A wildly influential cult hit that escaped the shadow of an unsuccessful film incarnation, helped establish the teen-centric WB network, and spawned a long-running spin-off, Buffy the Vampire Slayer ran for 144 episodes between March 1997 and May 2003. Approached by Fox television executives about the possibility of a series, Joss Whedon, screenwriter of the original 1992 film, saw the chance to revisit a concept he thought had been mishandled. Refashioning the jokey film back into a mixture of drama, comedy, romance, action, and horror, Whedon and his Mutant Enemy production company found a home for their show at the nascent WB. Originally airing Monday nights and then moving, with much fanfare, to Tuesdays during its second season, Buffy the Vampire Slayer quickly became a hit -- at least by the standards of its demographically targeted network. Ratings peaked in the second and third seasons, but Buffy maintained its status as critics' darling throughout its run. By the time the show moved to the UPN network for its final two seasons, it was selling like hotcakes on DVD and airing in syndicated two-hour blocks on the FX cable channel.
Plot-wise, Buffy centered on the exploits of its titular vampire slayer, a mystical "Chosen One" who found herself living in Sunnydale, CA, an idyllic small town situated atop the mouth to hell. Plucked from a vapid life of cheerleading and parties and forced by her mystic destiny to slay vampires and vanquish demons, Buffy initially viewed her superpowers as an imposition. By the end of the series, however, she had embraced her role as steely general in a never-ending war against the forces of darkness. Joined by an ever-changing array of allies known collectively as the "Scooby gang," she spent three years learning that high school is literally hell before navigating college and grown-up responsibilities in the later seasons. As the show's tangled mythology grew, Buffy's friends began to acquire magical abilities of their own -- all the better to fight each season's "Big Bad" villain. Science fiction and horror fans loved the show for its tight continuity and sustained world-building. As numerous fans and critics have pointed out, however, the supernatural trappings functioned on a deeper, metaphorical level: they mirrored the complexities of growing up, going out into the world, and accepting one's destiny.
Sarah Michelle Gellar, a former All My Children star with a daytime Emmy to her name, became a postfeminist icon on the basis of her work as Buffy Summers and her appearances in such teen horror flicks as Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer. It was Gellar's decision not to renew her contract after the seventh season that proved to be the stake in the show's heart. Thanks to Buffy and the American Pie films, co-star Alyson Hannigan, too, became a breakout star. Both actresses remained with the series for its entire run, unlike Seth Green, who served less than three seasons before movie stardom -- most notably the Austin Powers franchise -- lured him away. As for the rest of the large and ever-changing cast, few became household names despite their wealth of TV, film, and stage experience. But David Boreanaz, who portrayed Buffy's vampiric love interest in the first three seasons, soon found himself helming the spin-off Angel with co-star Charisma Carpenter along for the ride. Angel never captured the zeitgeist in the same way that its parent show had, but it did maintain a devoted cult following through five seasons on the WB before facing cancellation a year after Buffy ended. Before the final episode of Angel even aired, rumors circulated on the Internet about future spin-offs, TV movies, and the possible launch of an animated Buffy series. Only time will tell whether the "Buffyverse" achieves the same longevity as, say, Star Trek, but the ongoing wealth of spin-off novels, comic books, and other merchandise make it seem like a pretty good bet.