Fox's Buffy the Vampire Slayer cartoon won't debut until February 2002 at the earliest, but series creator Joss Whedon already is waging a war against blood-suckers far scarier than any that his heroine will face: network executives. "I thought, 'No, we won't fight over budgets,'" he tells TV Guide Online. "But you're never not going to fight over budgets.

"They're like, 'If you want seven dragons [instead of one], you have to draw them all, and it'll cost more,'" he continues. "But I want the show to look as good as it can, and that's going to cost money."

Despite such pains in the neck, none of Whedon's enthusiasm for the animated Buffy has been drained. "We're getting to do what we wanted to — the things that you can't do on the [live-action version]," he explains. "It's slightly more off-center... whimsical."

Plus, with the Saturday-morning installments set back at Sunnydale High, Whedon now can tell the tales that he couldn't before the Scooby gang's graduation. "It's nice to go back to the well of adolescent stories," he says, "and the very basic dynamic of, Willow likes Xander, Xander likes Buffy, and Buffy can't admit that she's attracted to that Angel guy."

Although the chance to be a teenager again likely will have Sarah Michelle Gellar and her twentysomething Buffy co-stars lining up to be Chosen Ones, Whedon reveals that so far no deals have been struck. "But I'm hopeful that we can get our cast to do it," he concludes. "It wouldn't be the same without them."