February 13, 2009 at 1:00 am

Mekeisha Madden Toby

Inside 'Dollhouse'

"Dollhouse" star Eliza Dushku plays a "Doll" whose mind is imprinted with new personas and then is hired out for various missions. (Fox)


Joss Whedon has total confidence in his new Fox drama "Dollhouse."

While the slow-to-build sci-fi series exhibits a lot of promise, the fact that Fox is airing it on Friday nights, starting tonight, makes some Whedon fans and critics nervous.

But not Whedon, the creator of such hit shows as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel." He thinks "Dollhouse" -- a show about underground operatives whose memories have been wiped clean so they can be imprinted with personas to carry out various missions-for-hire -- will be a hit no matter what day of the week it airs. "Dollhouse" stars actress Eliza Dushku ("Tru Calling").

"My initial reaction was, you know, mixed," Whedon told reporters attending the Television Critics Association's January press tour in Universal City, Calif. "I'd had a bad experience once on a Friday. You might have heard about it."

Whedon is referring to his failed Fox sci-fi drama "Firefly," which aired back in 2002 on Fridays, a low-viewership night. The show suffered poor ratings and was canceled after one season. But fans say it wasn't all about the night.

"Fox thought that Whedon fans would automatically glom on to 'Firefly' because Whedon's name was attached," says James Parkinson, 32, of Lansing. A huge "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fan, Parkinson and his wife attended The Detroit News screening of "Dollhouse" last week. "'Firefly' was a completely different show from 'Buffy,' so it attracted a different kind of audience. The same will happen for 'Dollhouse.' "

If the buzz on Web sites such as TV.com and e-mails from around the country regarding The Detroit News' screening of the show are any indication, "Dollhouse" is arguably one of the most anticipated series this year. Early chatter and an attractive time-slot companion make Whedon hopeful.

"I'm very excited to be paired with 'Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,' " he says. "It's a show that I love and, I think, shares a sensibility of exploring a very strange, particular mythology and really loving the characters within it. And when we talked about it, (Fox executives) weren't looking to stick us on a Friday, not promote us, and then expect us to be a huge hit instantly. It's about rolling out the 13 episodes and letting people come to the show and kind of grow with it."

Sci-fi fan Troy Messick, 19, of Ann Arbor agrees with Whedon and says Fridays are much better than the Mondays that Fox initially had in mind for "Dollhouse."

"To be an anchor for '24' would have been too much pressure," says Messick, a student at the University of Michigan who saw a sneak preview of "Dollhouse" at the aforementioned Detroit News event.

"It makes sense to pair 'Dollhouse' with 'Terminator' because it will attract die-hard science-fiction fans," Messick says. "And it won't compete with 'Battlestar Galactica' (Sci Fi Channel), because that comes on at 10 so fans can watch all three."

But get ready to make a commitment to "Dollhouse," adds Whedon fan Carolyn Parkinson, 30, who attended the screening with her husband.

"This is the kind of show you have to pay attention to to understand all the nuances," she says. "I'm hoping it will be worth it."

Television You can reach Mekeisha Madden Toby at (313) 222-2501 or mmadden@detnews.com">mmadden@detnews.com.

Whedon at a glance

Name: Joss Whedon, born Joseph
Age: 44
Hometown: New York City
Family: Married with two kids; son of TV writer Tom Whedon and grandson of TV writer John Whedon
TV history: Wrote, directed and produced "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1997-2003). The show was based on a hit 1992 movie Whedon also penned. Other shows include the "Buffy" spinoff "Angel" (1999-2004) and "Firefly" (2002-03). Whedon got his start writing for the sitcom "Roseanne" in 1989.

Joss Whedon, right, with Ross Berryman, director of photography, is upbeat ...
In an upcoming episode, "Doll" Eliza Dushku, right, has to ... (Fox)