May 29, 2001 11:00 AM

Wrapping up her fifth season on the WB network, Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended last week with a stunning finish — a camera shot of Buffy’s tombstone (she had just been plunged to Hell), which read, “She saved the universe a lot.” Then a superimposed message appeared on TV screens: “Five great years. We thank you.” “Buffy” creator Joss Whedon has now told The New York Times that when he saw the message he said, “Wait a minute.” “Buffy,” which stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, is leaving the WB for the UPN network next fall, though the message at the end of the show made Whedon feel, perhaps, that viewers were being told that Buffy was over for good. (The WB is partly owned by AOL Time Warner, which owns PEOPLE.) “The WB decided to pretend the series was ending,” Whedon told The Times, adding that the move was “cheesy.” A WB spokesman told the paper that he’s sorry if anybody was misled, because the message was meant as a “sincere expression of thanks for five terrific years.” By the way, the Buffy character will be fully revived come fall, when it resumes on UPN.

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