Buffy The Vampire Slayer" ended last week on what was a stunning, perhaps shocking, note for many of its fans.
After five years of kicking, punching and stabbing vampires, monsters and the undead into submission, Buffy plunged to her death through the gates of Hell. The program ended with a camera shot of Buffy's tombstone, which read, "She saved the universe a lot."
As the image faded into the ending credits, a message appeared on the screen that said, "Five great years. We thank you."
Joss Whedon, the show's creator, said that when he saw the message at the end of the show, "I was actually moved," he said. "Then I said, `Wait a minute.' "
After he thought about it for a minute or two, he said, it seemed that the WB network, owned by AOL Time Warner and the Tribune Company, was pulling a fast one. Though next fall the program is leaving WB for UPN, owned by Viacom, many of those watching on Tuesday night had reason to believe that "Buffy" was over for good.
Mr. Whedon said he was especially angered after he heard that some fans interpreted the final message of thanks on Tuesday night as meaning that the series had reached its end. But he said he also realized that he had played right into WB's hands by killing off the title character, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, in the season finale. (She will pull a Lazarus in the fall, of course.) But the last episode was completed "long before we knew we were going to be changing networks," he said.
"The WB decided to pretend the series was ending," he added, calling the way the network played the finale "cheesy."
Paul McGuire, a WB spokesman, said it was "a shame" if any "Buffy" fans had been misled. But he said the message of gratitude was a "sincere expression of thanks for five terrific years."
Presumably, many "Buffy" viewers, even if confused now, will be clued in by the fall, after the millions of dollars UPN is sure to spend to promote "Buffy's" return.
In the end, Mr. Whedon said, it was nothing personal - just business. "They're trying to protect their network and not help the other guy," he said.