By Bruce Fretts
December 10, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Oprah, schmoprah. The biggest force promoting books on TV today may be The WB. Consider: Print spin-offs have been launched for 5 of the 13 prime-time programs on the network (which, like EW, is owned by Time Warner), and another, Roswell, is based on an existing series of young-adult novels. At this rate, mascot Michigan J. Frog should be penning his memoirs any day now. The reason for the WB books boomlet is simple—demographics. Myriad publishers are aiming for the network’s youthful female audience.

Fittingly, the wittily literate Buffy the Vampire Slayer has amassed the most extensive catalog of official titles: 26 and counting. The latest, Immortal (Pocket, $21.95), is a hardcover novel for adults (there’s also a separate series of teen-targeted paperbacks). Authors Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder have concocted a plotline original enough to justify the book’s 300-plus page length: While her mother is hospitalized with a possibly cancerous mass on her lung, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s heroine battles a seemingly unvanquishable vamp, Veronique.

Golden and Holder, who’ve done seven Buffy books together, smartly expand upon the show’s slangy lingo (e.g., ”What’s the haps?” for ”What’s happening?”). They also display deep insight into the characters, shading Seth Green’s taciturn Oz thusly: ”Just as the Eskimos had dozens of ways to say snow, a simple ‘Hey’ from Oz could carry a greatly varied array of meanings.” Immortal‘s only real flaw is its overreliance on lengthy flashbacks to Veronique’s previous lives in 6th-century Constantinople, 14th-century Paris, etc. What is this—Buffy or Quantum Leap?

The WB’s other occult hit, Charmed, recently conjured up its first young-adult novelization, The Power of Three (Pocket, $4.99), and like the show, it’s much less magical than Buffy. Author Eliza Willard has essentially regurgitated Constance M. Burge’s humorless pilot, in which San Francisco sisters Prue (Shannen Doherty), Piper (Holly Marie Combs), and Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) discover their Wiccan powers. Although Willard captures each character’s voice (you can just hear Doherty intone, ”You’ve got to be kidding”), this is remedial reading for all but latecomers to the TV series.

On the other end of the otherworldly spectrum, the minister-and-his-family drama 7th Heaven has issued a line of softcovers intended for preteen readers (we know this because the print is bigger and the words are smaller). The Camden clan’s problems are minor in every sense of the word. In Mary’s Story (Random House, $4.99), Jessica Biel’s titular teen sneaks out to hook up with an ex-boyfriend; 8-year-old Ruthie gets a boo-boo; and family dog Happy leaves a mess on the living room floor. At one point, Mary and little sister Lucy forget to add the tuna to a box of Tuna Helper; this is the literary equivalent of that bland dish.

Dawson’s Creek usually serves up spicier story lines, but you wouldn’t know it from the less-than-sizzling plot of its sixth tie-in book, Too Hot to Handle (Pocket, $4.99). The gang organizes an auction to save the local lighthouse! Still, the pseudonymous C.J. Anders impressively replicates the show’s signature dialogue, a mix of psychobabble (”Our wallowing is so banal”), and pop references (fellow WBers Buffy and Felicity get plugs).

Speaking of Keri Russell’s curly-haired coed, Felicity now has its own companion volume, Summer (Hyperion, $10.95). Ostensibly these are transcripts of Felicity’s taped letters to her former French tutor, Sally—the book’s even credited to ”Felicity Porter.” Yet it’s rendered immediately irrelevant because it contradicts the show’s primary narrative. In this parallel universe, Felicity chose Scott Foley’s Noel over Scott Speedman’s Ben during her post-freshman break. (Presumably, the author couldn’t see the season premiere before writing the book and guessed wrong.)

This might be excusable if Summer weren’t so excruciatingly awful. The double-spaced tome is padded with rambling digressions (German gum ”tastes like body odor and cilantro”), lists galore (including one of Felicity’s symptoms during an illness—do we need to read that she had ”really bad gas?”), even recipes (for her mother’s Chocolate Chip Kiss cookies and Ben’s mom’s crispy chicken Parmesan). ”I couldn’t tell this to anyone but you,” Felicity says to Sally on one tape. ”Because no one else would care.” She’s got that right: Coming from Keri Russell’s lips, these words might seem charming, but on the page, they’re merely, well, sophomoric. Buffy: B+ Charmed: C+ 7th Heaven: C Dawson’s Creek: B- Felicity: F