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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 1997.

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 opportunity."

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 women.

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 more seasons.

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.

The Usual
The Usual

Random Quotage:

Does it ever get easy?
You mean life?
Yeah. Does it get easy?
What do you want me to say?
Lie to me.
Yes, it's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.
-Buffy and Giles (Lie to Me)

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