Will Buffy Slay the WB And Make Leap to Fox?
By JOE FLINT
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
How much is a vampire slayer worth?
If her name is Buffy and she helped put a television network on the map, plenty, argues
producer Twentieth Century Fox Television.
As the hit series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" enters its fifth year, it's locked in a blood
feud with the WB Network over its value. The renewal talks are pitting two media
giants against each other, leading longtime friends to trade barbs and even dragging in
Sarah Michelle Gellar, the actress who plays Buffy.
The "Buffy" brouhaha is the latest example of the changing balance of power in
Hollywood, where the old rules are being rewritten as media giants increasingly control
both networks and studios. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" has been a huge success for
AOL Time Warner
Inc.'s six-year-old WB network, which buys the show from
's Twentieth Century Fox Television unit. Now Twentieth is indicating that it will
take "Buffy" to another network -- maybe even its own sister Fox network -- if the WB
doesn't open up its wallet. The deadline for the two sides to reach a deal is Friday. After
that, Twentieth can shop the show to other networks.
While its ratings pale compared with such big hits as NBC's "ER" or ABC's "The
Practice," "Buffy" has developed a cult following, turned Ms. Gellar into a star and
helped to transform the WB from an upstart to a legitimate player. "It helped define the
network and set the young, hip image of the WB," says Garth Ancier, the WB's former
entertainment president. "Buffy" also made it easier for the WB to lure other top
producers and sent a signal to both the audience and the industry that "we were real and
serious," says Mr. Ancier, who still maintains a small ownership stake in the WB.
Currently, the WB pays about $1 million an episode for "Buffy," up from the $850,000
it paid when the show first went on the air in March 1997. Twentieth wants at least $2
million an episode, and perhaps as much as $2.5 million. The show -- which uses lots of
special effects as Buffy battles vampires, witches and, in one episode, a giant praying
mantis disguised as a teacher -- isn't cheap to make. Production costs have risen from
about $1.4 million in the first year to $2 million now, according to people close to the