DOLLHOUSE. 9 p.m. tomorrow, Channel 29.

LIKE SAUSAGE, TV is something whose production is often best kept behind closed doors.

That's a luxury Joss Whedon hasn't had since his series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and its spin-off, "Angel," became cult favorites a decade ago.

The third-generation TV writer was transformed into an object of worship for viewers who like their television smart and funny and transcendent. Whedon also became a hot property for networks that are all about the smart and funny and transcendent as long as, you know, it pays the bills.

Which so often it doesn't.

A subsequent Whedon series, a space Western called "Firefly," didn't make it past 11 episodes on Fox, which initially rejected the two-hour pilot and aired some shows out of order.

All of these are things it might be better to forget before entering Whedon's "Dollhouse" tomorrow night on, yes, Fox.

Good thing, then, that the "dollhouse" - a slickly designed home for pretty people who are temporarily imprinted with other people's personalities and then rented out by the hour - is designed for forgetting.

Between engagements, the "actives" have their most recent memories wiped, leaving them free to enjoy the massages, the coed showers and the kind of innocuous chitchat you might expect from people who listen to motivational tapes all day long.

All is not as it seems, of course, and at least one active, Echo (Eliza Dushku), may be remembering more than she should (though in the three episodes I've seen, she has yet to recall a past life slaying vampires).

Plus, there's an FBI agent ("Battlestar Galactica's" Tahmoh Penikett) who'd like to close the dollhouse - if only he could prove it exists.

Designed as vehicle for Dushku, who's one of the show's producers and who, according to Whedon, had been feeling pigeonholed by the industry since her days as "Buffy's" bad-girl rival, "Dollhouse" is being promoted by Fox as half of a hot-girl doubleheader (with Summer Glau, of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," co-hosting a two-hour block with Dushku tomorrow night).

Not that Dushku's not hot.

Even in the pseudo-prim garb she adopts in the premiere, in which she's imprinted with the persona of a hostage negotiator - to make the point that there's more to being an active than simple prostitution - she's hot.

Fortunately, she's also an actress, since "Dollhouse" is less about the ninja kicks and witty banter than it is about instant transformations, and about making the audience care about a character who's likely to behave differently every time we see her.

That Dushku mostly pulls this off is a happy surprise, as is "Dollhouse," which has survived "Firefly"-like trials of its own to get this far. But, hey, memory may be overrated.

As another Fox character used to say, "Bygones."

'Eastbound & Down'

Comedy switches accents on HBO this Sunday as "Eastbound & Down" moves into the 10:30 p.m. slot after "Flight of the Conchords."

Danny McBride ("Tropic Thunder") stars as Kenny Powers, a World Series-winning pitcher who wore out his welcome in the majors and is now teaching middle-school gym, mullet and all, in his North Carolina hometown, and sponging off his brother ("Deadwood's" John Hawkes).

Produced by, among others, Will Ferrell - who'll be making at least one cameo - and Malvern's Adam McKay, "Eastbound" aims, according to McBride, who co-created the show with Jody Hill and Ben Best, "to find new things to make fun of in the South."

"These guys [Hill and Best] both grew up in North Carolina, and I grew up in Virginia, and we all met at film school down in North Carolina School of the Arts," he told reporters last month. "We weren't really happy with the way the South was portrayed in a lot of film and television. It seemed like it kind of stopped at the hee-haw kind of deal, which is overalls and Billy Bob."

Clearly then, what's been missing is nudity, profanity and jet skis, all of which are well-represented in "Eastbound," which should hit the sweet spot of viewers who think there's nothing funnier than an overweight guy with a jock-strap tan line.

I generally don't place myself in that crowd, being more "Elf" than "Old School," but McBride's Powers exudes a Mitch Williams-meets-John Kruk vibe that's hard to resist, and, hey, I laughed more than once.

Still, when it comes to comedy, we all have our gored oxen, no matter where we come from. My sore point happens to be jokes about the developmentally disabled, an increasingly popular way of demonstrating your show's un-PC bona fides and one "Eastbound's" writers really don't need.

If it's all the same to you, guys, I'd just as soon go back to laughing at the South. *

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