Scheduling history: All 25 Dollhouse episodes aired on Friday night. 9/8c was always the show's regularly-scheduled home, but several season two episodes aired at 8/7c as the network burned through the episodes in December and January.
When there was hope: Joss Whedon's return to Friday night on Fox came as part of a heavily promoted pairing with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which was coming off of a disappointing first half of season two on Monday. Though Terminator's struggles continued on the block's 2/13/09 premiere night (it opened to just a 1.4), Dollhouse actually sparked some noticeable interest in growing to a 2.0 rating. That beat competing dramas Flashpoint (1.8) and Friday Night Lights (1.1). It was down a typical 15% to a 1.7 in week two, then settled at roughly a 1.5 for most of the rest of season one, still decidedly its above Terminator lead-in.
When hope was lost: Dollhouse really tanked in the last few episodes of season one, especially when its lead-in shifted from Terminator to the final episodes of Prison Break. But it remained at least a slightly better option than its 8/7c lead-in, so Fox decided to take a flier on a second season in fall 2009. Its season two lead-in was an even weaker and less compatible pair of sitcoms (Brothers and 'Til Death), and Dollhouse was totally dead on arrival for season two; it opened at just a 1.0 demo, matching the season one finale, and it never got any better than that. Fox didn't want the show on its November or February sweeps schedules, so the initial fall run lasted just four episodes. Fox then brought it back to burn through six episodes on three Fridays in December, then sprinkled the last three across January. This was certainly not the best treatment, but the ship had sailed by that point.
Some will point to Dollhouse as yet another example of how rotten Fox is to genre shows. But it may actually be an example of Fox's increased sensitivity to that reputation. Based on its dip into the low 1's at the end of season one, they didn't have to renew it by any means; they did better ratings on Friday with much cheaper game shows in the fall. Based on how ugly season two got out of the gate, they really didn't have to air the whole season. But even as one of the lowest-rated primetime seasons of the last decade, it got through the entire order. After that, it was over, and both Fox and Whedon moved on to much bigger and better things.
Adults 18-49 info by season:
Historical-adjusted ratings by season:
For more on The War of 18-49, my look at the history of primetime TV's veteran shows, see the Index.