The Great TV Episode Burn-Off

The saga of Dollhouse‘s 13th episode is one of the more amusing TV-scheduling issues of recent months. According to the schedule, Fox only needs 12 episodes of the show before the season ends. But the deal between the production company and the network — that is, between one division of Newscorp and another — was for 13 episodes, and the original pilot doesn’t count because it never became a completed episode. (After the network rejected it, scenes from the original pilot were used in subsequent episodes.) So they wound up shooting an extra, half-budget episode that could be a selling point for the DVD/Blu-Ray release:

Whedon said Episode 12, titled “Omega,” does serve as a season finale but that the birth of the 13th episode was “very strange and they (the network) said, ‘Can’t you do a clip show?’ and I said, ‘That seems lame.’ [Laughs.] And they said, ‘Can’t you just show the pilot?’ And I’m like, ‘Not only would it make no sense but we’ve cannibalized it for parts and it appears in almost every episode.”

Ending the season with an episode or two unaired isn’t at all new, but it’s a bigger quandary for serialized shows that need to end the season with a bang, and therefore can’t usually afford to show “extra” episodes after the regular season ends. Whedon seems to imply that the extra episode they shot could serve as a coda to the regular season if Fox chooses to show it. But they might be better off leaving it for the DVD; the “season finale” carries a lot more weight than it used to, and we’re a long way away from the time when a show could afford to end the season with a throwaway episode (and usually did).

As the network’s first suggestion implies, there’s also a traditional way to handle things when a production company has an order for 13 of episodes and only enough money for 12: do a clip show. Doing a new episode on a low budget is probably a better solution, though, so it’s a good thing that that tradition is dying out.