Why "Buffy" could flee the WB for ABC --
The latest on the battle brewing behind
the scenes for the vampire slayer
by Liane Bonin
"Buffy the Vampire
Slayer" (Tuesdays, 8
p.m.) could take a big
bite out of the WB this
winter. Though the $1
million per episode
action drama series has
been a top performer on
the WB since 1996, the
show is produced by
Twentieth Century Fox,
owner of a rival network. This January, when
the two companies sit down to hammer out a
new "Buffy" contract, Fox's producers are
expected to ask the WB for a hefty raise, to
$2 million per episode. If the WB balks over
the price hike, "Buffy" could drive a stake
through the netlet's Tuesday night lineup by
moving to a new home. ABC is rumored to be
interested in the show. "To be honest, there
has always been a suspicion that the WB
didn't quite get it," "Buffy" star Anthony
Stewart Head (Giles) tells EW.com. "I don't
know what the hell will happen."
If penny pinching causes "Buffy" to dump the
WB like day old vampire ashes, both the
network and the show could suffer. Though
"Buffy" would probably score higher ratings
overall on ABC (the WB has 111 affiliates,
while ABC has 225), it may not bring in the
youth market that many advertisers hope to
reach. "The nice thing about the WB is that
they deliver young audiences pretty well,"
says Chris Geraci, director of national
broadcast advertising at OMD/ BBDO. "The
show may not trend as well if it goes
elsewhere." Furthermore, what counts as a hit
for the WB ("Buffy" frequently ranks 65th in
the ratings) could be a miss on ABC, where
advertisers pay more for commercial space
and expect higher numbers.
Though some of the WB's former red hot hits
are stumbling badly this season (close to
cancellation "Felicity," "Dawson's Creek"),
"Buffy" is kicking impressive ratings butt in its
fifth season, when most series start to sag.
Usually ranking just below "7th Heaven" on
the network's roster, the show is drawing in a
broader audience than just teenage girls. The
season premiere scored record high ratings
with men 18 to 34. "Buffy" executive producer
Marti Noxon says the series is drawing fresh
blood with the arrival of the heroine's "sister"
Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) and by Buffy's
quest to understand her inner slayer. "This is
a whole world, and you can explore a lot of
different corners of it," she tells EW.com.
"Now we're covering the experience of being a
young adult, which dictates you go deeper."
If "Buffy" does hop to ABC, the move could
come at the expense of its spinoff, "Angel."
Without a complementary lead in show, the
angst filled vampire -- already suffering in the
ratings because of competition from Fox's
"Dark Angel" -- might be lost amid the
network's more conventional teen fare.
Initially at least, "Buffy" isn't likely to find
such compatible companion shows on ABC,
which broadcasts "The Wonderful World of
Disney" and sitcoms like "The Drew Carey
Show." But that could change. ABC has
reportedly been trying to woo "Buffy" creator
Joss Whedon into creating a new show.
"'Buffy' has a big enough name that whoever
picked it up might want to try to program
something else along those lines and build an
evening around the show," says Geraci.
Even if ABC doesn't bite, the WB shouldn't
dally at the negotiating table, or "Buffy" might
find another home. "[Fox] would be the logical
choice," says Mediaweek analyst Marc
Berman, noting that only a few of the
network's hits ("Malcolm in the Middle," "Dark
Angel") are recent shows, which is causing
some programming gaps. Though $2 million per
episode may sound like a lot, it pales in
comparison to what other networks shell out
for their top shows. (NBC pays Kelsey
Grammer alone $1 million per episode of
"Frasier"). "We're extremely fortunate, but on
the scale of things our cast doesn't get
much," admits Head. "And there have been
times when I've felt a little more money in the
kitty would help the show, such as when we
had the mayor turn into a serpent. You look
at those special effects and go, eh."
At least one insider suspects that talk about
"Buffy"'s future home is much ado about
nothing. "There's a lot of blustering going on,"
says Noxon. "What gets said in the press is
not a reflection of the way the WB has
treated us at all. I believe all of this is
posturing because of the negotiations." But
what if the WB really doesn't want to pay
twice the price? In that case, Noxon seems
ready to pack her bags. "If they really do feel
that way, there are other people who want
us," she says. Fangs for the memories.