Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s unaired pilot

It was a show that began in failure, exploded into pop culture royalty, and spawned a universe that encompassed spin-offs, comic books, video games, books and even a big brother science fiction program called Firefly. Tracing Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s history back to the very beginning can be a role model for how good ideas shouldn’t be allowed to die — and like its titular hero, sometimes you just need to pick yourself back up, dust off, and strike again.

I used to ridicule Buffy the Vampire Slayer and those who watched it. I mean, c’mon! It’s about a blonde bimbo who talks all, like, y’know, Valley Speak and battles emo horror creatures who can’t even grow their own blood.

A lot of that changed when I finally broke down and rented a few episodes from the first season on VHS. Like many things we mock, we do so because we don’t know better. Buffy bowled me over with its coolness, its witty (and often hilarious) dialogue, and its tendency to acknowledge and upset traditional horror scenes for something a little more progressive. I grew into a devout watcher (rimshot) who grew depressed when Seth Green left the show, excited whenever Whedon would pen an episode, and even a secret collector of the soundtrack CDs.

I’ve seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the film) at least twice in my life, and that was perhaps two times too many. It’s certainly nowhere near as terrible as I once claimed — I think I picked on it a lot more because of its silly name more than anything else. But even a die-hard Buffy TV fan can’t draw a lot out from watching this film; it’s no longer the canonical origin of Buffy (that is now in the domain of a comic book called “The Origin”), even if certain elements from the movie were carried over into the show. Although Whedon has a propensity for going a little too dark in his shows, he’s right about this film needing a bit more of that dark to be effective.

What astounds me is that five years later after this lame fiasco, Whedon got a second chance to create Buffy — this time a lot closer to his original vision.

My college friend Steve is perhaps the closest thing I can think of to a “perfect geek”. He’s fluent in Star Wars, he knows computer jokes that would go so far over your head as to be weightless, and he owns bootleg copies of movies that are illegal in 45 countries. Among his prized collection is a copy of “The Unaired Buffy Pilot”, which he gladly showed to us one day.

It wasn’t very good, but then again, unaired pilots aren’t usually good no matter what they lead into. Unaired pilots are usually home-brewed efforts to put together a “commercial” of sorts to show a studio and get them to agree to make your show (or, at least a real pilot). In this case, it worked.

“The Unaired Buffy Pilot” is remarkable for a few reasons, above getting the show’s foot in the door of the television execs. A half-hour long, it’s pretty similar to the full-fledged Buffy pilot that would come later. The special effects (such as the vampires melting a la stop motion clay) are laughable, but they get the job done. Whedon has gone on record stating that the unaired pilot “sucks on ass”, and will never see a DVD release (it is heavily bootlegged over the internet, however).

Most notable in this pilot is the original Willow, who was played by “pleasantly plumper” Riff Reagan — Willow would be recast to scrawny Alyson Hannigan by the time the series rolled around.

The rest of the principle cast was set up, including Xander (Nicholas Brandon), Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) and Giles (Anthony Stewart Head). Series repeat guests such as Harmony and Jonathan make a brief appearance as well.

The pilot didn’t get a lot of acclaim, except from the fledgling WB Network, which agreed to take it up as a mid-season replacement. The stage was set. The stakes were sharpened. And war was about to break out against Count Chocula.

Give it a watch here:

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