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The WB Strikes Gold with Buffy and Dawson's Creek

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What the devil’s gotten into Sarah Michelle Gellar?

The eensy blond star of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — The WB’s cultish horror hit — is confined to a hospital gurney, an IV tube stuck in her arm, mid-hissy fit. ”Let me go!” she roars at a team of doctors. ”I have to kill all the vampires!”

But when the cameras stop rolling, the mood stays midnight dark. Gellar’s cranky. She snaps at the director, puts off an interview, even inspires her hairdresser to jokingly paste ”666” on her trailer door.

In that trailer, two days later, a much more angelic Gellar is apologizing. ”I had to pee really badly, and no one would let me go. That’s what started the whole thing. See the price you pay for fame?”

The WB is paying for her fame as well. Gellar’s dog — a tiny white fluff ball named Thor — has his own bladder issues and has already ruined one trailer. ”This is my second,” says Gellar, who is watching appreciatively as Thor lets loose on some pages from The New York Times. ”Good dog! Right on the paper.”

Thor’s 20-year-old mistress is in the odd position of being more famous than her show, thanks to a two-year stint on the soap All My Children and appearances in the recent blockbusters Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer (curiously, she played a slayee in both). But Buffy is quickly catching up; ratings have spiked 54 percent in its second year (the 1997 mid-season replacement was a critical fave but averaged 3.7 million viewers in its first run — about 10 million shy of a Big Four hit). Worshipful fans have even cooked up a drinking game, à la ”Hi, Bob,” the homage to Bob Newhart: Pound your brew whenever Buffy flashes her bra strap, pound again when she throws a demon against a wall.

As of January, The WB could join in the toast. Buffy seamlessly switched from Mondays — where it was awkwardly paired with the wholesome soap 7th Heaven, and getting slaughtered by Fox’s Ally McBeal — to Tuesdays, where it leads into the new coming-of-age smash Dawson’s Creek, currently The WB’s highest-rated show. More impressive still, this New Tuesday, as the promos call it, marks a first: The WB is the only network to have successfully added a fresh night (its fourth) without losing ratings on existing nights.

Buffy and Dawson are a match made in high school heaven. Both reveal miles of midriff. Both delight in mining pop culture — from Russ Meyer camp to Steven Spielberg mainstream. And both boast steamy May-December romances — Dawson between a 16-year-old high school dude and his teacher, Buffy between the slayer herself and a 242-year-old vampire named Angel. (The latter sparked a heated debate at The WB over whether Buffy’s recent deflowering called for a condom: ”When you’re losing your virginity to someone who’s been dead for hundreds of years, is there a risk of contracting sexually transmitted disease?” asks head of programming Garth Ancier. The eventual answer: No.)

The WB’s Tuesday has become must-see TV for the Oxy set as well as your more ironically inclined 18- to 34-year-olds. And fueled this season by its highest numbers, The Dubba has finally edged past archrival UPN (averaging a 3.1 Nielsen rating, versus 2.9). ”They’re making a lot of noise,” says New York-based media buyer Paul Schulman. ”They’re having the best year of any network, and that’s including the Big Four.” But in the fickle TV world, the jury’s still out. Can the three-year-old WB go from netlet to network? Will it be Fox Redux…or the DuMont of the ’90s?

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