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Buffy Branches Out?

Sarah Michelle Gellar may be ready to pull up stakes, but that hasn’t stopped UPN from imagining life without Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Says UPN entertainment president Dawn Ostroff: ”The franchise is important to us, so obviously we’re going to do everything we can to keep the show.” The net has already begun talks with Buffy exec producers Joss Whedon and Marti Noxon about the show’s future if Gellar decides to walk in May — a direction that could require a major overhaul of the plot and title. ”A show with no Sarah is a spin-off,” says Noxon, who believes fans should brace themselves for life without Gellar. ”We can’t call it Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Her Friends and Family or Buffy’s Vampire Ex-Boyfriend.” Don’t expect Dawn the Slayerette, either. While the drama has highlighted Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) and her Scoobyish pals at Sunnydale High, Noxon’s not that interested in making a vampire 90210. ”This season feels really strong — we feel like we’re hitting all cylinders. But I have mixed feelings about going on,” admits Noxon. ”I want to do work I feel proud of before the idea of killing vampires is like sticking a hot poker in my eye.” As is typical for most Buffy plotlines, tension is sure to mount, because a decision on an eighth season and Gellar’s participation isn’t expected until late winter. Predicts Noxon, ”No matter what happens, Buffy will look different if it comes back — on camera and behind the scenes.”

Watching Third

It’s been a bang-up year for NBC’s Third Watch. In a season where the firefighter-paramedic-cop drama has depicted a shoot-out, a major car pileup on a NYC bridge, and a spectacular grocery-store fire, ratings are up 27 percent among adults 18-49 and another 22 percent in total viewers — making it the fastest-growing drama on NBC. (It comes in third in the time slot behind ABC’s Monday Night Football and CBS’ comedy lineup.) ”The network has figured out how to promote us, and going into syndication on A&E has helped,” says exec producer Ed Bernero. ”I’m glad viewers are watching. I wish they would have done that two and a half years ago.” Bernero hopes to keep them happy with ongoing personal stories about Molly Price’s Faith Yokas (a February flashback episode will show how she partnered with Jason Wiles’ Bosco). Just to give the Peacock more action fodder for promos, a five-story scaffold will tumble and bury several people in the episode airing Jan. 13. Sounds disaster-tastic!

AND SO ON… HBO certainly turned heads earlier this month when it made a five-year, $50 million bid to air the Emmys — a startling move for a premium channel that reaches only 27 million subscribers and doesn’t rely on advertising. But the cabler was willing to pay up because airing the show would have provided invaluable promotion for its signature programs. HBO’s plan was to descramble its signal for the Emmy broadcast to ”expose HBO to people who don’t normally subscribe to the service,” says one source. Ultimately, the broadcast nets stopped their talk of boycotting Emmy and instead offered an eight-year, $52 million deal — far less than what HBO was willing to pay, but more than enough to keep the TV Academy happy. Says chairman Bryce Zabel, ”Ultimately the Academy’s Emmy telecast is meant to unify the TV industry, not divide it.” (Cue ”Ebony and Ivory.”)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
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