Creator - 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' 'Angel'

Joss Whedon is calling from hell.

Not literally, of course, but these are stressful times for the writer-producer. Whedon is not only revamping “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” for its seventh (and potentially last) season and steering “Angel” as it enters its crucial fourth year, but he has his hands full with new big-budget sci-fi series “Firefly.”

Catching a breath between casting sessions, writers meetings and budget arguments, Whedon says he hasn’t had much time to contemplate his growing empire. But the producer, who admits to being a little more cranky these days, has determined at least one thing: It’s not easy being stretched so thin.

“This is the most bad that I’m ever going to let it get, in the sense of a large bomb dropping on me,” Whedon says of his frantic schedule. “This year is very different. We don’t have time to waste.”

With a trio of shows hitting the airwaves this fall, the man who gave birth to “Buffy” has joined the ranks of uberproducers such as John Wells, David E. Kelley and Steven Bochco.

Like those creative forces, Whedon (who was previously best known as the scribe on the Disney animated pic “Toy Story”) has become almost as famous as the mold-breaking shows he’s created. Like TV’s top producers, Whedon has developed a unique style that sets his work apart. Witty dialogue, quick-paced action and deep mythology have become the staples of his skeins.

Despite his struggles with Fox over the creation of “Firefly,” Whedon says it’s a good time to be a drama producer. “Some networks are taking more chances. They’re letting shows that aren’t in the mainstream to blossom. There’s a new kind of respect for the process, for writers and creators.

For all the talk about how the industry is changing, Whedon doesn’t think issues like vertical integration will kill the business, even if there are ill effects.

“The fact is there is always going to be people with ideas for shows and networks that need them,” he says. “Ultimately people don’t want shitty shows. If things get significantly worse, then people will find a way to work around it.”

Back to his crazed schedule, Whedon admits he’s entering untested waters.

The new skein, which will air Fridays on Fox this fall, takes place 800 years from now and revolves around the crew of a small transport spaceship. Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres and Alan Tudyk, among others, star as the ship’s leaders, who encounter adventure and conflict as they take odd jobs around the universe.

“I love my universe and the characters we’re creating,” Whedon says. “It’s a very mature, exciting show. It’s different from all the other shows I do, but still part of my world view. If we get all those things clicking, the cast is clicking, then I really think people will respond to it.”

Fox eventually opted to shoot a new first episode to speed the action up early on; the pilot will be reworked as a special flashback episode later in the season. “We’re playing poker and the network is holding 52 cards,” Whedon acknowledges.

Still, Joss Whedon is Joss Whedon — and that name carries a great deal of cachet these days. “The process might not have been ideal, but at the end of the day the show I want to put on the air I’m pretty much putting on the air,” he says.

Whedon says he ultimately wants to make sure the show is meaningful to auds. “I have to go with my gut, and my gut likes to be entertained.”

The TV biz

Show that first got you hooked on dramas: “‘I Love Lydia’ on ‘Masterpiece Theatre.’ ”

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