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Fox Makes Great First Impression: "Dollhouse," "Fringe" Look Wonderful, and Reduced Ad Approach Is Brilliant
May 15, 2008  | By David Bianculli

dollhouse.jpgAlthough it's in first place in the ratings, the Fox network was in last place at the upfronts -- but was worth the wait. It offered advance tastes of what look to be the two best new shows of the season, Joss Whedon's Dollhouse and J,.J. Abrams' Fringe -- and then announced a brilliant new way of showcasing them.

First, the shows. After a week of seeing (or not seeing) pieces of the new fall TV series, Dollhouse and Fringe were the first shows that were more captivating than disappointing. Fringe, which will start in the fall (Fox is launching its new shows the last week of August) right after House, may grab viewers just the way Lost did.

And Dollhouse, based on the premise, the cast, Whedon's reputation and the enticing clips shown, is my first-impression pick -- subject to seeing the full pilots of all the shows, of course -- as the best new show of the 2008-09 season.

These are only initial impressions, but that doesn't mean they're invalid. Last year, I picked Pushing Daisies that way; the year before that, 30 Rock. And they both held up once the pilots were delivered. I can't say this plainly enough: I can't wait to see more of Dollhouse. But the series premiere won't air until midseason, when Dollhouse will take over the leadoff Monday slot, followed by the return of 24. What a one-two punch. What could be better?

This could be better. Entertainment President Kevin Reilly and Entertainment Chairman Peter Liguori have settled on these two ambitious new series, Fringe and Dollhouse, as the recipients of a new Fox experiment they're calling "Remote-Free TV." In those two shows, for their entire season runs, commercial ad and promo time will be cut by half, with no more than five minutes of interruptions per hour for network commercial minutes.

That's astounding, boys and girls. In golf, the Masters controls and minimizes commercial time, and NBC Nightly News recently gave Brian Williams a night to play with an ad-reduced, content-expanded evening newscast. But to intentionally reduce ad time as a way to encourage viewers to tune in, and let them know these series are considered special? Picture my reaction as one of those animated guys in the Guinness beer commercials: Brilliant! Brilliant!


Fringe includes, in its supporting cast, familiar faces from The Wire, from Oz, and even, sigh, makes room for Blair Brown. Dollhouse has a strong supporting cast, too -- and Eliza Dushku, as the star, is being handed an amazing acting challenge: Every episode, her character's memory is erased and reprogrammed, giving her as many personalities, abilities and traits as Sydney, on Abrams' Alias, had wigs.

If I sound overly enthusiastic, it's because these two shows, and their treatment, seem to warrant it. There are other shows and ideas in the Fox announcement, but these are the ones I want to hammer home.

Dollhouse. Fringe. Fewer commercials.

Crazy like a Fox...




DaveW said:

With commercial time scarce, is Fox betting that advertisers will be willing to pay premium rates for high-audience shows? Maybe the arrangement will be a win-win for network revenues AND viewers.

But...is this format going to continue throughout the season, or is this just a one or two-shot deal? Did they tape the shows at 55 minutes for the whole series? (For both series, the reduced ad quota is good for the entire season-long run -- which is why I'm so impressed and excited. -- David B.)

Comment posted on May 16, 2008 12:09 PM

Pam said:

But what about those huge splashes across the screen? I suspect those will be even bigger now.

Comment posted on May 16, 2008 12:44 PM

Sara S said:

I was worried at first about Joss Whedon working with Fox again. I'm glad to see that they're trying to make up for what they did to Firefly and countless other Whedonverse projects. (It's a new regime... and a smart one. -- David B.)

Comment posted on May 16, 2008 3:39 PM

Miss Bean said:

Thanks for the update. I am a huge fan of Whedon and LOST, so the possibility of supplementing my LOST addiction and having a replacement after the series ends is great- nothing has filled my TV void since Angel ended (prematurely, in my opinion) and I have felt that absence acutely.
I wonder if FOX is counting on the rabid nature of fans like me for their new strategy. Whedon and LOST fans seem more likely than most to support the show financially through iTunes subscriptions and DVD sales. Almost every LOST and Buffy/Angel/Firefly fan I know has most or all of the seasons on DVD or iTunes- do those revenues stand to make up the difference in advertising dollars? (On DVD, only if the network owns or co-owns the series. On the Internet, that's what the writers' strike was about... But if the shows are a hit, Fox can charge more for the few remaining ad spots in each hour. -- David B.)

Comment posted on May 18, 2008 11:36 PM

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