Vampire Smackdown: "Buffy" to UPN
by Mark Armstrong
UPN has driven a stake through Buffy the Vampire Slayer's
run on the WB.
After months of negotiations--and an unusually bitter public
battle over the fate of the teen-cult hit--Joss Whedon's
critically acclaimed series is jumping from the WB to UPN.
UPN announced late Friday that it has sealed a two-year,
$102 million deal with Buffy producer 20th Century Fox
Television, ending months of speculation over whether
Sarah Michelle Gellar's bloodsucker-battling heroine would
leave the WB, her home since Buffy premiered in March
The Smackdown Network has ordered 44 episodes of the
series, which will begin airing this fall on its new home (time
and date are yet to be announced). Sources say UPN will
fork over $2.3 million per episode for the first season and
$2.35 million for season two. The deal also is said to include
a provision that would allow UPN to pick up the Buffy
spinoff Angel for two seasons if the WB cancels the show.
While it was widely known that UPN had plunked down an
offer for the series, few thought the junior net would have
enough cash to make any serious moves. But with Star
Trek: Voyager ending its UPN run May 23, the network
definitely needed another proven hit (other than its WWF
juggernaut) to hold onto viewers.
Said UPN President Dean Valentine in a statement: "We are
incredibly pleased to have Buffy the Vampire Slayer on
UPN, not just because it is one of the best shows on the air
and represents a new era in UPN's life and direction, but
more importantly because Joss Whedon is one of the finest
writers and producers in television. Our main motivation for
pursuing Buffy so aggressively was to be in business with
Joss and with 20th...and we're very pleased to have that
The 100th and final WB episode of Buffy airs May 22.
The announcement comes as a shock to many: Although
Buffy is not the WB's highest-rated show (it's actually
third-highest, behind 7th Heaven and Charmed), the series
was one of the network's earliest signature hits, boasting a
rabidly devoted following from teen and young-adult
This season, the show has averaged 4.4 million viewers in
its Tuesday 8 p.m. timeslot.
According to sources at the WB, UPN's offer was a great
deal higher than the Frog's final offer. Insiders say the WB
initially offered 20th Century Fox $1.6 million per
episode--up from the $1 million the network currently pays.
They later upped their final offer to $1.8 million and also
offered to pick up both Buffy and its spinoff, Angel, for two
But then, WB sources claim they weren't contacted for a
month. "With no response from them, the feeling was we
were being pawns," said one network source, who added
that the WB finally withdrew its offer for Buffy a week ago.
The WB also claims 20th Century Fox
had other, non-monetary motives for
jumping to UPN. In a statement
released Friday, the WB said it was no
coincidence that UPN's Buffy
announcement came just a day after
the FCC loosened restrictions on
network ownership, which would allow
Fox (which has a pending merger with
former UPN co-owner Chris-Craft) to
merge with UPN.
"Twentieth Television has made an inauspicious decision for
the television industry by taking one of their own programs
off of a non-affiliated network and placing it on a network
in which they have a large vested interested, through their
acquisition of Chris-Craft and public comments that Fox and
UPN are discussing ways to merge," the WB's statement
reads. "The WB will continue to develop successful,
innovative programming that delivers a high concentration
of young adults and teens. We wish Sarah, Joss and
[co-executive producer] David Greenwalt well."
Insiders at 20th Century Fox Television also indicated the
negotiations had gotten personal. Both Whedon and former
WB chief executive Jamie Kellner sparred in the media about
Buffy's role at the network. During negotiations, Kellner
downplayed the show's importance, telling reporters "it's
not our number-one show," and Whedon later lashed back.
"It makes me angry to see this show belittled," he said.
"The studio did everything it could to keep the show at the
WB," said a source at 20th Television. "But the more Jamie
opens his mouth, the more he says things like 'this is a
niche show,' 'maybe we should replenish our schedule every
year.' We started to realize our vision for the show was not
the same as [the WB]."
As for the show's star, there was no immediate comment
Friday from Sarah Michelle Gellar, who previously supported
staying on the WB. In January, Gellar told E! Online, "I will
stay on Buffy if, and only if, Buffy stays on the WB. And
you know what? Print that. My bosses are going to kill me,
but print that. I want them to know."
As expected, the comments reportedly infuriated her
producers. She quickly retracted the statements, saying
she would stay with Buffy no matter where it ended up.
Buffy, meet Moesha. Moesha, say hello to Buffy.