Today's Star-Ledger column, in which I look at early ratings winners and losers in the TV season - with special emphasis on all the weirdness at NBC - was just about to go to press when Nielsen released the DVR figures from the first week of the season, which showed, among other things, that "Dollhouse" got a 50% audience boost when you factored in DVR usage. I was able to slip in a brief amendment to that item, but as the Whedon fans have spent the better part of the last 24 hours trying to parse the meaning of that figure, I thought I'd offer a few more thoughts after the jump...
First, the good news: Fox scheduling chief Preston Beckman said that, in light of this news, all 13 "Dollhouse" season two episodes will air. Though you'll note he didn't say when they would air, and admitted they might have to pull the show off the schedule for November sweeps.
Now, the bad: a 50% improvement on an abysmal rating is still an abysmal rating. It's like when Fozzie Bear demanded that Kermit double his salary; Kermit did it, but since Fozzie wasn't making any money before, nothing times two still equaled nothing. As Fienberg pointed out in an excellent post that goes more in-depth into the numbers than I'm going to, it's easy to get a 50% boost when you're starting from such a small base, where other shows had a smaller percentage increase but a much larger viewership increase. And since people watching shows on DVR after the fact are far more likely to skip over the commercials, any DVR boost may be considered negligible at best from the advertisers who keep these shows on the air.
In that Hollywood Reporter story, Joss Whedon talked about how the 13th episode would "definitely have closure but will leave some doors open." At this point, I think that's the only sane way to approach things. It's a miracle "Dollhouse" was renewed at all based on last year's awful ratings, but for the ratings to be even worse this year is a sign the show just isn't long for this world. So I'd advise any fans to treat these 13 episodes as an unexpected bonus, and hope that whatever Joss does in that finale, on top of what we saw in "Epitaph One," is a satisfying enough conclusion for this flawed but often interesting series.