Buffy The Vampire Slayer is switching networks and at the same time
changing the dynamics of the network television business.
UPN signed a two-year, $102.3 million deal to steal Buffy The Vampire Slayer away from its rival The WB late Friday, signifying Viacom's
renewed interest in the six-year-old network.
The deal also is likely to raise tensions between media giants AOL-Time
Warner and News Corp., whose 20th Century Fox studio sold the series
Starting this fall, UPN will get 44 episodes of Buffy, the cult hit
that helped put The WB on the map when it first launched in March of 1997.
Viacom, which received permission last week from the FCC to own both CBS and
UPN, will pay $2.3 million per episode during the first season and $2.4 million
during the 2002-2003 season.
As part of the deal, sources say, UPN has also agreed to air Buffy
spin-off Angel for the next two seasons if WB executives opt to pull the
series off their network.
Angel, which is also produced by 20th Century Fox, is under
contract for the 2001-2002 season at The WB, but sources say WB executives may
want nothing to do with Angel in the wake of the Buffy deal.
Jamie Kellner, The WB's CEO and the new head of Turner Broadcasting, had
publicly stated he would not spend more than $1.6 million per episode in
Sources say that Kellner actually raised his offer to $1.8 million and
offered to keep Angel on for two more years last week in a last attempt
to keep Buffy.
'We are incredibly pleased to have Buffy on UPN, not just because it
is one of the best shows on the air and represents a new era in UPN's life and
direction, but more importantly because Joss Whedon is one of the finest writers
and producers in television,' said UPN President Dean Valentine.
Industry executives speculated that News Corp.-owned 20th Century
Fox made the deal with UPN because of its new interest in the weblet.
News Corp. purchased 10 Chris-Craft TV stations last summer, the largest and
most vital affiliate group that UPN has. News Corp., which is waiting for FCC
approval on its Chris-Craft acquisition, is expected to take an ownership stake
in UPN in the coming months.
As for The WB, the network put out a statement accusing News Corp. of making
'an inauspicious decision for the television industry by taking one of their own
programs off a nonaffiliated network and placing it on a network in which they
have a large vested interest.'
Said 20th Century Fox President Dana Walden, 'Creatively, we've
had a great partnership with The WB on Buffy over the past five years and
we are grateful for their contributions to making this show a hit.
Unfortunately, The WB did not share our vision or passion for the show's future
and quite simply UPN did.'