JosselizaJoss Whedon was a goner. He had no intent of going back to the smallscreen, and in fact was trying hard to sort out his options for a pre-strike feature writing offer. Then he got a ring from his faithful friend and former "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" colleague Eliza Dushku, who was looking for some advice on how she should make the most of the development pact she’d signed with Fox and 20th Century Fox TV during the summer.

In mid-September, the two went to lunch at Santa Monica’s at Ivy at the Shore, and over a meal, almost by accident, Whedon came up with the concept for "Dollhouse," as Variety’s Michael Schneider details in his report on the seven-seg commitment that Fox and its studio sib 20th have given to Whedon’s idea for a show about a super-secret (what else?) world of folks who are walking tabula rasa — blank slates who are programmed with different personalities each time they’re dispatched for a mission.

"It was a mistake!" Whedon says. "I sat down with her to talk about her options, and acted all sage, saying things backwards like Yoda and laying out what I thought she should do. But in the course of doing it, I accidentally made one up. I told it to her, and she said, ‘That’s exactly what I want to do.’ "

At the moment Eliza beckoned, Whedon was at work on his fantasy-thriller "Goner," for producers Mary Parent and Scott Stuber at U, and he was fielding a whole bunch of options for a pre-strike feature writing project. Although Whedon didn’t have such a grand time during his last hitch at Fox in 2002-03 with "Firefly" (which begat the 2005 U feature "Serenity"), times change and so do networks.

Whedon gamely took a meeting with Fox’s Peter Liguori and Kevin Reilly, and walked out with a sizable commitment for a project the net hopes to have in production by the spring — in an ideal, strike-free world. Fingers crossed.

(Pic of Whedon and Dushku at a 2003 "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" charity event by Albert L. Ortega/WireImage)

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