EW reports on the chilling effects the outcome may have on network TV

By Lynette Rice
March 21, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
Illustration: Rob Day
  • TV Show

Hundreds of ad buyers are crammed into a New York City ballroom, as they are every year, to hear what the WB has in store for fall. The room is plastered with posters of the network’s personalities: Alyssa Milano, David Boreanaz, Jessica Biel, and — wait a minute — where’s Sarah Michelle Gellar, the WB’s No. 1 star?

She’s across town, in another ballroom, at a presentation by Fox, ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer”’s new crypt.

That could be the scenario come May, when the networks unveil their fall schedule to advertisers. And it’s a possibility that’s set off a battle as bloody as any the Slayer has waged. the WB and ”Buffy”’s producers, Twentieth Century Fox, are fighting over the drama’s future, and many in the business consider the possible and precedent setting outcome — that the studio would yank its show from the WB, which launched it five years ago, and put it on its affiliate network, Fox (both are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.) — to be nothing short of industry shaking. ”It’s the worst thing that could happen,” says Marty Adelstein, a partner in the talent agency Endeavor. ”Fox [the studio] has a lot of shows on other networks and they do a lot of shows for their own network. They’re good at spreading it around. But this would send the sign: Why pick up a show from a studio if it’s going to eventually end up on its own network? It’s bad for business.”

Or perhaps just for the way broadcast network business has been conducted up until now. Given the dramatic shifts in the TV landscape (megamergers; nets insisting on co-owning shows with producers), others argue that the rules must change. ”If Fox [the studio] did this in the old days, it would be out of business with one third of its clients,” says Pax TV CEO Jeff Sagansky, former head of Entertainment at CBS. ”Now there are so many networks. Even if the studio were to lose the WB as a client, there are plenty of other places to sell shows.” Adds another studio head: ”Why not let Fox put it on their own network and reap the benefits of the advertising revenue?”

Self dealing, as it’s often called, is still akin to sacrilege for the WB’s Jamie Kellner, who, in effect, raised ”Buffy”: ”Nobody wanted the show; it didn’t perform [at first] but we stuck with it.” The position of the WB’s founder (and, as of this month, CEO of Turner Broadcasting, a division of AOL Time Warner, Entertainment Weekly’s parent company) is that his fledgling network is finally on target to make a profit next year — unless forced to pay ”Buffy”’s studio, Twentieth Century Fox, its $2 million plus per episode asking price. Kellner is offering $1.6 million. ”It’s not our No. 1 show,” he argues. ”It’s not a show like ‘ER’ that stands above the pack.”

Such statements set Joss Whedon’s blood boiling. Granted, ”Buffy” isn’t No. 1 (that would be ”Seventh Heaven”), but, as the Slayer’s creator points out, his show ”put the WB on the map critically,” and it continues to be the network’s most acclaimed series. ”For [the WB] to be scrambling to explain why it’s not cost efficient — it’s their second highest rated show,” says Whedon. ”They need to step up and acknowledge that financially.”

  • TV Show
  • 7
  • 144
  • 03/10/97-05/20/03
  • In Season
Complete Coverage
Available For Streaming On