So, Dollhouse has finished for good. Last episode screened last night in the US (and has just finished coming down from iTunes). I've not watched the last 3 episodes yet - we've been waiting to have all three so we can see them all in one go. But in general, shouldn't this be the way that TV is done? Short run, very high quality writing, short series? Grab the viewer and make them want to watch it?
Well, thats the common format in the UK, and some of the US, and it appears to work quite well. The big networks don't do it like that, tho.
Take a few of my preferred shows: Californication and Nurse Jackie are 12 half hour episodes. Dexter, Spooks (UK), and Dollhouse are 12 one hour episodes. Even Lost is only 18 episodes this time around. All of them (with the exception of season 1 of Dollhouse) have plotlines that move at a good pace. They dont get bogged down with a "generic" episode, which doesn't move the underlying plot at all.
Lets contrast that with CSI (all of them), Lost (season 1-4), Heros (which should be killed off), Dollhouse (season 1), Fringe and others: in 24 episodes (or 12 in the case of Dollhouse season 1), you get maybe 10 which actually move the underlying plot. Lost was the worst for this - you'd get maybe 30 mins of actual show in 45 mins, the rest is recap and flashback, and then maybe 20% of that was moving the plot. Luckly, they fixed that in season 5. Heros wasn't too bad, but with all the cris-crossing plot lines, it was hard to move anything forward much.
The test, for me, is if I can stand watching 4 episodes of a series in a row. All the top ones pass this test with flying colours. All the bottom ones do not. They are, for me, truely weekly shows, each episode is almost independent, with only passing references between them. As soon as the quality goes down a bit, they are gone from my schedule (eg Heros, Desperate Housewives, almost Lost. CSI is getting close, especially Miami, tho Fringe is still good). This is especially the case as I now have a direct financial amount for each season, so not watching a show puts money back in my pocket - or rather, doesn't take it out (I get TV from iTunes, using the Season Pass feature. Still costs me less than paying for Sky per year).
So, maybe this is how Dollhouse should have been done in the first place - 24 episodes over 6 "seasons", over 2 years, in the same style as Top Gear does 4 seasons a year.
Once they got the axe, Whedon had 6-8 episodes to finish off 4 years of pre-conceived plot - and I think, so far, he's done it exceptionally well. There are none of the "echo goes out on a call" episodes, which are fun, but don't pass the block-viewing test. They are all moving the underlying "Rossum Corp" plot, and it's made it a better show for that, but I seriously doubt they could have kept up that pace for another 3 years.
With the advent of DVD, Hulu, iPlayer, iTunes and all the other (cough) ways to getting TV shows, short, sharp seasons make a lot more sense than long ones. At least to me.