‘Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog’ takes aim at the CW

“Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” the web musical that Joss Whedon and friends made while the more established branches of show biz were shut down by the Writers Guild of America strike back in late ’07/early ’08, is finally making its way to television. The CW will air all three installments of “Dr. Horrible” – which stars Neil Patrick Harris as a lovelorn aspiring supervillain, Nathan Fillion as his vapid superhero nemesis Captain Hammer and Felicia Day as the woman caught between them (at least, as far as Dr. Horrible is concerned) – tonight at 9. (And if you’re feeling nostalgic, you can go back and read my brief reviews of each installment at the old blog.)

Once upon a time, this might feel like validation of the “Dr. Horrible” experiment – an obscure indie project graduating to a (relatively) mainstream media outlet. Whedon, his brother Jed and Jed’s wife Maurissa Tancharoen created “Dr. Horrible” as something to do during the strike, got a bunch of friends and/or former collaborators to do it with them, and made it directly available to fans – first streaming on the official website, then on iTunes, a DVD, etc. While I imagine there are some fans of “How I Met Your Mother,” “Castle” or “The Big Bang Theory” (Simon Helberg plays Dr. Horrible’s supervillain pal Moist) who might surf past the CW tonight and be surprised to see one of their favorite stars in this quirky musical, for the most part, people who pay attention to the careers of the “Dr. Horrible” principals have known about the show for years, and have already had many opportunities to see it. Now it’s just filler programming for the CW, which wants to hold the premiere of “Emily Owens MD” in this timeslot for another week.

At the time, Whedon talked about how “Dr. Horrible” might turn out to be the model for future passion projects that don’t fit a particular commercial niche, but there haven’t been as many successors – at least, not involving talent this high-profile – in the years since. You can see other projects that originated in out of the way places (“Childrens Hospital” started out as a web series on TheWB.com), and more artists taking control of their material (Louis C.K. with both his FX deal for “Louie” and the way he self-distributed his Beacon Theater concert). But overall, “Dr. Horrible” feels more like a singular event, from a time when all these creative people had nothing else to do, rather than the start of a huge trend. (Though I suppose you could consider the Whedon-directed “Much Ado About Nothing” – also co-starring Fillion, and shot in and around Whedon’s house on a micro-budget – as another example of him trying it.)  

For those curious, Mo Ryan interviewed Jed Whedon and Tancharoen about the latest plans for the oft-discussed, never-materialized “Dr. Horrible” sequel