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20 Years Later: A Look Back at Joss Whedon’s ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’

When the TV series “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” debuted March 10, 1997, Variety described it as a cross between “The X-Files” and “Clueless.” Creator Joss Whedon hadn’t been happy with the 1992 movie, so he determined the series would stick to his original concept: female empowerment, with an ordinary young woman doing heroic deeds. Buffy and her misfit friends battled demons that personified the agonies facing young people, and reassured viewers that it was OK to not be “normal.”

Like Buffy herself, the series was not given enough respect (only one Emmy writing nomination in seven seasons) but proved powerful and influential; it ignited the careers of many TV writers and actors, including Sarah Michelle Geller, Alyson Hannigan, and David Boreanaz. And it paved the way for series including “Charmed,” “Supernatural,” and “The Vampire Diaries.”

Buffy Summers attended Sunnydale High, which happened to be over the mouth of Hell. The WB TV network had begun in 1995, and the success of “Buffy” helped put the new net on the map. When the show neared its 100th episode, the WB planned celebrations — but they were canceled when a contract dispute ended the relationship; on May 3, 2001, “Buffy” moved to rival network UPN, where it ran for two more years.

There were some successful experiments with the series. In the 1999 “Hush” episode, there was very little dialog when local residents lose the power of speech. Two years later, there was a special musical episode when a demon forces the residents to sing their thoughts. Buffy herself returned from the dead several times during the run of the series.

But the show’s sustained success was due to its themes of friendship, teen/young-adult concerns, female power and LGBT rights, among others — and to its execution, with smart dialogue, multilayered characters and story arcs that often spanned several seasons.

Whedon and his team eventually delivered 144 episodes, and the Buffyverse continues in novels and comic books.

Russell T Davies, chief writer of the BBC’s 2005 revival of “Dr. Who,” told the website afterelton.com, “Joss Whedon raised the bar for every writer.”

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