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/ Source: The Associated Press

It’s a mournful day for a niche TV crowd. OK, a cult crowd. “Veronica Mars” is no more.

The smart CW dramedy starring blonde pixie Kristen Bell as a tough teenage sleuth with wisecracks and style to spare has been canceled after three seasons.

For weeks, rabid devotees of “Mars” — ranging from college students with fan sites on Myspace, LiveJournal and Facebook, to academics in their 30s — buzzed about the show’s status.

Self-described “huge fan” Angela Hanigan, 31, told The Associated Press on Wednesday she would be “extremely crushed” but not surprised by the show’s demise.

“I don’t expect shows with brilliant writing and three dimensional characters to stay on the air for very long,” the teacher from Fullerton said dryly in an e-mail.

Hanigan has been glued to “Mars” since the very beginning, when the show created by Rob Thomas debuted on the UPN network. Last year, after two seasons, it moved to the CW — the merger of WB and UPN.

“I was hooked from the get-go. It’s part mystery-suspense, part drama, always fast, witty dialogue,” Hanigan said. “It stands out from most things on TV. Sassy blonde solves crime, what’s not to like?”

Apparently some, though, did find reason. Last week the show drew slightly more than 1.8 million viewers, making it the least-watched non-repeat on the five broadcast networks.

Other dramas killed off

The CW, created out of the ashes of the former WB and UPN, had already ended the long-running family dramas “7th Heaven” and “Gilmore Girls.”

Corporate parents CBS Corp. and Time Warner Inc. had hoped the CW could become a fifth major network by combining the best of its predecessors, but it has often slipped behind Univision in the ratings during a disappointing first year.

The new “Gossip Girl,” about a group of prep school teenagers in Manhattan, will be given the biggest push. The CW scheduled it for Wednesdays at 9 p.m. after its top-rated program, “America's Next Top Model.”

The new drama “Reaper” features one of the CW's oldest new characters: a 21-year-old. His parents sold his soul to the devil and he's assigned to track down evil escapees from hell.

On Sunday nights, the network will debut “The CW Now,” an entertainment-oriented newsmagazine for 18-to-34-year-olds. “Online Nation” will talk about what's hot on the Web.

In midseason, the CW will bring on a reality show, “Farmer Wants a Wife,” about a country guy choosing among 10 women fed up with big-city prospects.

Trash-talking investigator

Mostly filmed in San Diego, “Veronica Mars” followed pretty, petite private investigator Veronica Mars (Bell) as she trash-talked adult authorities and adolescent naysayers alike while navigating the ups and downs (mostly downs) of high school and college, solving cases including her best friend’s murder and her own rape.

Joining her in the fictional seaside Southern California town of Neptune were her best friend, Wallace (Percy Daggs III), on-again, off-again boyfriend, Logan (Jason Dohring), and her sheriff-turned private eye-turned sheriff again father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni).

Show creator Thomas never wanted Veronica to ooze sweetness. He wanted writers to “write her like a porcupine,” he said in October.

Veronica was just that: a pint-sized Perry Mason with the intellect of the “Gilmore Girls” gals and moxie of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

“She’s an idol to all outcast and pessimistic girls,” said Canadian college graduate Jenny Olsen, 22, whose Facebook site praises the character. “She’s intelligent, is not afraid to be herself, knows what she wants out of life, and isn’t too polite to step on people to get there.”

While sluggish ratings cemented the show’s fate, fans had harbored hope “Mars” would return.

“In a way, I’m happy to have been able to watch three seasons of it. That said, I’d love to see it come back, even in the rumored ‘Veronica jumps ahead to the FBI’ scenario,” said Web content editor Kevin Quinn, 26.

“Its a high quality show that not a lot of people latched onto, for whatever reason,” he said. “It was marketed as a teen/high school drama, but it’s really more than that.”