Fox, Whedon in 'Dollhouse'

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"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon is returning to television with "Dollhouse," a new sci-fi project starring "Buffy" alumna Eliza Dushku that has received a seven-episode commitment from Fox.

"Dollhouse," from 20th Century Fox TV, is Whedon's first TV project since his 2002 Fox drama "Firefly."

The drama, whose license fee is said to be in the $1.5 million-$2 million-per-episode range, stars Dushku as Echo, a member of a group of men and women who are imprinted with different personalities for different assignments. In between tasks they are mind-wiped, living like children in Dollhouse, a futuristic dorm/lab. They have no memories of their previous lives, until Echo begins to try to find out who she was.

"Joss has been my favorite friend, genius, ally and confidant in the business since I was 17," said Dushku, who also will serve as a producer on the project. "It's incredible how much energy and excitement I have for this; I can't wait to be this Echo character."

"Dollhouse" came out of a lunch between Whedon and Dushku in September, shortly after the actress had signed a development deal with 20th TV and Fox. Whedon was giving her advice about writers and types of shows that might be good for her but wasn't interested in venturing into TV himself because he was trying to get a couple of movie projects off the ground at the time.

"In the middle of the conversation, I went, 'Oh, God. I thought of the show, and I had the title,' " Whedon said. Dushku came on board immediately. Within a week, the show was set up Fox and 20th TV.

Broadcast networks had been pursuing Whedon for years, but he had been focused on features.

"It was a really welcomed surprise," Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly said of getting Whedon's pitch for "Dollhouse."

Reilly and Fox entertainment chairman Peter Liguori called the decision to pick up the show "a layup."

"Joss is not only one of the more innovative show creators out there, he is an unbelievably accomplished showrunner," Liguori said. "It was a creatively inspired idea, and the fact that he wanted to do it with Eliza was the cherry on a sundae."

Whedon met with Reilly and 20th TV chairman Dana Walden for several hours Tuesday afternoon talking about "Dollhouse."

"You can imagine a really exciting, timely, emotional show that will be packed with his signature storytelling involving humor, emotions and themes that are relatable," Walden said after the meeting.

Although an agreement on the project was reached a month ago, the deal didn't close until this week, so writer/executive producer Whedon hasn't started writing it. With a writers strike considered imminent, he might not be able to finish it any time soon.

"I'll hit the ground running, and I'll work until I'm supposed to, then I'll stop dead in my tracks and will pick up my picket signs," he said.

Although it interferes with his work on "Dollhouse," Whedon is in favor of a strike.

"I think the issues are extremely serious, and I think the studios are extremely entrenched," he said. "No one wants a strike, but it has to happen because (the studios) would not listen. I support it and will do anything to fight for the creative rights that the people deserve."

Whedon is repped by CAA and attorney Sam Fischer. Dushku is repped by Gersh.
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