‘Buffy’ boss vamps way to major stake

By Michael Schneider
From Daily Variety

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon has bitten into a new four-year, eight-figure deal at 20th Century Fox Television.

Under the exclusive pact, estimated to be worth well over $20 million, Whedon will create and produce new programming for the studio while continuing as an exec producer on “Buffy” and spinoff drama “Angel.” As part of the new pact, 20th will also continue to fund overhead for Whedon’s Mutant Enemy production label.

Should “Buffy” reach season eight, “Angel” continue to perform in the coming years and other projects come to fruition, Whedon’s eventual take could be astronomical.

Free agent for pix

Whedon’s new arrangement with 20th doesn’t include a film component; the scribe becomes a free agent in the feature world as of May 1. Whedon, who’s repped by UTA and attorney Sam Fischer, previously was set up at 20th under a four-year, $16 million deal that covered both TV and film.

“I’ve never had remotely as good a relationship with a studio as I’ve had with 20th Century Fox TV,” Whedon said. “They’ve been supportive and creative, and encouraged me to make some powerfully silly TV.”

Deal reps a coup for 20th Century Fox TV co-presidents Dana Walden and Gary Newman, who kept Whedon in the Fox family despite strong overtures from rival studios.

“This is really huge,” Newman said. “This is something we’ve had our eyes on for a couple of years. At a time when the business gets more and mroe difficult and business agendas seem to take precedence over creativity, being in partnership with Joss makes it all worthwhile.”

Walden said extending the studio’s partnership with Whedon has been a “top priority.”

“He’s a brilliant visionary who has the remarkable ability to write in almost any genre,” she said.

Although a first-look arrangement for Fox Broadcasting isn’t included in the new deal, Whedon is expected to set up his first new project at the network. Sources note that Whedon has a tight relationship with Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman, who headed Sandollar Television when Whedon created “Buffy” there. Berman also remains an exec producer on the hit WB series. 

“With Gail Berman at the network now — who had the idea for a ‘Buffy’ TV show in the first place — we’re into a synergy-fest,” Whedon said. “It’s just the place where I want to make shows, and I have a lot more to make, so I’m wicked psyched.”

Pilot program

There’s a good chance a Whedon pilot, to be developed for next season, could be picked up within the next month. Other webs, including ABC, have also expressed strong interest in working with Whedon.

“I know he had some shows and stories he wants to tell,” Newman said.

Whedon began his career as a writer on ABC’s “Roseanne” in the late 1980s and later served as co-producer on the NBC series “Parenthood.” Simultaneously, the scribe wrote his first spec script, the feature version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which later inspired the more successful TV series.

It was Whedon’s uncredited production rewrite of “Speed” in 1994 that put him on the map; soon after, he did rewrites on big-budget pics “Twister” and “Waterworld.”

Whedon also wrote the script for 1995’s “Toy Story,” which was nominated for the original screenplay Academy Award, and 1997’s “Alien Resurrection.” The scribe then hopped aboard the small-screen adaptation of “Buffy.”

Whedon’s more recent credits include “Titan A.E.” and “The X-Men.” But the writer has mostly put his screenwriting gigs on the back burner to steer “Buffy,” which quickly became a cult hit and one of the early defining programs for the WB.

“I think that says a lot about (his loyalty),” Newman said.

“Buffy’s” now in its fifth year at the WB; Whedon earned a Writer’s Guild Award nomination and a drama writing Emmy Award nomination last year for the episode “Hush.”

Also at The WB, Whedon co-created “Angel” along with David Greenwalt in 1999. The series, which stars David Boreanaz as a vampire with soul, is up 30% season-to-date in ratings among adults 18-34.

With Whedon remaining on board, 20th now will focus on “Buffy” license renegotiations with The WB. Execs from both sides have traded barbs in recent weeks over talks to renew the drama (Daily Variety, Jan. 8).