Joss Whedon on state of sci-fi: 'Many good shows are canceled early'

Joss Whedon — who’s now enjoying his temporary status as a Gleek for having directed a May episode that guest stars Neil Patrick Harris — is in no mood to eulogize the state of the sci-fi genre on TV right now, mostly because he doesn’t think it’s necessary. “When a show works, it works. When they don’t, they don’t,” he said Monday night at a Glee premiere party. “It has nothing to do with whether they are genre or not and sometimes it doesn’t even matter if they are good. Many good TV shows have been canceled way too early. It goes in waves and we have to figure out how to ride them and sometimes you wipe out. We are surfers not prognosticators. Certainly some blame can be placed on studios and networks who don’t nurture shows or give them time to catch on.”

As for directing a upcoming episode of Glee, Whedon confesses the Fox dramedy is “the hardest show to shoot on all of television” but he loved the experience. “I have actually gone from fan to stalker which is weird because I am friends with them,” Whedon said. “I had such a good time and I actually knew most of the songs in the episode so I didn’t feel old and out of it. They handed me the script and the songs and that allowed me to just be a director. I just got to be a director trying to make an episode of Glee that was not worse than all the ones I love. I want to do it again sometime.”

Glee insider told The Ausiello Files that Whedon’s episode will feature flashback scenes that show the popular Bryan ”picking up all the girls and getting the solos” while geeky Will ”sits off in the sidelines.” The stage for a present-day rematch is set when Harris’ character — now a board member at William McKinley High — announces his intent to cut the arts programs at the school. ”Show choir ruined his life, made him feel he could be a star, but all he could do is book Carnival cruises,” explains the source. ”Now he wants vengeance.”  -With reporting from Carrie Bell

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  • sci-fi dramas 4 life

    It still is largely the fault of studios and networks.
    They are impatient, don’t like when they can’t air the episodes in re-runs the way they want to and give these types of shows so little time to evolve. FlashForward and V could’ve been advertised better but instead they took V off the air for 4 months, after airing 4 episodes in pod (the thing that cost Lost their high ratings in season 3 aswell).
    Sure, if you create a masterpiece then it probably survives, even in times when sci fi dramas aren’t so much around but it’s a fact that networks love simple and empty shows like cop or medical shows that they can always re-run in the way they want. Seems like CW and cable are the only ones who still appreciate serial sci fi dramas.

    • Dicazi

      They advertised V non-stop. I know alot of people didn’t watch it because of that asinine countdown clock on Lost.

      • Vikki Sixx

        Same thing with Flash Forward. I couldn’t escape the ads for it before it started. I watched the first few episodes but stopped because it just didn’t click. That isn’t the networks fault. It wasn’t even any one aspect of the shows fault. I loved the cast. I loved the idea. The writing wasn’t bad and so on and so forth. Just as a whole, the show fails.
        V lost a large portion of viewers because a lot of those who tuned into the first few episodes tuned in because they watched the original back in the day and after our curiosity was satisfied many of us tuned out because the new one is not on par with the old. I still watch it but many of my friends who watched the original don’t. You can’t blame this one on the network either.

        And PS what cost Lost their high ratings in season 3 is the fact that it is universally agreed upon as the absolute worst season… part 2 in particular NOT that it was split up into parts.

      • joesmom

        If they start that countdown clock again tonight on LOST, I’m throwing a brick at my TV. That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen!

    • t3hdow

      Lost season 3 wasn’t split up nearly as bad as V or Flashforward did, or was on hiatus nearly as long. Season 3 aired 7 episodes and ended in late November and launched again in early February (compared to FF’s 3 month wait and V’s 4 month wait). It’s also worth noting that ABC made the split season (in Lost’s case) to avoid the sporadic, rerun heavy spring airings that crippled season 2(which I found much more annoying, to be honest). While the scheduling may have contributed to the drop, I bet it had more to do that the initial 7 episodes were among the weakest batch in the show’s history, which discouraged viewers from returning.
      With FF and V, you’re absolutely right. It doesn’t help that both shows aren’t nearly as well written.

    • Lucas

      No the problem is the ratings system. they are using 10 year old census info to create their sample which uses a mere 25k households to represent the millions of viewing households. they claim that the sample is statistically sound and if it was not dealing with people and their tastes it might be.
      but it is and so it probably is not really telling anything close to the truth.
      in the end, the ratings don’t tell that 10 million viewers were watching. More like 1000 and who knows about everyone else. the other millions could also be watching or not.
      and despite the ‘success’ of the ABC ipad viewer, they aren’t likely to credit the shows with those views. So even if a show like V or Flashforward gets 1 million streams of an episode, it will mean nothing in the end, even though the ads shown during those streams will bring in lots of cash for the network.

      What we need is someone with the balls and the know-how to file a class action suit against Nielsen Media for their censorship and force them to up the sample a few hundred fold. Toss the networks in there also and perhaps they will start counting itunes, amazon and official site streams to counter the claims. a win for all (except perhaps the lame ass and cheap to make reality shows, good riddance)

      • joeyjojo

        So, uh, what are the grounds for this class-action lawsuit? The networks are the ones who rely on the information of the Nielsens, but even then, it’s not the only factor that comes into it.

    • Lucas

      There is an interesting notion going around about genre shows and why some of them aren’t a big hit even with the bad ratings system
      Time. I think a lot of folks will agree that the best thing that happened with Lost was the agreement to end it and when.
      Many genre shows today just aren’t made for 20 year stretches. But the studios and networks aren’t willing to admit this and take on a show that had a day one end date. So the writers have to stretch things out, teasing the arc slowly, and this annoys and frustrates viewers who don’t like the filler.
      Imagine if ABC had agreed to a 2 year V. Year one, is the discovery and disclosure of the truth (basically the first mini series), year two is active fighting (the second mini series). 52 hours firm. The writers could have mapped out the story in full, filled every moment with vital stuff and not just stretch filler. They could even have agreed to breaking up the two years into two parts each so the network has the option of splitting the season for things like the Olympics or simply airing it in 4 ‘cable style’ 13 hour seasons. Same for Flashforward. tight, preplanned storytelling, no fluff, less continuity screw ups etc.
      my opinion, that would be way better

  • J.

    I think Joss is being too easy on the networks. It was a travesty and shame they way they side-lined Firefly, and he had no support from Fox, and only a little more for Dollhouse.

    • thin

      It’s not being easy on them, it’s politics. He still wants to work and knows that he’s not in a place where he has enough clout to be blunt about the networks and still get a job working for one of them.

  • diane

    Honestly it seems to me that with the exception of procdurals and reality tv, the television medium doesn’t actually work well. Reruns, non sequential shows etc don’t do anything from sitcoms to soaps a favor.

  • BCav

    Doesn’t help the Genre much when the channel that is supposed to be dedicated to it, SyFy, just announced that they’re going to be airing Wrestling on Fridays at 8 starting in October bumping the only night where they air original programming.

    • thin

      SyFy has a nice running history of making programming decisions completely contrary to what they are supposed to be about. Farscape, anyone?

    • Lucas

      yes but they aren’t cutting the programs. they are moving them. So it’s not a total crime. and if it happens that the ratings go up, then it will be a safe gamble

  • Johnification

    You know, as a professional performer, those Carnival Cruises are actually pretty solid paying gigs…

  • Nerwen Aldarion

    Ahhh Firefly, watching my DVD’s right now and am currently thinking angry thoughts direct towards Fox for canceling such a fabulous show

  • Carrie

    Yep, there are way too many good sci-fi shows that have been canceled too soon. I’m still not over the cancellation of “Sarah Connor Chronicles” after that fantastic finale. FOX treated “Firefly” horribly, and ABC was foolish to put their sci-fi shows on hiatus for so long, unless their intention was to kill them. I’m surprised that “Supernatural” and “Fringe” are still around, as they’re both excellent sci-fi shows that don’t get the viewers and attention they deserve. I’m also hoping that “Caprica” will get another shot.

    • Lucas

      two more shows, along with Dollhouse that could benefitted from being picked up as a set time show. 3 seasons each max. but 3 killer seasons. each an act in the tale.
      Dollhouse was rather crappy in the beginning (because they couldn’t tell too much at once) but once they could just let it rip cause they wanted to finish the story it was 100x better

  • Spacecadetjuan

    I’m bummed that Day One apparently got cancelled before it even aired. It looked like an interesting show…

  • Dicazi

    Sometimes the networks expect too much from shows. SciFi cancelled Farscape even though it was one of their highest rated shows because it was expensive and they thought the ratings should be even higher

  • The Truth

    Whedon has a problem with pacing and marching to his own tune. Networks are not charities they need products that can jump right out of the gate. Commercials make them money and the value of those times slots depends on how many viewers are watching the show on a regular basis. Key words are regular basis. He got lucky in that Buffy was a midseason replacement forcing him to keep the pace up due to a shortened season. Buffy was under constant threat of cancellation for the next 2 seasons forcing him to keep the pace up by cramming as much as he can in each season. Look what happened to that show once the pressure was off from S4 on just drifted with the occasional spark of greatness to keep the fan base interested. Dollhouse is the exact opposite he was basically given a blank check in the beginning and what happened, nothing much. The show did not become exciting until it was canceled, why because once again he was under pressure to cram it all in a limited time frame. Lesson learned give Whedon a limited amount of time magic happens, give him all the time he wants snooze fest.

    • Paula

      I actually think season 4 of Buffy had some of the most interesting episodes. (“Hush”, “Restless”) and then holy musical episode in season 6!!! Angel was an amazing show as well and Fox didn’t do justice to either Firefly or Dollhouse. They didn’t let Joss begin either series the way he wanted to. The original pilots he envisioned were not aired as such, so the series’ suffered from that.

    • To Truthiness -

      Seasons 4 and 5 of Buffy were excellent as she adjusted to college, dealt with The Initiative & Adam, and then had all the fun with Glory. Yes, Season 7 was lacking, but it would have been a lot better if only Sarah Michelle Gellar had actually wanted to BE there. As for Dollhouse, Joss was NOT given “a blank check in the beginning.” FOX execs constantly meddled and demanded a tidy 1-hour cookie-cutter show, and Joss wasn’t really able to get his vision going until the network FINALLY backed off about 6-7 episodes in.

    • The Truth

      We are just going to have to agree to disagree. Like I said there was still moments of greatness like Hush, Restless, The Body, The Musical etc. But the only good Big Bad after the Mayor was Willow. The Initiative was a liberal anti-military idea of a military unit, so it was comical at best. Adam could have been easily beaten with a shoulder fired anti-tank rocket. A real military unit would used that on him. Glory was not a Big Bad, just a whinney brat with super strength and invulnerability. The First couldn’t do anything to you except talk.

    • Dome

      From a pragmatic point of view, The sad reality is that most genre shows wont last because the networks don’t know what to do with them. Given the chance T-SCC or Dollhouse might have had a chance to build a steady audience, but the instant gratification percieved needs of the networks simply won’t allow it anymore. And SyFy is biting their own foot at this point.

  • THX

    Whedon is so gay.

    • Mary

      Actually, he’s straight, not that it has anything to do with the quality of his work. If you’re going to insult someone, at least do it well!

      • gay1

        i dont know who of u is insulting me more, thanks!

  • J

    I miss Dollhouse so much. It really sparked my imagination in a way *no* show has ever done, at least not since I was a child. I miss that feeling!

  • Marie

    cancelling Firefly was a huge mistake that Fox made.
    i also enjoyed True Calling, which was cancelled by Fox right when everything was starting to get really good on that show.

  • joesmom

    SciFi shows take time to set up, like Fringe, which was hard to get into but is now one of my favs. Poor Firefly probably could have been one of the all-time great scifi series, but Fox never gave it a chance. As for V, the SyFy channel recently reran the old V and despite the corny special effects, clothes, etc., storywise it was MUCH better than what the current V is. Worse of the bunch is the dreadful Stargate Universe (worse than Flush Gordon), that replaced Stargate Atlantis, which had a much better cast and was actually fun to watch.

  • Bastich

    I think Fox jumped the gun with Firefly. They wanted results NOW!! In the world of ratings – tv shows are just a gamble!!! Not to mention – screwing up the order in which the episodes were cast!! Someone in Fox deserves an axing!!!

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