looks harder, it becomes clear this story isn't entirely accurate. The pilot was not very strong, and the reshoot did feel necessary. While the villain-of-the-week plots didn't always work, once the sixth episode rolled around, FOX let Whedon really do his thing and take the show to some interesting places. The last episode of the season contractually could not be aired. And most telling of all, it got a second season. FOX was trying. So where did it go wrong? Quite frankly, I believe the decision that killed the show was actually Whedon's: he tried to air it on a major network.
FOX, NBC, CBS, and ABC all are mainstream channels with mainstream shows. But Dollhouse was never a mainstream show. It was a unique, thoughtful examination of morality, corruption, and of course, the human identity. It was not a show the mainstream audience would get early enough to keep it afloat. It was a genre show, made for fans of that genre. If Whedon had taken the show to a different channel, say, Showtime, HBO, or even Syfy, it might have stood a chance. But he made the mistake of trying to appeal to the wrong crowd. Now, I'm sure there were probably some regular people who liked the show, but not nearly enough. Whedon could've gotten a very successful show, but he took it to the wrong place.
Now, don't mistake this as me saying Dollhouse wasn't good, or Whedon's a bad writer. Far from it, this show is mostly genius, and Whedon is my favorite creator/writer/director in media. But that doesn't mean he's infallible.
Still, despite Whedon's poor choice of network, this is a fabulous show. It's engaging, smart, heartfelt, surprising, funny, in short, it's got everything good about a Joss Whedon
work. Despite its short length, this show is a masterpeice, and one that no Cyberpunk fan should miss. It's just a shame that one bad choice killed it so quickly.