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Culture Re-View: Did 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' change television?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast
Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast Copyright 20th Century Fox
Copyright 20th Century Fox
By Jonny Walfisz
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26 years ago, Buffy Summers slayed her first vampire on screen. We've been grateful ever since.


10 March 1997: The first of a new breed of television demons is slain

This could have been an entry on how today is the 147th anniversary of the first telephone call, when Alexander Graham Bell called his assistant Thomas Watson on 10 March 1876.

It could also be a piece that focuses on the impact of Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for organising the 9/11 terror attacks, who was born on this day in 1957.

Both of those are significant cultural events. But realistically there could only be one thing today’s Re-View was about. On 10 March 1997, _Buffy the Vampire Slayer_’s debut episode premiered on the WB Television Network.

Created by writer and director Joss Whedon, from his 1992 film, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a watershed moment for its stars, creators and the entirety of the science-fiction genre.

The show follows Buffy Summers, an American teenage vampire slayer, as she dispatches a variety of demons and vampires while trying to live a normal life as a student at Sunnydale High. A pioneering example of a genre that’s now well-tred, Buffy gave its 90s audience a strong female protagonist, campy drama, and sci-fi fantasy setting. Before the prestige television of the 21st century became standard, Buffy raised the bar for how good a serialised show could be.

20th Century Fox
Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast20th Century Fox

It worked with audiences too. Buffy ran for seven series until 2003, with a spin-off show Angel running for five series between 1999 and 2004.

The show launched the career of writer Whedon to another level. His subsequent work writing the first two of Marvel’s Avengers films brought the same quippy dialogue he perfected in Buffy and defined the thematic tone of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe ever since.

Lead actor Sarah Michelle Gellar became a household name and it was an early hit for co-star Alyson Hannigan.

The lasting impact of Buffy has been in how it influenced the television that followed. A major influence on a renaissance for sci-fi fantasy, British writer Russell T Davies cited the show as a major structural influence when rebooting Doctor Who for 21st century audiences.

Studio heads also saw that a female lead could carry a sci-fi franchise without losing mainstream appeal, encouraging programming shows like Dead Like Me and Veronica Mars. So on this 10th of March, forget about first phone calls and the birth of terrorist leaders and spend a moment feeling thankful for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Joss… actually don’t be thankful to him, he’s a creep.

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