It's been a dark couple of days for TV genre fans. Despite the public's obsession with vampires (evident in the just-announced People's Choice Award nominations), Eastwick was axed, Fringe and V have taken a ratings tumble, and Dollhouse has been cancelled. (The Hollywood Reporter broke the news this afternoon.) After one and a half seasons (well, two half seasons to be exact), the sci-fi thriller about a mysterious team of all-purpose programmable human beings for hire has been given its walking papers by Fox, the same network that pulled the plug on Whedon's late lamented Firefly. Anyone who's been keeping up with the show can't be surprised. The ratings were weak in its first season, and they only got weaker this season. It was a much bigger surprise when Dollhouse was renewed. (Hulu, apparently, helped. A lot.) This begs the question of course, "What will Joss do next?" After all, he may have a full year to kill.
Cabin in the Woods -- the Whedon-scripted, Drew Goddard-directed spin on the hoary cliche of teenagers stuck in a you-know-what -- is in the can, though its release has been pushed back to 2011, supposedly in order to reformat it for 3-D. (Will it be more exciting this way? Probably not. Will it be more difficult to pirate? You betcha. MGM wins, while we, the fans, just get a longer wait.)
Goners, the sci-fi epic scripted and to be directed by Whedon, is still on the backburner at Universal. It could be there for a while longer, as the studio's most likely still wondering how to promote a film from the director of its underperforming Serenity.
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is probably the most succesful project Whedon's worked on in recent years, at least in terms of critical acclaim and profit-versus-cost (aside from the Buffy: Season 8 comic book from Dark Horse that he oversees and sometimes writes). So it's no surprise that a follow-up online series has been discussed. And it may be the next thing we see from Whedon, judging by his remarks today on Whedonesque about Dollhouse's cancellation. "I'm off to pursue internet ventures/binge drinking," he says. "Possibly that relaxation thing I've read so much about. By the time the last episode airs, you'll know what my next project is."
(It's uncertain when that last episode -- a big finale intended to wrap up the show's storyline -- will air, but Fox has announced it plans to release all produced episodes. Episode 11 is in production now, with two more to go, for a grand total of 13 for season 2.)
But it's hard not to look back at Whedon's two greatest ratings successes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel (in their strongest seasons they represent -- to my mind -- his finest work), and wonder if Whedon shouldn't, with his next project, revisit the horror genre. His SF work has its admirers, but he's never quite tackled that genre with as much confidence and finesse as he has horror, possibly because Whedon tends to write from the heart more than the head. Horror, at its core, is about human emotion. Whereas SF, when it lives up to its potential -- as it so rarely does on TV -- is essentially a medium of ideas.
Ironically, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie that's in development at Fox, sans Whedon's involvement, may be the project to improve his fortune in Hollywood. This town is, after all, in the business of selling. And there's nothing it likes more than trumpeting a project as coming from the creator of another successful project.
Whatever Whedon tackles next, his legion of devoted fans will follow. But for his sake, and the sake of those who value quality genre entertainment, let's hope it reaches everybody else too.