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'Buffy' raises stakes with introduction of vampire slayer's little sister

Tuesday, July 25, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- Still no deserved Emmy recognition for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or its cast, but at least creator Joss Whedon got an Emmy nomination for writing last season's masterpiece episode "Hush."

This season, viewers can expect the newest "big bad," the arrival of Buffy's sister and a new job for Xander. The series moves from last season's theme of splintering after high school to a renewed emphasis on family and the bond of the Scooby Gang.

Family is especially key. Buffy's mom, Joyce, will have an expanded role, and viewers will get to meet Buffy's sister, Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg).

At the annual TCA Writer's Guild of America West party, supervising producer David Fury said Dawn was referenced in the show's graduation episode a year ago.

"In a dream sequence, Faith refers to Little Miss Muffet, which is a reference to Dawn," Fury said. "It's one of those bizarre things thrown in there. Joss just knew he wanted Buffy to have this relationship that he wasn't able to have prior to it because she was an only child."

But Buffy is still an only child. Or is she? Fury said Dawn will be introduced at the end of the season premiere. For the first five episodes of the season, everyone will remember Dawn as part of Buffy's life.

"This creates a very bizarre mystery that is not always the focus of the episode but leaves the audience wondering, who is she? And what are we going to learn about her? And we don't really learn that until Episode Five," Fury said.

Fury said Anya, Tara and Riley will return, and Xander will find a job "in the skilled labor industry." Sexy, psychotic vampire Drusilla (Juliet Landau) will return, first on "Angel" and later on "Buffy," and Fury said "there's a very good chance of Amy getting de-ratted." The recurring character of Amy was turned into a rat two years ago, and Willow has worked on a spell to make her human again ever since.

Buffy will formally ask Giles to resume his duties as her Watcher, which may necessitate a trip to England and a meeting with the Watcher's Council. But they won't be the villains of the season.

Fury acknowledged last season's malevolent bad guy, Adam, didn't turn out quite the way the writers intended. And Professor Walsh should have lived longer, but actress Lindsay Crouse's agents indicated she only was available for a set number of episodes.

This came as a surprise to Crouse, who didn't expect to be killed off so quickly.

"It was going to happen later in the season," Fury said. "She was disappointed, because she was having a ball doing the show."

Fury also confirmed what many suspected: The death of Doyle (Glenn Quinn) on "Buffy" spin-off "Angel" last season was not planned from the start of the series.

"Joss has bandied about, 'I love the idea of putting a character in the main credits as one of the stars of the show and then kill him right off the bat,'" Fury said. "But in the case of Doyle, he didn't want to kill off Doyle. It just became a situation. The work situation became difficult.... It's hard enough to make a television show without the headaches."

"Angel" will get a new series regular this season. J. August Richards, who had a recurring role in the latter half of last season as a streetwise vampire hunter, returns to "Angel" as a regular this fall.

WB BLUES: He's green, but Michigan J. Frog looked a little blue this past season as The WB saw its ratings tumble after several years of consistent growth. WB executives even poked fun at their ratings woes (and past press tour presentations) by simply showing one slide to describe ratings for the past year: a red arrow pointing downward.

WB chief executive officer Jamie Kellner and WB Entertainment president Susanne Daniels blamed the ratings decline in part on the loss of superstation WGN as a WB affiliate.

"We made a mistake in expanding [to six nights of programming] last year, and we underestimated the effect WGN would have upon us," Kellner said. "We'd be much better off if we had not expanded last year and kept the focus on five nights."

Don't look for The WB to add a Saturday night anytime soon, Kellner said. "Saturday night is the least exciting place to try to invest money in programming, and a number of our stations continue to have sports commitments. We may stay away from that night for a while."

This season, The WB will continue to focus on its core 18-to-34 demographic, but with the addition of five comedies and just one drama, more men may watch The WB than in the past. Men typically favor comedies.

But WB shows have started to suffer from a certain sameness, a charge Daniels doesn't completely dismiss.

"The only issue we've talked about internally is that we're all getting a little tired of seeing the scenes where they're talking by a locker," she said.

"Other than that, the shows have done a nice job with a fresh attitude and taking perspectives on the content.... But I think that's also a reason you see us developing more comedy as just another way to differentiate ourselves and to [avoid] lower repeat ratings on the one-hour [shows]."

Although it doesn't premiere until Friday, WB already ordered eight additional scripts of "Baby Blues."

If the show is successful, the animated comedy will return with new episodes at midseason.

GIVING HER ALL: Last season on "The West Wing," actress Jorja Fox played a Secret Service agent willing to take a bullet for the president's daughter. Turns out she suffered a different injury while filming the assassination attempt scene in the show's season finale.

"We accidentally ran over her leg with a limousine -- and she was great about it," said "West Wing" writer/creator Aaron Sorkin.

Fox was filming on location in front of the Newseum in Arlington, Va. After the shooting, Fox fell to the asphalt alongside Dule Hill, who plays Charlie, the president's aide.

"We were waiting for them to yell cut and all of a sudden I feel something heavy on my leg," Fox said. "And there's this limousine coming off my right leg. I was like, OK, it's a new life experience. I've been run over by a presidential limousine, which is kind of hilarious."

Fox jumped up immediately and she thought she was fine, but producers insisted she get checked out at a hospital, where all the nurses recognized her from her role on "ER."

"I felt like a walking miracle because I didn't break anything," Fox said. "It was kind of like a big bruise, a big contusion."

Fox will return at least for the season premiere of "West Wing," but she can't reveal the fate of her character following the shooting. Whether or not she dies, she won't be a "West Wing" regular. She's starring in the new CBS drama "C.S.I."

Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

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