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ANGEL!! 24!! ALIAS!! FIREFLY!! GILMORE!! BUFFY!! More!! July 4 Weekend Strongbox!!

I am – Hercules!!

Ack! Independence Day already? Time to catch up with what’s going on with your TV faves!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sarah Michelle Gellar decided she’d rather do the MGM feature “Romantic Comedy” than another season of the best show on TV! When UPN announced its plans for 2003-2004, there was no mention of a midseason “Buffy” spinoff (nor – as I recall - any other midseason plans). While we wait for news, IGN conducted a lengthy post-show debrief with series mastermind Joss Whedon. Joss responds to Freddy Prinze Jr., hints of backstage rancor and even suggests that the site you’re reading now isn’t 100-percent evil. Read it all here.

24. "It's going to be about two, two-and-a-half years later," co-creator Howard Gordon tells "Many things may have changed. It's a fair amount of time for old wounds to have healed and new ones to have been inflicted." Rumors abound. Will David Palmer reawaken after a long coma? Is Prescott now president? Is Mike Novik vice president? Have Jack and Kate grown closer, or even married? Will Kim play a more central role, or will she be reduced to guest appearances? Producers are reportedly casting about for actors to play a couple of Latin American drug lords and a young male partner for Bauer. The second-season DVD, with a street date of Sept. 23, will be a lot more elaborate than that quickie season-one set, with 44 deleted scenes (!), loads of commentaries, featurettes and alternate endings (!!).

Alias. Will Tippin really did indeed live through the season finale’s confrontation with Sark’s girlfriend, Allison “Fake Francie” Doren. Greg Grunberg is upgraded to series regular, but it may not be a permanent promotion: For the 2004-2005 season, “Alias” mastermind J.J. Abrams plans to make Grunberg the star of his proposed “Midnight Run”-ish new ABC series about bounty hunters. Still undetermined: what’s happened to Marshall Flinkman and new girlfriend Carrie Bowman during the two years Syd was missing.

Angel. The fifth-season opener, scripted by Joss Whedon, will introduce a young Wolfram & Hart liaison named Eve, who will explain in smirky detail why it behooves Team Angel to use the L.A. branch rather than trash it from the inside. Eve will also explain that Lilah won’t be a big presence this season, as keeping dead people on the earthly plane is pricey! Speaking of which, James Marsters insists in interviews that Spike won’t “pull a Darla” and return as a human. The prevailing rumor these days is that William the Bloody will “pull a Dennis” instead, and reappear as a ghost. (The same rumors suggest that the Spike-as-spirit idea was going to be a component of the “Faith on a motorcyle” spinoff, had it gone forward.) In any case, a non-corporeal Spike might certainly find his new status impeding his ability to date a certain newly-homeless vampire slayer.

Firefly. Dang! Fox cancelled the best new series of last season! Still, there’s a big “Firefly” DVD coming in late autumn, with commentaries, bloopers, special features and three unaired episodes. One of the unseen installments (“Trash”) was co-written by “Tick” mastermind Ben Edlund, the second (“Heart of Gold”) was penned by the mysterious Brent Matthews, and the third (“The Message”) was directed by Tim Minear from a teleplay by Minear and Joss Whedon. (Minear subsequently wrote and directed the spectacular “Angel” season finale a few months ago.) Series mastermind Whedon says he’s hard at work scripting a prospective “Firefly” motion picture.

Gilmore Girls. The big news here is that the untitled Jess Mariano spinoff (co-starring Sherilyn Fenn!) announced in May for midseason isn’t going to happen after all (reportedly because producers found it too expensive to shoot on location), so Rory’s unpleasant ex might be turning up in Stars Hollow (and New Haven) way sooner than previously expected.

The West Wing. We hear John Goodman, whose Republican character became the nation’s acting president at the end of last season, is only signed for one episode this season. So look for the Zoe kidnapping story to be resolved in the season opener – one way or another. For those who haven’t heard, series mastermind Aaron Sorkin has left the show, so it’s lost its single most distinctive element.

The Sopranos. Currently shooting its fifth season, the flagship HBO drama is now set to add a 10-episode sixth season at some point. We’ve just heard the series’ crew shot an insanely violent scene involving an Emmy trophy, so don’t be surprised if Tony & Crew turn up this autumn on a certain televised award ceremony.

Big Brother. Herc’s favorite reality game returns for a fourth season this coming Tuesday. It boasts new time slots (on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays), and a terrifying new twist: eight of the 13 contestants this season will learn that they’ll be cooped up and competing with an ex-lover.

Boomtown. Vanessa L. Williams is slated to take a break from TV movies to join the NBC series for at least 10 episodes (as it moves to Fridays at 10 p.m.).

Scrubs. Following the cancellation of “AUSA” and his breakup with “Alias” star Jennifer Garner, Scott Foley will return to “Scrubs” for six episodes, reprising his role as the Sarah Chalke character’s nutty boyfriend.

I am – Hercules!!

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