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What follows 'Buffy's' end?

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is coming to an end in May. Whether that's the end of the "Buffy" universe remains to be seen.

The WB hasn't made a decision on the future of "Buffy" spinoff "Angel," although the show definitely has not been canceled.

"We're hopeful," said WB Entertainment president Jordan Levin about the show's move to Wednesday nights. "That show is not being burned off by any means. We're looking at giving it a chance to prove itself on Wednesday night."

In other words, they'll see what the ratings are and then decide. And, in recent weeks, the ratings have been somewhat encouraging.

As for UPN, that network is still talking to "Buffy" creator/executive producer Joss Whedon and his team about the possibility of some sort of successor series next season.

"We've been in discussions with Joss Whedon and 20th Century Fox," said UPN Entertainment president Dawn Ostroff. "We're talking about a wide range of different possibilities."

As are the show's writers and producers. Without getting specific, "Buffy" executive producer Marti Noxon said the series finale of the show could also be the launching point for a successor series.

"The nice thing about the way the season is going to end is it's kind of a natural ending or a natural beginning," said Noxon, who wasn't betting one way or the other about another show.

"There's been a lot of talk, and so far that's all there's been. The way I feel about it is it all depends — we know what the concept might be for the spinoff, but it's really hard to decide when there's a bunch of random factors and you just don't know what elements we have at this point," she said. "We're taking a wait-and-see attitude at this point."

Still without providing any details — like which "Buffy" actors might move on to a spinoff — Noxon said the show would "accommodate many of the characters from the 'Buffy' universe. It's a very strong idea — our fearless leader (Whedon) came up with it."

As for how the current show is going to end, "I can't give it away. It's really good, though. I think it's going to be really exciting to people and really unexpected."

LIGHTER FARE: Many longtime "Buffy" watchers (including yours truly) observed last season that the show had gotten awfully dark and not nearly as entertaining as it once was. Which, in turn, prompted some strong reactions from fans who disagreed.

Noxon, the "show-runner" who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of "Buffy" and most of the heavy lifting when it comes to getting the show produced, didn't exactly agree with the criticism, but she didn't dismiss it, either.

"We came back from last season knowing it had gotten pretty dark," she said. "I hadn't thought about it, but someone suggested Sept. 11 may have had an effect on us psychologically. We went to some pretty dark places, and I think that actually might be true."

At the same time, "Both Joss and myself were getting impatient with the criticism last year. I thought it was a pretty good season."

She did admit that "it had its weaknesses, for sure."

"I think the main thing we learned is you can take Buffy the character down only so far. If she's not the hero for too long, people start to feel very ungrounded in the show. That's something we tried to change this season in the show."

And this season has been a huge improvement on last season. Riding a crest of quality, this probably isn't a bad time for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to hang up her stake.


E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com