The witching hour is drawing nigh on this August evening in the fields of L.A.'s fabled Griffith
Park. A full moon shines brightly, the brisk air is deadly sitll - it's absolutely perfect
weather for a resurrection. At the foot of a neatly tended grave kneels the winsome sorceress
Willow, her cheeks daubed with blood. Flanking her with burning black candles are her buddies:
witchy girlfriend Tara, bitchy demoness Anya, and twitchy normal guy Xander. Willow invokes the
dread power of the dark deity Osiris. Her body convulses with black magic. Her anxious pals
watch with I-just-peed-my-pants terror. And there's something moving in the bushes...
Out pops Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But there's something slightly off about her. The eyes
are cold. The emotions a tad forced. The movements almost mechanical. And just as you begin
to wonder if Willow's spell has gone wildly zombie-wrong, demons on motorcycles come roaring
in, the gang scatters, and Buffy screams, "Willow! I need service!"
Drat, they fooled us again: That isn't Buffy at all, it's her android counterpart, Buffybot,
which in the drama's two-hour season premiere (airing Oct. 2) attempts to substitute for its
presently deceased doppelgänger. When the Slayer was last seen, she had sacrificed her life to
save her teenage sister Dawn from being killed by a universe-annihilating goddes named Glory.
So will the real Buffy stand up again? Please. "I hear that I will be on the show in
some form this year," says Sarah Michelle Gellar during a break in shooting, a prosthesis of
wiry Buffybot entrails visible under her demon-shredded blouse. "But I can't tell you anything.
Not to worry. There's still plenty of intriguing Buffy miscellany left to chew over.
Like the bitter and extraordinarily public behind-the-scenes battle between its creator, Joss
Whedon, and its long-time network, The WB. Or the subsequent move to UPN, home to pro
wrestling and Star Trek, a place that until now was most likely regarded as a ring in
pop-culture hell to Buffy's female devotees. Or the show's latest Emmy snub (despite
widespread critical acclaim, Buffy has never garnered any acting nods and has earned
just one writing nomination in its history), an affront that has enraged both rabid fans and
Despite those spirit-deadening turns of recent events, resurrection is still the
buzzword on the set. The UPN move? "It's put a little firecracker under everyone's ass," says
Alyson Hannigan (Willow). The Emmy middle finger? "It's totally invigorated us," says James
Marsters, who plays the Billy Idol-lookin' vampire Spike. "There's a little bit of a chip on
our shoulders. We feel like we have something to prove."
No one embodies this fighting-back ethos more than the Slayer herself. Take this unsolicited
rant against Parents Television Council, a watchdog group that recently ranked Buffy the
third worst show on TV, right behind its new UPN stablemate, WWF Smackdown! "We're like
the most religious show out there! We're more religious than 7th Heaven!" she rages.
"We're Greek mythology - we answer the big questions! They just make me laugh so hard. I say,
'Come debate me. I want to see you bring your arguments to my face. Because you will lose - so
Hell hath no fury like Buffy scorned.
Sarah Michelle Gellar was living in a solar-powered house with no phone on an island off the
coast of Australia shooting Scooby Doo last spring when she read about the network-warming
gift from her new home, UPN. "All I lived by were magazines that were airlifted to us," says
Gellar, who plays dishy, miniskirted Daphne in the film, premiering next summer. "I opened one
of them one day, and I learned, 'Oh! I have a Gucci jacket waiting for me at home. How nice."
How Gellar came to receive that Gucci jacket is one of those Hollywood stories marked by egos,
power struggles, and massive amounts of money. It's also really, really boring, driven by
complicated television economics and studio politics. But here's stab at a brief recap:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show produced by Twentieth Century Fox Television based
on Whedon's screenplay for the 1992 box office flop of the same name. Since its midseason
debut in 1997 on The WB, Buffy has amassed a demographically attractive cult following,
garnered widespread critical acclaim, propelled Gellar to teeny-bopper superstardom, and
inspired a spin-off show (Angel, starring David Boreanaz). Problem: by the 2000-01
season, Buffy was costing Fox over $2 million per episode, but only getting about $1
million per from The WB. With its original deal up for renewal, Fox wanted more money. Asking
price: $2 million. The WB balked, saying the show's 4.4 million viewers were only worth their
weight in ad revenue: about $1.6 million. Bitter bickering ensued.
And as it did, Buffy's cast and crew were wondering what the Hellmouth was going on.
"I'd pick up a Hollywood Reporter on the set and see - yep, still fighting," says
Hannigan. "Occasionally, I would ask Joss, 'Are we going to have a job next year?" And he'd
go, 'You will. Don't worry.'" Whedon himself wasn't worried - just deeply hurt that The WB
was now judging one of its flagship shows solely in terms of dollars and cents. "I was just so
turned around by the whole thing," says Whedon, who adds that only once did his emotions boil
over: While directing the season finale - the series' 100th episode - the very network that
seemed prepared to drop the show wanted to toast its longevity by bringing press on set for
cake and photo opportunities. "The whole thing made me so angry, I had to stop shooting," says
Whedon. "I was like, 'Shut it down! I just can't be here right now!'"
In the end, The WB offered $2 million per episode, but hitched the cash to a TNT syndication
deal for Angel. Instead, Fox took UPN's no-strings-attached $2.3 million. Fox execs
say the hefty raise (combined with ancillary revenues) will now make Buffy profitable
for the studio. However, taking UPN's dough could mean that Buffy will be seen by
slightly fewer people, since The WB has historically had greater national distribution than its
rival. (UPN is contracted to agressively promote the show where it does air; look for bloodred
"Buffy Lives" billboards to start popping up soon.) And there has since been speculation that
Fox never actually intended to renew with The WB; Fox parent News Corp. owns several of UPN's
largest affiliates, and reportedly has been considering a larger investment in the netlet - an
investment that would be far more enticing if UPN were home to, say, a certain network-establishing
demon desiccator. UPN and Fox execs deny any corporate-mandated shenanigans. So why did UPN
bet so big on Buffy? To burnish its image, lure women to its mostly male airwaves, and
drive ad sales across its schedule, says UPN prez Dean Valentine. Though he concedes "we're
probably going to lose a little money on it," Valentine belives those benefits more than make
up for it. "Maybe we can't say it was home run for us," he says, "but it's triple at least, and
there was never a second's hesitation whether it was the right move."
But there was some hesitation on Buffy's part. During the negotiations, Gellar
sparked controversy by telling E! Online that she would leave the show before leaving
The WB - momentarily forgetting, apparently, that she was under contract to Twentieth Century
Fox for two more years. There's even been scuttlebutt that she had to be financially enticed
to appear at the preseason press tour in July. "I love this drama!" says Gellar, 24, denying
the rumor. "Of course, I had loyalties to The WB. Look at what they've done for me and the
show. So of course my first reaction was 'You don't want to go anywhere.' You want to be
where home is. People ask me if I regret the comment." She shakes her head. "You can't regret
the way you feel. Change is scary. But sometimes, change can be for the better."
And a new Gucci jacket doesn't hurt either. In fact, there were welcoming gifts for
everybody: a 19th-century edition of the collected works of Shakespeare for Whedon, Cartier
watches for the supporting cast. The gesture was definitely appreciated; as one cast member
says of The WB: "I don't think they realized there was anyone else on the show but Sarah and
So what has $2.3 million per episode bought Buffy that it didn't already have? "A
great big huge trailer," says Marsters. "Better craft service," says Gellar. "More whores,"
says Nicholas Brendon, who plays Xander: "Many, many, many more whores."
And raises for all of the cast, according to Twentieth Century Fox execs - though if you ask
the actors, they maintain they haven't seen any of that UPN money. (Or maybe that's just their
polite way of saying None of your business.) But there is one thing Buffy openly
covets that all its newfound riches can't buy: respect, particularly in the form of one of those
shiny gold Emmys. "I don't suppose it's like the political thing to say," says Emma Caulfield
(Anya). "I'm supposed to say, 'We're really happy to be doing our jobs.' Yeah, whatever. If
any one of us goes out and says, 'It's not a big deal,' we'd be lying."
The consensus feeling is that last year marked a return to greatness after a slightly
miscalculated season 4. Gellar says the show was "really flying" by last February's "The Body,"
which had Buffy and her sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) dealing with the death of their
single mother. "That was probably the most awful experience of my life - and I mean that in the
best way," says Gellar, who herself was raised by a single mother. "It was gut-wrenching for me,
and though it cut to the heart of the character and the show, I never want to do it again."
Whedon, who wrote and directed episode, admits he was hoping Emmy would take notice, especially
after getting a writing nomination the year before. "It's my own fault for getting my hopes
up," says Whedon. "Every now and then, I'll go, 'Damn.' But if I wanted Emmy nominations, all
my characters would be doctors."
Still, look for Whedon to swing for the fences again with an episode he's spent the entire summer
toiling on: a musical - scheduled to air in November - which will crystallize the season's
major plotlines. This year's Big Theme, says Whedon, will be "Oh, grow up!" That encompasses
Buffy's transition back to the mortal coil, which won't be easy (Gellar's opening number in the
musical: "Going Through the Motions"), and Xander and Anya's walk to the altar. As for the
other future plotlines, they're being kept completely hush-hush, including who the year's bad
guy will be. But what's this we hear about Willow being tempted to the dark side? And a
possible pruning of the cast? "With Buffy, you just never know," says Amber Benson (Tara).
"You're always scared here. But it's always what's best for the show." There is one casualty
that we can report: Toodle-oo to Anthony Stewart Head, who plays the Slayer's tweedy British
mentor, Giles. After spending the last five years working in Los Angeles while his girlfriend
and their two daughters lived in England, Head finally grew weary of "missing them all horribly."
Fittingly, Head (who promises to make occasional appearances on Buffy) exchanged his
Cartier for a woman's size and gave it to his significant other: "I thought it was the very,
very least I could do."
The show will also have to persevere without the day-by-day leadership of Whedon, who is
focusing on a Buffy animated series, developing a BBC spin-off that will star Head, and
making his film directing debut (project undetermined). Guiding the troops through their UPN
debut will be Marti Noxon, a veteran Buffy scribe who's been elevated to exec producer.
She plans to rule the Buffyverse by one simple edict. "What would Whedon do?" she says.
"That's what I'm trying to do: Live inside the big freaky alien head of Joss Whedon."
Back on the set, Gellar does the math on all that's happened and comes to this conclusion:
"Everything's the same. Nothing's changed. Yeah, there's a bit of added pressure, but our job
is the same: We just need to make a good show." Unlike last spring, when she was commuting
between Australia and the U.S. every two weeks to shoot Scooby Doo, her only Buffy
distraction at present is planning a wedding to her Scooby Doo costar, Freddie Prinze Jr.
(Gellar brushes off that topic by joking: "It happened last week. Didn't you read about it? It
was a joint ceremony with me and Freddie and Drew Barrymore and Tom Green. No comment.")
As for all this talk of Emmys and respect, leave it to the gal whom her colleagues admiringly
call "the little pro" to bottom-line it. "You have to remember: We don't make the show for Emmy
voters," says Gellar. "We make the show because it's cool. We make the show because it means
so much to so many people. There's a character for everybody here. Someone to connect with.
Someone who might be them. That's what makes the show so special."
At which point Emma Caulfield interrupts to pay Gellar a compliment. "I just wanted to say -
your ass looks great in those jeans."
"Thank you! So does yours!" laughs Gellar. "You know what - that's what it's really all
about. Forget story lines. Forget actors. This show has great asses." She smiles. "Flattery
will get you everywhere around here."
That, and $2.3 million.