So what went wrong? Why, after just three episodes this season has Dollhouse already been marked doomed? It's easy to just blame the network, but I think this case is a little more complicated than that. After all, most networks wouldn't have renewed Dollhouse at all. Or Fox could have gone the NBC route and renewed it and then canceled it before a single episode aired, Southland style. And finally, they could have actually canceled the show after these three episodes, but instead have promised to air all 13 episodes (even if some may end up being over the summer).
Next, as much as I hate to admit it, Joss Whedon and co. do have to take some of the blame. As I wrote after the second episode, the first two episodes this season just haven't been very good. The premiere was solid enough, but the second episode was just bad, and when every episode counts there's no room for duds. Now, the third episode was a huge improvement over the first two, with a plot about a creepy psycho on the loose in Victor's body who ends up swapping with Echo (leading to a very funny scene of Victor at a club with a party girl's personality). But even that episode was pure case-of-the-week, which most fans had hoped the show evolved out of last year.
But despite some creative missteps, I still believe the time slot was ultimately what doomed the show. There's an argument that Friday nights are a good place for struggling shows because the expectations are lower. But they're not. CBS continues to get blockbuster ratings for crappy supernatural procedurals like Ghost Whisperer and Medium, so the other networks think "I can do it too!" But here's the thing: only old people stay home and watch TV on a Friday night. Young people go out and catch the show on DVR sometime later. Which is why Dollhouse's ratings are 50% DVR. Cause only young people watch it. But it takes 17 days for those ratings to come in, at which point it feels like too little too late.
Even the death slot could have been survivable if Fox even tried to give the show a compatible lead-in, but instead it gave it probably the worst options in its line-up: Brothers and Til Death. Having never seen either, I can't really comment on their creative strength, although I can say that most critics named Brothers the worst new show of the season, and I honestly thought Til Death was canceled years ago until I just looked up Fox's schedule to see what Brothers is called. But even if both shows weren't even more in need of cancellation than Dollhouse, you still can't lead in to a challenging sci-fi show with unchallenging and unwatched comedies. Fringe would have made sense. Even a House or Bones repeat would have worked. Anything that would already have people watching the network.
Entertainment Weekly had a piece recently about how Tuesday is the worst TV night of the week, and shows like Dollhouse should be moved there where they'd stand a better chance. I couldn't agree more. I don't watch a single Tuesday night show, as the only options are reality, NCIS, and remakes of shows from the 1990s (literally the only shows that don't fit into these categories are The Good Wife, The Forgotten, and Leno). So if nothing else, maybe this whole incident will convince Fox that if their benchmark for a successful Friday night show is whether it can beat a repeat of House, maybe they should just air a repeat of House instead. Times have changed since the days The X-Files became a hit on Friday nights. And for Dollhouse fans, at least we'll get to see the final ten episodes sometime.