On this day in 1997, the fledgling Warner Brothers (WB) television network airs the inaugural episode of what will become its first bona-fide hit show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Buffy‘s creator, Joss Whedon, developed the series from an original script he had written for the big screen a number of years earlier. The 1992 movie, starring Kristy Swanson and directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui, had disappointed Whedon by turning his edgy story with its powerful female heroine into too much of a silly comedy. When he was approached about creating a television series based on his original script, Whedon jumped at the chance. For the TV series, he went with the concept of “high school as a horror movie” and re-created his darker version of Buffy. The result was a blend of drama, romance, comedy, action and horror unique on network television. Whedon served as an executive producer throughout the show’s run and was heavily involved in its writing; he also directed a number of episodes.
Sarah Michelle Gellar, a Daytime Emmy Award winner for her work on the soap opera All My Children, took on the lead role of Buffy Summers, the perky cheerleader who is also her generation’s Chosen One, the only person on Earth with the power to defeat vampires. In the Buffy universe, Sunnydale High School in Sunnydale, California, sits atop a “Hellmouth,” an entrance point for evil demons, and Buffy’s constant battling of undead ghouls served as a supernatural allegory for surviving the real-life challenges of high school and adolescence.
Though ratings peaked during the second and third seasons, the show was consistently well reviewed by critics throughout its six-and-a-half-year run. As one of the edgiest offerings amid a growing WB line-up that included Dawson’s Creek, 7th Heaven and Felicity, Buffy’s success helped establish the network as a staple among teenage and young adult TV viewers. After 2001, Buffy moved to the WB’s competitor, United Paramount Network (UPN). Gellar decided not to renew her contract after the seventh season, and the show aired its final episode in May 2003.
With Buffy Summers hailed by fans and critics as a feminist hero, Gellar made the transition to the big screen with roles in films such as Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Cruel Intentions and Scooby Doo. Other breakout stars of the show were Alyson Hannigan, later known for the American Pie movies and the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, and Seth Green, who left the show after less than three seasons to pursue big-screen stardom, appearing in the Austin Powers movie franchise. A Buffy spin-off on the WB, Angel, starred David Boreanaz. Though the show didn’t spark the same amount of frenzied enthusiasm as Buffy, it attracted a small but devoted fan base.
After the demise of Angel in 2004, rumors swirled about future TV spin-offs, movie adaptations and even an animated Buffy series. In the meantime, DVD sales and Whedon-produced comic book series have kept Slayer-mania alive.