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I've been re-watching Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer recently, and I was curious about some behind-the-scenes events that affected how the plot turned out. Specifically, at the end of "The Gift", the finale for that season,

Buffy dies.

This makes it seem like the episode was intended as a series finale, and indeed the show ended its run on the WB as this point, migrating to UPN for its remaining two seasons (and, in the process, undoing the major event described in the spoiler tag above.)

My question is: At what point in the production of Season 5 did Joss Whedon et al. realize that the show was going to continue beyond the end of that season? Did they think that the show was going to end with "The Gift", and then they had to scramble to "reset" things at the beginning of Season 6? Or did they know well in advance that they had been picked up by UPN, and still chose to go ahead with the Season 5 story arc as planned?

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    I expect that the answers to this question will almost certainly contain spoilers, so if you haven't watched Buffy don't read any further, and also go watch Buffy. – Michael Seifert Jan 11 '17 at 20:36
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    That's a tough one. Whedon hinted it was all planned in advance (see the 7th question in this TV Guide interview), but the actual details have always been a bit murky. – Walt Jan 11 '17 at 21:09
  • Season 5 was the last season on the WB, and season 6 & 7 were on UPN. There may have been some uncertainty about whether the show would actually get a season 6. – Tim Jan 12 '17 at 3:01
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Buffy was originally aired on the WB, but it was produced by 20th Century Fox. According to the sources I found, it sounds like there was never any question that the show would be renewed beyond season 5, however, there was an issue with how much money the WB was willing to pay. Namely, they were unwilling to go above $1.8 million per episode, which they called their "break-even point," but Fox wanted at least $2 million per episode for season 6. When the WB was unwilling/unable to pay that much, UPN stepped in with a bid of $2.3 million per episode, and so history was decided.

As for the spoiler point you raise:

It sounds like Sarah Michelle Gellar (who played Buffy, as I'm sure you know) had made remarks to the press about leaving the show if it changed networks (second-to-last paragraph.) This may be why they killed off her character at the end of season 5. Of course, she didn't follow through on this threat (and it's unclear how serious it was to begin with), so they had to bring her back.

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