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'People just wanted it to fail': The creator of Quibi's 'Dummy' opens up about the streamer's collapse and the show's future

Nov 19, 2020, 01:00 IST
Business Insider
  • Quibi, the ambitious short-form streaming service that launched in April, announced in October it would shut down.
  • Cody Heller, the creator of the Quibi series "Dummy," told Business Insider that she "wouldn't trade" the experience of making the show despite Quibi's collapse.
  • She said that Quibi hasn't communicated what could happen to the show, but she hopes "Dummy" will eventually land at another streamer, either as it is or edited together as a movie.
  • Heller said she was disappointed to see many people, especially those in the TV industry, mocking Quibi without giving it a real chance.

Four years ago, television writer and producer Cody Heller began writing a series about a woman who talks to a sex doll.

"Dummy" briefly found a home in 2017 at TBS, which Heller told Business Insider was planning to launch a one-hour block of 15-minute programming. The series was written to adjust to the short-form template, but the block never materialized. Heller moved on as an executive producer on the Showtime series, "Kidding."

"I was bummed but I had a job," Heller said.

A year later, Heller got a call from a former TBS executive who had left the network for a streaming startup called Quibi, founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former Walt Disney Studios chair and cofounder of Dreamworks Animation. Heller said that the former TBS exec had given Katzenberg her scripts.

"He got that it was f---ing weird and embraced that," she said of Katzenberg.


Quibi launched in April after raising $1.75 billion and attracting big-name talent, including the actress Anna Kendrick, who starred in "Dummy." The service strived to stand out in a crowded streaming field by focusing on short-form programming, with 10-minutes-or-less episodes watched on mobile devices. It helped that Heller's series was already tailored for short-form storytelling.

But the service never took off. As people stayed home to practice social-distancing guidelines, other streaming services benefited, but Quibi floundered and struggled to sign up subscribers. By October, six months after launching, Quibi announced it would shut down.

In a letter, Quibi's founders said its failure was "likely for one of two reasons: because the idea itself wasn't strong enough to justify a standalone streaming service or because of our timing."

But Heller said she doesn't regret making her show with Quibi.

"No other network would have let me make this show [the way I wanted to make it]," she said.


'Dummy's' future is unclear

Heller is still unsure about her show's future. She said Quibi hasn't communicated to her what will happen with its content. Some production partners are already shopping shows to other buyers, such as "Most Dangerous Game," but she said those conversations haven't happened yet for "Dummy."

She hopes the series will find a new streaming home eventually, either as it is or edited together as a movie (Quibi, after all, described some of its shows as "movies in chapters").

"I'm eager to get it back out there now that Quibi's done," she said. "We haven't gotten into any real conversations about what's next, but it's a priority at some point to get it out there as is or as a movie, or use it as a jumping off point to make more seasons. We're open to everything."

Despite Quibi's downfall, Heller said she "wouldn't trade" the experience.

"We shot the whole thing in 18 days and it was the best 18 days of my life," she said.


Business Insider reported in June that Quibi execs would give extensive notes on many shows. Katzenberg himself "gave copious input," according to The Wall Street Journal. But Heller said she didn't experience much intrusion into her creative process.

Perhaps the biggest change she had to make was rewriting 15-minute episodes into 10-minute episodes, she said.

Anna Kendrick in "Dummy."Quibi

Heller feels some critics never gave Quibi a chance

The possibility that Quibi would shut down wasn't foremost in Heller's mind when making the show.

She said that's somewhat due to the timing: the series was filmed in the spring of 2019 and Quibi didn't launch until a year later. She also noted that she cocreated one of Hulu's earliest original shows, "Deadbeat." She had experience in explaining to people why she was putting her trust in a new streaming endeavor.

"I wasn't even thinking about whether Quibi would work, I was just grateful to make the show I wanted to make," she said. "I wasn't thinking about the end result. I was just having the best time ever making this show."


Before and after Quibi's launch, Heller said that she noticed a lot of negativity toward the service online from people who she felt never gave it a chance — even those within the television industry, which she never fully understood.

"I felt there was a lot of cynicism and hatred toward it," she said. "I didn't get why people wanted others to fail so badly. Quibi allowed me to stretch my wings and make a show about a sex doll that talks. It was really weird to see other TV writers sh---ing all over it. It was a strange sensation where I was defensive but didn't want to appear bitter."

She eventually decided it was a waste of time to try and change people's minds, though, and she needed to let it go.

"People just wanted it to fail," Heller said. "That's internet culture. It's made everyone crueler."

She continues to look on the bright side. She said "Dummy" was one of Quibi's top performing shows (though didn't specify any particular numbers). She formed a lasting friendship with Kendrick, who is one of the few people Heller has seen during the pandemic. She said that someone recognized them one day and told them that they loved "Dummy."


"Even if the show didn't reach the audience I was hoping it would, it brought those who watched it joy," Heller said.

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