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"Buffy the Vampire Slayer": Change Is Good

When we last left James Collier, he had finished interviewing Rob Thomas, the creator of the newly-cancelled series Cupid.

Itching to get out of the depressing realm of cancelled TV shows (and the employees of said shows), we decided to point Collier toward more exciting territory: a series that isn't perilously close to being cancelled, and one that's gotten a lot of critical acclaim. His mission, as always, is to seek out people who have vowed to create TV that doesn't suck.

This stop on the Collier tour? The kids, bless their hearts, who make one of our favorite series: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

When you've got a winning formula, it's so easy to milk it to death. After all, why screw up the franchise?

THE AVERAGE TV WRITER: I just don't have any more ideas Boss. I'm tapped out.


WRITER: Nothing.

PRODUCER: Then it's time to spin the wheel.

The producer presses a button that causes curtains to pull back and reveal The Big Plot Wheel, a giant wheel with numerous plotlines written on it. The producer walks up and spins the Wheel. When the Wheel finally stops, the writer and the producer look at each other with satisfied smiles.

PRODUCER: Ah, an evil twin.

WRITER: Oh, sweet inspiration...

PRODUCER: I smell Emmy!

But for the writers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer the goal is to keep the characters in a state of constant evolution. Or to milk my own metaphor a bit more, at Buffy, the Big Plot Wheel has been beaten into pieces with baseball bats and used as kindling.

"Any good story comes from good characters," says Buffy producer Marti Noxon, who has written some of the series' very best episodes. (Remember Xander's backfired love potion? Or the parallel world ruled by vampires? Noxon's.)

Despite all of Buffy's supernatural trappings, the show's producers try to keep the show very much grounded in reality. The characters have real-lfie problems and their lives change constantly. The result is a show that seems remarkably real for TV, despite the constant stream of vampires and demons and the like.

The requirement to keep the characters' lives constantly changing is one of the reasons Noxon loves writing for the show.

"[Executive Producer Joss Whedon] doesn't think 'traditional television,'" Noxon says, citing Whedon's history writing movie screenplays. "The problem with TV is, they keep trying the same formulas."

With movie studios like Fox, Paramount, and Warner Bros. starting their own TV networks, those companies have taken the chance on bringing more film-like sensibilities to the TV screen.

"The Big Three are so corporate it is very hard for them to adapt," Noxon says. "There's been a resurgence in in television, and it's networks like The WB and Fox leading the way. They've given the reins to film people."

Now, when you make a movie, you're essentially writing a short story. You write 100 pages of script, and that's the end of it. In that way, TV series are quite different -- they've got to play out over time, and stay fresh. That's why Whedon is forceful with his producers about taking Buffy's characters in new directions.

For example, when Whedon suggested having Buffy run away at the end of last season, Noxon thought: "You can't do that--she's the main character!"

Next season's changes will be just as radical, Noxon said. It'll be time for Buffy to move to a college environment -- none of this timeless eight-years-in-high-school stuff -- and get a new love interest. (Old flame Angel is getting his own spin-off show, and taking co-star Charisma Carpenter with him.)

"[Whedon] isn't afraid of pushing characters to new places," Noxon said. "It makes it not only fresh for you, but for the characters."

Finally, Noxon made a plea for us to accept the purity of the television writer -- or, at least, the ones that she knows. "Maybe I'm naive, but I've never met any TV writer who said, 'I'm going to let my monkey write this and cash in.'"

I'm guessing she's never met Aaron Spelling.


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