Groupies Work to Save Show - A Year Before It Airs

Joss Whedon groupies are pre-emptively organizing a campaign to save the actor's new show, even though it doesn't debut until 2009. We talk to one of the Groupies-in-Chief.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

So how many times has it happened to you? You watch a TV show, you find yourself beginning to identify with the characters, you feel yourself becoming invested, and all of a sudden, you're hooked. And right before they reveal the third of the dark lords of the nabafarian (ph) universe, and just as you've come to believe that Honcho (ph) really does love Amber (ph) , and isn't just after her cash of amp pills, they cancel the show.

For some reason, the sad game of cancelled shows and dashed dreams often includes Joss Whedon. Whedon's "Buffy" was slain, his "Angel" was removed from the realm of the living, and his "Firefly" barely flickered across the screen. Now Whedon is coming out with a new show called "Dollhouse" on Fox. And his fans, fans like Nathan George from dollhouseforums.com, have sprung into action. What's the plan, Nathan?

Mr. NATHAN GEORGE (Administrator, Dollhouseforums.com): Well, essentially we started up a campaign to actively hype up the new show, and just kind of get the ball rolling before the show starts, so we don't have to get into that cancellation area.

PESCA: So, basically you have said we fig - it's Joss Whedon, we figure they're going to start talking about cancelling it pretty soon...

Mr. GEORGE: Yeah. Exactly.

PESCA: Let's get in front of this train.

Mr. GEORGE: Yeah.

PESCA: And what is it about Joss Whedon shows that you think, A, networks like to green light, but then B, networks like to red light, right when it's getting good?

Mr. GEORGE: I don't know. Well, actually, I have to correct you.

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. GEORGE: "Buffy" was not cancelled.

PESCA: "Buffy" played out its natural course, yes. The other ones were disappointed.

Mr. GEORGE: Yeah. Because I'd get a lot of flack if I didn't mention that.

PESCA: Right. Of course. Yes.

Mr. GEORGE: But I don't know. He's got good ideas. He's got great actors, but it just - I think when he tells a story, it's accurate, it's not as fast-paced as most shows are...

PESCA: Uh-huh.

Mr. GEORGE: So, when he's telling these stories, the networks tend to get a little - they tend to get a little antsy, and they cancel them.

PESCA: Do you think it's that he's so intricate, that the fans who like him, really like him, but just by their very nature, it's hard to get massive audiences, like you would on a show, like, I don't know, "Lost" or "American Idol"?

Mr. GEORGE: Yeah. That could be said...

PESCA: Uh-huh.

Mr. GEORGE: But actually the same can go for - can be said for "Lost," because they also had a campaign like this one before it premiered, so maybe that's the trick.

PESCA: Oh. Maybe that's why "Lost" is so popular...

Mr. GEORGE: Yeah.

PESCA: Because they had a - so what do you call this thing? It's not a protest. Is it like a pretest?

Mr. GEORGE: Yeah. Let's call it that, a pretest.

PESCA: And what - how - what form will the pretest take?

Mr. GEORGE: I've been in contact with people from Fox, and a couple of the casts' agents...

PESCA: Uh-huh.

Mr. GEORGE: And we're looking to get some fan question-and-answer sessions going, and maybe even - right now, we're starting up a section on our site where the fans can start up their own fan sites...

PESCA: Uh-huh.

Mr. GEORGE: And we'll supply them with the domains, and the web space, and everything they need, so maybe they can help hype up the show, too, in their own little way.

PESCA: So I know one of the things you're doing is to say, not just watch the show, but look at who's advertising, and buy products from them.

Mr. GEORGE: Yeah.

PESCA: How far will you take it? I mean, I presume if you're a Bud man, you would eagerly become a Coors Lite fan. If it meant saving "Dollhouse," but will you ask your doctor about Plavix, if you suffer from none of those symptoms?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GEORGE: I guess just think of it as another form of pay-per-view TV. If you enjoy the show enough, and you want to keep it on the air, then this would be a good option. We all know that money to produce a show comes from the advertisers, so if we, the fans, can support the advertisers, maybe they'll support our show.

PESCA: How receptive are the people at Fox? I mean, on the one hand, it's, like, hey, there's a built-in fan base, that's good, but on the other hand, they could look at it, like, you know, all things come to an end, and when that time comes, we're just going to have a nightmare on our hands with these people. So what's their reaction been like?

Mr. GEORGE: They've been pretty positive about it. They've been - we've heard about them making fun of themselves for cancelling "Firefly" too quickly, because of that show's success, and they've been talking to the fans of "Dollhouse" already, and they've been pretty supportive. So...

PESCA: OK. I'm going to read to you a Q&A. I'm sure you've read it. You're a huge Joss Whedon fan, but I want your reaction. I don't know - I think a website was doing a Q&A with him, and they said, your fans are very protective of you. Some of them heard midseason, because "Dollhouse" is coming as a midseason replacement, and there was a bit of, the sky is falling. Fox is going to screw him again. What do you say to those concerns? And here's Whedon's answer.

Well, you know, I get it. I understand that and I feel bad, because I want to be able to explain without sounding like an apologist, that it doesn't work the way it used to. The winter is primetime for Fox. "Firefly" came out in the fall. We had to fight baseball. We lost.

Fox has been incredibly supportive of "Dollhouse." So I want to know, when you read Joss Whedon's answer...

Mr. George: Uh-huh.

PESCA: Do you say, Joss, you're a beautiful show producer, but you just don't understand how cruel these networks can be? What's your reaction to that?

Mr. GEORGE: Well, right now Fox is - they seem to be doing the right thing. Midseason looks like it could be the best spot for the show. Even shows like "Grey's Anatomy," and I forget what show came out last year, and it's been doing really great this year, so maybe midseason is the best place for it.

PESCA: Uh-huh. Is there a playbook? I mean, sort of a go-to course of action for fans when their show gets cancelled? I know that - what was that show? "Jericho," and the fans mailed in nuts or something...

Mr. GEORGE: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

PESCA: And they got a couple of new episodes out of it, but has there ever really been one huge success where the fans have saved it from the scrap heap?

Mr. GEORGE: I do not think so, which is why we're doing it before. We're - this isn't a save-that-show campaign. It's just - it's a hype-that-show campaign, so we don't have to get to the point where it gets cancelled and we have to try and save it.

PESCA: Right. Well, this is the question I think that's lurking that maybe you would think I'd be too impolite to ask, but what if you hate "Dollhouse"?

Mr. GEORGE: I've been asked that as well. It's just - he's never disappointed. Joss Whedon has never disappointed me, and a lot of others in the past. So I'm just - I'm going to stick behind him, and if it sucks, then someone else can take over "Dollhouse" forums. Someone else can, you know, do the dirty work, but for right now, I'm there.

PESCA: All right. Well, thanks a lot. Nathan George is the man behind dollhouseforums.com. Thank you very much, Nathan.

Mr. GEORGE: Thanks a lot.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Don't know if I want to watch that show.

PESCA: Because you're going to get invested, and they'll rip it from you?

MARTIN: Yeah!

PESCA: That's why Nate's there, looking out for you.

MARTIN: Oh. That's it for this hour of the BPP, but we don't go away online. We're there all the time at npr.org/bryantpark. Go there. All kinds of cool stuff. I'm Rachel Martin.

PESCA: And I am Mike Pesca, and this was the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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