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Tuned In: WB, UPN trade barbs over 'Buffy'

Tuesday, July 17, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- Pow! Bash! Bam!

Network executives are taking shots at one another as the fallout over "Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" move from The WB to UPN continues.

WB executives claim UPN will lose millions of dollars on its acquisition of "Buffy," a show The WB portrayed as no longer the ratings draw it once was. UPN executives countered, saying "Buffy" had its best performance in key demographics last season.

" 'Buffy' has the largest male appeal of any show on The WB air, making it a better fit for us," said UPN president Dean Valentine. " 'Buffy' and 'Roswell' have almost identical audience profiles." "Buffy" and "Roswell," another WB castoff, will air back-to-back on Tuesday nights this fall.

The acquisition of these series doesn't represent a sea change in UPN's target male audience, Valentine said. "We always said we're male-friendly, not male-exclusive. We want guys to be the driving force of the network, but we always wanted a larger hook to attract more female viewers...."

Buffy died in The WB's season finale, but she'll rise to fight again. Series creator Joss Whedon won't say how she returns, but viewers will learn about the resurrection when the series has its two-hour season premiere on UPN (Pittsburgh's WNPA, Channel 19) Oct. 9.

The entire "Buffy" cast showed up at UPN's press conference during the Television Critics Association press tour. That wasn't a foregone conclusion. Series star Sarah Michelle Gellar made statements earlier this year indicating she didn't want to leave The WB and is said to be somewhat embarrassed to now be starring in a UPN series. Who can blame her?

But Gellar, one of the most savvy and articulate young actresses on TV, did her part, showing up to promote her series and its move to what she only once called "The UPN."

"You have to understand, for five years we had a home, a place where we were supported and were able to make the show in a creative way ... the thought of making a move was scary," Gellar said. "I'm nervous; I'm excited. UPN has been wonderful. They've said really wonderful things to make everybody feel incredibly welcome. I think they've given us a new excitement about the show. It's like getting to start fresh."

One complication in the "Buffy" move is that it leaves behind spin-off series "Angel." On The WB, both shows operated in the same universe with frequent character crossovers. Jordan Levin, entertainment president of The WB, said there will be no more crossovers now that the shows air on different networks.

"There's a large number of characters in the 'Buffy' and 'Angel' mythology, and what Joss now has to do is decide where he's going to plant them to really sprout," Levin said. "He needs to make that decision and go with it."

UPN's Valentine felt differently.

"We're totally OK with it," Valentine said of crossover episodes. "Whatever is right for the show and the audience. People look at the shows as joined. We don't want the audience to feel cheated. We won't stand in the way."

"Buffy" and "Angel" creator/executive producer Joss Whedon is caught in the middle.

"It's not something we're planning right away," Whedon said. "Nobody's said no. We haven't really broached it. I want the shows to stand on their own. I think we'll eventually say let's get one going on, but it may not be this year. It's a delicate situation, and we've definitely put it on hold for a while."

Last week when the Emmy nominations were announced, critically acclaimed "Buffy" was passed over.

"They're a bunch of meanies," he said of Emmy voters with a laugh. "I don't think it will ever happen. With a name like 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' you're never going to be Emmy bait. My biggest frustration is for my actors. Both casts are as strong an ensemble as there is out there. They'll never get recognition they deserve because they're in genre shows. People think genre shows are less intelligent than doctor shows. Why they assume that, I will never know."

Even executive producer Marti Noxon's mother had a negative impression of the series when Noxon landed a writing job on "Buffy" early in its run.

"I called my mom," Noxon said, "and was shaking with excitement, and she said, 'Oh, honey, next year you'll do better.'"

Whedon on upcoming "Buffy" stories:

Buffy's mentor, Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), will no longer be a regular character on the show, but he will appear on a recurring basis. "They're grown-ups now and at a time in their life when the mentor figure needs to step back," Whedon said. Head wants to spend more time in England with his family, and Whedon wants to create a BBC-produced spin-off for Giles titled "Ripper" (or "The Watcher" in some press reports). No deal has been signed for the spin-off so there are not yet plans for an American network to carry the series (probably six episodes per season, typical for British television).

Rumors about upcoming "Buffy" plots on the Ain't It Cool News Web site were partially true, Whedon acknowledged. "Enough of them were true. It made me very angry that somebody had been leaking some stuff," he said. "It's a joke now that if we can't remember what happens in episode No. 7, we say, 'Let's look it up on Ain't It Cool News.'"

Amy, a girl who was turned into a rat back when the gang was in high school, will return to human form this season. "As God is my witness, I will de-rat that woman this year for sure," Whedon said.

Whedon on upcoming "Angel" stories:

Even though it airs on another network, "Angel" will deal with Buffy's death and rebirth in a way that doesn't depend on watching "Buffy" episodes.

Winifred (Amy Acker), introduced at the end of last season when the characters spent time in an alternate dimension, will become a series regular. With a fifth regular cast member, Whedon said he's now ready to develop more recurring characters. "When we first developed the show, we thought it would be an anthology and wouldn't need a lot of regulars. We were wrong," he said. "We're not good at writing 'The X-Files,' horror stories our people are peripheral to. We're good at writing the stories of our people, and now that we have enough of them, that will be easier."

Name change game

Two fall series on The WB have undergone title changes since they were announced in May. Sitcom "Deep in the Heart" was renamed "Reba" to capitalize on the name value of series lead and country superstar Reba McEntire.

The title change for a promising Friday night single-camera comedy was more complicated. "Maybe I'm Adopted," about a teen girl who is embarrassed by her offbeat family, was renamed "Maybe It's Me" this week after the network received about 3,000 e-mails from viewers offended by the original title.

"I called it 'Maybe I'm Adopted' because it was a fantasy of mine as a child that at some point my real parents would show up and take me back to the castle that I thought I belonged in," said series creator Suzanne Martin. "I just didn't want to share genes with the rest of my family. ... It was more of a hopeful thought that maybe I'm adopted, it wasn't anything against adoption at all."

Martin said she was surprised by the controversy, and after reading some of the letters, she realized people seemed genuinely hurt by the title.

"Even if emotions seem irrational, I respect them as real," she said. "People really were feeling something that I don't feel and I can't really understand."

After reading the letters, she was convinced the title change was necessary.

"I didn't want to hurt anybody," she said, "so I was happy to change the title and we got to keep the 'Maybe.'"

HBO series update

The final six episodes of "Sex and the City's" fourth season will air in January as a "miniseason." The show will return for its fifth season next summer.

"Oz" will begin its fifth season in January.

The second season of new hit "Six Feet Under" will likely begin airing next March.

Oh, Britney

You'd think Britney Spears would know better. You'd think she'd be savvy enough not to encourage raised eyebrows among critics who already consider her outfits too risque for someone whose primary audience is in elementary school. Or maybe she consciously dressed provocatively to reflect the tone of her third album (out Nov. 6), which, she said, will express the idea "that I'm not a little girl anymore ... and I have to do what I have to do for me."

"I want to do things that people have never seen before," Spears said at a press conference for her live HBO concert that will air Nov. 18 (Cher will be a guest star). "I don't want to be considered a role model."

Clearly. The pop superstar showed up for the press conference dressed in what she described as "just a purple minidress." Emphasis on "mini." It looked like a long T-shirt that extended not far enough. Needless to say, this outfit begged the obvious question about whether what she wears is too revealing given her impressionable fans.

"When I'm on television, that's not really reality," Spears said. "It's a fantasy world that I'm doing. I don't go to the store in a red cat suit. It's up to parents to explain that to their children."

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

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