Buffy Gets Spanked (Figuratively)
Sarah Michelle Gellar just learned the hard way that being the titular star of a popular series isn't enough protection if you threaten a major contract negotiation. Twentieth-Century Fox Television is currently negotiating the renewal of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on The W and talks are tense because Buffy is one of The WB's highest ad generators with 30-second commercials going for about $100,000. Fox wants The WB to increase the licensing fees it pays for the priviledge of airing the show. Those fees are currently believed to be about $1 million an episode. Knowing that the hit show might be an even bigger draw on a network with more affiliates, Fox is perfectly willing to shop the show around if The WB doesn't ante up, with Buffy possibly ending up on the Fox network itself.
Then Gellar threw a wrench into the proceedings by telling E! Online "I will stay on Buffy if, and only if, Buffy stays on The WB." The star's quote was then picked up by the Los Angeles Times for its Jan. 24 edition. Fox executives were reportedly surprised and angry since Gellar's comments appeared to give The WB the upper hand. Ultimately, however, Fox was holding the aces since its contract with Gellar goes until 2003 regardless of where the show airs.
Fox fought back quickly and emphatically. The studio had Buffy creator Joss Whedon speak to Gellar personally about the situation. Then Fox chief Sandy Grushow called Gellar's attorney Debbie Klein and reminded her of Gellar's contractual obligations. Considering the fact that Grushow and Klein have known each other since fifth grade, it's safe to assume that Grushow was able to thoroughly communicate his personal and professional displeasure. Somewhere along the line Klein reportedly ended up speaking not only with Gellar but her agent at ICM and her publicist in an effort to get some spin control over the situation.
A Fox publicist then arranged for Gellar to speak to an L.A. Times reporter. Gellar told the paper, ''I'm not going anywhere, and I can't stress that enough.'' She then went on to explain that the comment was made in passing and that "Fox has been very good to me . I intend to stay with Buffy no matter what.'' The follow-up item ran in the Jan. 25 edition of the L.A. Times, just 24 hours after the original story. Sources say that Gellar never expected an off-the-cuff remark to quickly escalate into a major problem for the negotiations.
In the meantime, the Buffy discussions, which began Jan. 15, are continuing. The WB has until March to finalize a deal, but it can also match other bidders' offers if these talks break down and Fox shops the show to other networks.