Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an American television series which aired from March 10, 1997 until May 20, 2003. The series was created in 1997 by writer-directorJoss Whedon under his production tag, Mutant Enemy Productions with later co-executive producers being Jane Espenson, David Fury, David Greenwalt, Doug Petrie, Marti Noxon, and David Solomon. The series narrative follows Buffy Summers (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar), the latest in a line of young women known as “Vampire Slayers” or simply “Slayers.” In the story, Slayers are “called” (chosen by fate) to battle against vampires, demons, and other forces of darkness. Like previous Slayers, Buffy is aided by a Watcher, who guides, teaches, and trains her. Unlike her predecessors, Buffy surrounds herself with a circle of loyal friends who become known as the “Scooby Gang.”
The series received critical and popular acclaim and usually reached between four and six million viewers on original airings. Although such ratings are lower than successful shows on the “big four” networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox), they were a success for the relatively new and smaller WB Television Network. The show has frequently been cited by critics as being one of the finest shows of all time, being ranked 41st on TV Guide’s list of 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, second on Empire‘s “50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time”, voted third in 2004 and 2007 on TV Guide‘s “Top Cult Shows Ever” and listed in Time magazine’s “100 Best TV Shows of All-Time“. In 2013 TV Guide also included it in its list of The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time. Buffy was also named the third Best School Show of All Time by AOL TV. It was nominated for Emmy and Golden Globe awards, winning a total of three Emmys. However, snubs in lead Emmy categories resulted in outrage among TV critics and the decision by the academy to hold a tribute event in honor of the series after it had gone off the air in 2003.
Buffy’s success has led to hundreds of tie-in products, including novels, comics, and video games. The series has received attention in fandom (including fan films),parody, and academia, and has influenced the direction of other television series.
Season one exemplifies the “high school as hell” concept. Buffy Summers has just moved to Sunnydale after burning down her old school’s gym and hopes to escape her Slayer duties. Her plans are complicated by Rupert Giles, her new Watcher, who reminds her of the inescapable presence of evil. Sunnydale High is built atop a Hellmouth, a portal to demon dimensions that attracts supernatural phenomena to the area. Buffy meets two schoolmates, Xander Harris and Willow Rosenberg, who help her fight evil through the series, but they must first prevent The Master, an ancient and especially threatening vampire, from opening the Hellmouth and taking over Sunnydale.
The emotional stakes are raised in season two. Vampires Spike and Drusilla (weakened from a mob in Prague, which presumably caused her debilitating injury), come to town along with the new slayer, Kendra Young, who was activated as a result of Buffy’s brief death in the season one finale. Xander becomes involved with Cordelia, while Willow becomes involved with witchcraft and Daniel “Oz” Osbourne, who is bitten by his young werewolf cousin Jordy and becomes one himself. Buffy and the vampire Angel develop a relationship over the course of the season, but after they sleep together, Angel’s soul, given to him by a Gypsy curse in the past, is lost and he once more becomes Angelus, a sadistic killer. Kendra is killed by a restored Drusilla. Angelus torments much of the “Scooby Gang” throughout the rest of the season and murders multiple innocents and Giles’s new girlfriend Jenny Calendar, a gypsy who had been sent to maintain Angel’s curse. To avert an apocalypse, Buffy is forced to banish Angelus to a demon dimension—right after Willow restores his soul—and leaves Sunnydale, emotionally shattered.
After attempting to start a new life in Los Angeles, Buffy returns to town in season three. Angel is mysteriously released from the demon dimension, but he and Buffy realize that a relationship between them can never happen; he eventually leaves Sunnydale at the end of the season. A new watcher named Wesley is put in Giles’s place when he is fired from the Watcher’s Council because he had developed a “father’s love” for Buffy, and towards the end of the season Buffy announces that she will also no longer be working for the council. Early in the season she is confronted with an unstable Slayer, Faith, who was called up after Kendra’s death, as well as affable Sunnydale Mayor Richard Wilkins, who has plans to “ascend” (become a giant snake demon) on Sunnydale High’s Graduation Day. Although she works with Buffy at first, after accidentally killing a human, Faith becomes irrational and sides with Mayor Wilkins, eventually landing in a coma after a fight with Buffy. At the end of the season, Buffy and the entire graduation class defeat Mayor Wilkins by blowing up Sunnydale High, killing him in the process.
Season four sees Buffy and Willow enroll at UC Sunnydale while Xander joins the workforce and begins dating Anya, a former vengeance demon. Spike returns as a series regular and is abducted by The Initiative, a top-secret military installation based beneath the UC Sunnydale campus. They implant a microchip in his head which prevents him from harming humans. He reluctantly helps the Scooby Gang throughout the season and eventually begins to fight on their side after learning that he can still harm other demons. Oz leaves town after realizing that he is too dangerous as a werewolf, and Willow falls in love with Tara Maclay, another witch. Buffy begins dating Riley Finn, a grad student whom she later realizes is a member of The Initiative. Although appearing to be a well-meaning anti-demon operation, The Initiative’s sinister plans are revealed when Adam, a demon/human/computer hybrid secret project, escapes and begins to wreak havoc on the town.
During season five, a younger sister to Buffy, Dawn, suddenly appears in Buffy’s life, and although she is new to the series, to the characters it is as if she has always been there. Buffy is confronted with Glory, an exiled Hell God that is searching for a “Key” that will allow her to return to her Hell dimension and in the process would blur the lines between dimensions and unleash Hell on Earth. It is later discovered that the Key’s protectors had turned the Key into human form as Buffy’s sister Dawn, concurrently implanting everybody with lifelong memories of her. The Watcher’s Council aids in Buffy’s research of Glory, and she and Giles are both reinstated. Riley leaves early in the season after realizing that Buffy does not love him and joins a military demon-hunting operation, while Spike, still implanted with the Initiative chip, realizes he is in love with Buffy and continually helps the Scoobies in their fight. Buffy’s mother Joyce dies of a brain aneurysm, while at the end of the season, Xander proposes to Anya. Glory later discovers that Dawn is the key and kidnaps her. Buffy sacrifices her own life to save Dawn’s and prevent the portal to the Hell dimensions from opening.
At the beginning of season six, Buffy’s friends resurrect her through a powerful spell, believing that they have rescued her from Hell. Buffy later reveals she was in Heaven during her death and she falls into a deep depression for most of the season. Giles returns to England after deciding that Buffy has become too reliant on him, while Buffy takes up a fast-food job for money and develops a secret, mutually abusive relationship with Spike. Dawn suffers from kleptomania and feelings of alienation, Xander leaves Anya at the altar, after which Anya once again becomes a vengeance demon, and Willow becomes addicted to magic, causing Tara to temporarily leave her. They also begin to deal with The Trio, a group of nerds led by Warren Mears who use their technological proficiency to attempt to kill Buffy and take over Sunnydale. Warren is shown to be the only competent villain of the group and, after Buffy thwarts his plans multiple times and the Trio breaks apart, he comes unhinged and attacks Buffy with a gun, killing Tara in the process. This causes Willow to descend into darkness and unleash all of her dark magical powers, killing Warren and attempting to kill the others. Giles returns to face her in battle and infuses her with light magic, tapping into her remaining humanity. This overwhelms Willow with guilt and pain, whereupon she attempts to destroy the world to end everyone’s suffering, although it eventually allows Xander to reach through her pain and end her rampage. Late in of the season, after losing control and attacking Buffy, Spike leaves Sunnydale and travels to see a demon and asks him to “return him to what he used to be” so that he can “give Buffy what she deserves.” After Spike passes a series of brutal tests, the demon restores his soul.
During season seven, it is revealed that Buffy’s second resurrection caused an instability which allows the First Evil to begin tipping the balance between good and evil. It begins hunting down and killing the inactive Potential Slayers, and raises an army of ancient, powerful Turok-Han vampires. After the Watchers’ Council is destroyed, a number of the Potential Slayers (some brought by Giles) take refuge in Buffy’s house. Faith returns to help fight the First Evil, and the new Sunnydale High School’s principal, Robin Wood, also joins the cause. The Turok-Han vampires and a sinister preacher known as Caleb begin causing havoc for the Scoobies. As the Hellmouth becomes more active, nearly all humans and demons flee Sunnydale. In the series finale, the Scoobies descend into the Hellmouth while Willow casts a spell that activates all of the Potential Slayers, granting them Slayer powers. Angel comes to Sunnydale with an amulet, which Buffy gives to Spike. Anya, now human again, dies in the fight, as do some of the new Slayers. Spike’s amulet channels the power of the sun and kills all of the vampires in the Hellmouth, incinerating Spike in the process. This causes the Hellmouth to collapse, and the entirety of Sunnydale collapses into the resulting crater, while the survivors of the battle escape in a school bus.
Actresses who auditioned for Buffy Summers and got other roles include Julie Benz (Darla), Elizabeth Anne Allen (Amy Madison), Julia Lee (Chanterelle/Lily Houston/Anne Steele), Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia Chase), and Mercedes McNab (Harmony Kendall). Bianca Lawson, who played vampire slayer Kendra Young in season 2 of the show, originally auditioned for the role of Cordelia Chase before Charisma Carpenter was cast in the role.
The title role went to Sarah Michelle Gellar, who had appeared as Sydney Rutledge on Swans Crossing and Kendall Hart on All My Children. At age 18 in 1995, Gellar had already won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Younger Leading Actress in a Drama Series. In 1996, she was initially cast as Cordelia Chase during a week of auditioning. She decided to keep trying for the role of Buffy, and after several more auditions, she landed the lead.
Nathan Fillion auditioned for the role of Angel back in early 1996. David Boreanaz had already been cast at the time of the unaired Buffy pilot, but did not appear.
Anthony Stewart Head had already led a prolific acting and singing career, but remained best known in the United States for a series of twelve coffee commercials with Sharon Maughan for Nescafé. He accepted the role of Rupert Giles. Unlike other Buffy regulars, Nicholas Brendon had little acting experience, instead working various jobs—including production assistant, plumber’s assistant, veterinary janitor, food delivery, script delivery, day care counselor, and waiter—before breaking into acting and overcoming his stutter. He landed his Xander Harris role following only four days of auditioning. Ryan Reynolds and Danny Strong also auditioned for the part. Strong later played the role of Jonathan Levinson, a recurring character for much of the series run.
Alyson Hannigan was the last of the original six to be cast. Following her role in My Stepmother Is an Alien, she appeared in commercials and supporting roles on television shows throughout the early 1990s. In 1996, the role of Willow Rosenberg was initially played by Riff Regan for the unaired Buffy pilot, but Hannigan auditioned when the role was being recast for the series proper. Hannigan described her approach to the character through Willow’s reaction to a particular moment: Willow sadly tells Buffy that her Barbie doll was taken from her as a child. Buffy asks her if she ever got it back. Willow’s line was to reply “most of it.” Hannigan decided on an upbeat and happy delivery of the line “most of it,” as opposed to a sad, depressed delivery. Hannigan figured Willow would be happy and proud that she got “most of it” back. That indicated how she was going to play the rest of the scene, and the role, for that matter, and defined the character. Her approach subsequently got her the role.