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Editorial: Losing `Buffy’ a winning move for WB, Kellner

Apr 30, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The WB and its man in charge, Jamie Kellner, have made quite a show of licking their wounds and crying foul over the loss of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to rival UPN. But one has to wonder whether it’s a case of Mr. Kellner protesting a little too much.
The truth is the timing appears to be just right for The WB to unload the high-priced series. The WB has squeezed more than its money’s worth out of “Buffy,” which became the network’s crown jewel during its five-season run. Thanks in no small measure to the critical praise and cult following for “Buffy,” the fledgling network ascended during those five years to a position of viability and even respectability.
But The WB, which now boasts a fleet of hits that includes “7th Heaven,” “Charmed,” “Felicity” and “Dawson’s Creek,” no longer needs “Buffy.” And the show’s ratings-particularly its eroding teen demos-didn’t justify the $2 million-plus per episode its producer, 20th Century Fox Television, was trying to get, according to The WB. Business is business, and Mr. Kellner made a wise decision in turning “Buffy” loose.
For struggling UPN, on the other hand, “Buffy” may be just what the doctor ordered as the network tries to expand its reach beyond the young males it has traditionally attracted. By wisely managing its new “Buffy” franchise, UPN could finally take a bite out of the young-female demo that has thus far eluded the network.
UPN itself may be the little kid on the network block, but its corporate family includes two of the biggest players in the media business: parent company Viacom and News Corp., which will be the largest owner of UPN affiliates once it obtains the expected regulatory go-ahead. It’s likely that News Corp. will also become a co-owner of UPN itself. With that kind of backing, the “Smackdown!” network was able to shell out $2.3 million per episode to wrestle “Buffy” away from the competition.
All things considered, UPN was the most logical home for “Buffy.” Even with ratings that are decent by WB standards, “Buffy” is more of a niche series than the kind of broad-based fare that is the Big 3 networks’ stock in trade.
Fox Broadcasting might have been a good place for “Buffy,” but clearly the series means a lot more to UPN.
In a period of industry cutbacks, Mr. Kellner just saved his network a ton of money by resisting the urge to stay in the “Buffy” battle. Now he’s reaching for the moral high ground, spinning his network in the media as a victim of backdoor corporate shenanigans. But the truth is the “Buffy” deal is just business, and it appears to be good business for both UPN and The WB.