Once upon a time, an unknown screenwriter named Joss Whedon wrote a screenplay for a horror comedy film called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His screenplay focused on a Valley Girl named Buffy Summers who discovers that she is next in a line of slayers and that it is her destiny to fight and kill vampires. In 1991, he sold the script to Dolly Parton’s(!) production company Sandollar, where it was eventually filmed and distributed by 20th Century Fox. Filmed on a production budget of $7 million, the film ended its run with a domestic gross of $16.6 million. While not exactly a flop, it didn’t make nearly as much money as Fox was hoping for. The final product was also significantly different than Whedon’s original script (he envisioned it as a horror movie about an empowered woman as opposed to the straightforward comedy that the movie turned out to be), so he decided to turn it into a TV series, which premiered 20 years ago today on The WB. That series, also named Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is widely considered one of the greatest television series of all time.
The origins of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a television series started when Sandollar President and CEO Gail Berman approached Whedon about turning Buffy the Vampire Slayer into a series. She would go on to be an executive at Fox, and be one of the show’s biggest supporters. After writing and partially funding a 25-minute pilot, he shopped it around and eventually sold it to The WB Network. Taking the idea of high school as a horror movie, Whedon crafted a timely, relevant and important series that is still being taught in college courses today.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on March 10, 1997 (do you feel old yet?). Whedon’s original idea that spawned the character of Buffy Summers was to take the stereotypical blonde bimbo that always died quickly in horror movies and have her become the hero. Ironically, Sarah Michelle Gellar would go on to be that very girl in horror films like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream 2 and The Grudge films. In BTVS though, she was Buffy Summers, a smart, resourceful teenage girl that just so happened to be in charge of saving the world all the time.
As many of you may already know (and if you don’t, stop reading and go start watching the series on Netflix right now), every season of BTVS revolved around a “Big Bad.” Be it The Master, Angelus, The Mayor, Adam (blech), Glory, The Trio, Dark Willow or The First, every season was defined by its villain, and the theme of the season was usually correlated with the villain as well. The heart and soul of the series belonged, of course, to its quartet of main characters: Buffy (Gellar), Xander (Nicholas Brendon), Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Giles (Anthony Stewart Head). Together, those four characters formed a bond with viewers that is still felt to this day. When you’re watching BTVS, you feel like these characters are your friends. Sometimes I still that way.
The storytelling was always one of the strongest aspects of the series, with all of the credit going to the writers. There were many writers, but the most well-known ones today would be Jane Espenson, Marti Noxon, David Fury, Steven S. DeKnight and Drew Goddard. These writers were able to make even the most outlandish plot work. I mean, this is a series that introduced a sibling to the main character in its fifth season as if she had been there all along (it makes sense, I promise). You don’t just do that unless you’ve got some bomb-ass writers on your team. It’s a shame that Buffy the Vampire Slayer never got the awards attention it deserved. The series was frequently written off because of it’s silly name and premise, but anyone who actually watches it knows how good it is and that it is able to connect with viewers on an emotional level more so than many other shows have been able to.
Speaking of people not taking the show seriously, I always have trouble getting people into Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Has anyone else had this problem? It’s a little easier to convince people to watch it now because of Netflix. It’s more accessible now than it was 10 years ago so more people are finding it by happenstance, but it used to take all my willpower to get people into the series. Not helping matters is that the first season and a half of BTVS hasn’t exactly aged well. It’s not that it’s bad television (and the first season finale, “Prophecy Girl”, is one of the show’s stronger episodes), but it doesn’t quite have the same hook that the show has in the fourteenth episode of the second season, once Angel becomes Angelus. I always tell people to stick with it until that moment, because that moment is the show’s hook (and if that doesn’t get you, then “Passion”, the seventeenth episode of season two, certainly will).
Buffy the Vampire Slayer helped establish The WB as a major player in the network battle. While it was never able to compete with the shows on ABC, CBS or NBC, it was always in the Top 5 rated shows on the network. Unfortunately it also cost a lot of money to produce, so at the end of its fifth season BTVS was moved away from the WB. Like its heroine who (SPOILER ALERT) died in the fifth series finale, the series was resurrected on rival network UPN. Unfortunately it never recaptured the ratings glory it had in its third season, its highest rated season. By the time the series ended on May 20, 2003 (again, feel old yet?), it had earned the second lowest ratings out of any of the seven seasons, ahead only of its first. Still, thanks to DVD sales and Netflix, the story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has continued in the form of comic books. It’s unlikely we’ll ever get a true revival of the series, but at least we can be thankful for what we have.
So help us celebrate the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of the greatest television shows ever made. What are some of your favorite episodes? Which moments made you cry the most? Let us know in the comments below!
P.S. Anya Christina Emmanuella Jenkins
Harris is the best character to ever grace a television screen. That is a fact and therefore not open to debate.
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