NEW YORK -- The three top programs on the fledgling WB network -- "Dawson's Creek," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "7th Heaven" -- are guaranteed a spot on next fall's schedule, network officials said Monday.
It continues the new trend of television networks locking up their most successful shows earlier than ever. Traditionally, the networks have waited until May to say what they will broadcast next fall.
Already this year, Fox has announced that seven of its 15 prime time shows will be back, including "The X-Files" and "Ally McBeal."
NBC has already committed to "ER," "Friends" and "Homicide." ABC is bringing back "Dharma & Greg," "Home Improvement," "NYPD Blue" and "The Practice." CBS has confirmed "Chicago Hope" will be back.
"I think they want to get as much of a leg up on production for next year as they can," said Paul Schulman, an analyst who buys TV time for advertisers.
The practice gives the ad buying community an early idea about how networks will build their schedules and is undoubtedly appreciated by viewers who like some continuity, he said.
The downside is anxiety or resentment among people on shows that haven't been renewed. Ellen DeGeneres has said she doesn't think ABC will renew her comedy, "Ellen," and is angry about it, even though the network said a decision hasn't been made.
The teen-oriented WB has also inked the actors involved in their top series, including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" Sarah Michelle Gellar, who's becoming better known as a movie star.
The sex-obsessed midseason replacement, "Dawson's Creek," has been the WB's highest-rated show. It airs back-to-back on Tuesday nights with "Buffy."
The family-oriented "7th Heaven" is produced by Aaron Spelling and airs on Monday nights.