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FTN looks at Buffy: The Un-aired Pilot Episode

November 16th, 2012 by Owen Quinn Comments

If there were a ‘ten things that made us the nerds we are list’ there’d be a few without question: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek. There’d be a few probables: Red Dwarf, Spaced and there’s osome that many of us would be hard-ressed to deny. One of these would be Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Owen looks at what could have been.

Part 1: Buffy: The Unaired Pilot

Imagine you just watched the movie adaption of your newest idea and have come out of it thinking what the hell was that? You would be annoyed to say the least and Joss Whedon began to work on a way of getting his vision on some sort of screen; to abolish the memory of the abomination that was Buffy the Vampire Slayer The Movie. And there was probably times when he thought, ‘well I suppose that was my one shot at that,’ but like any passion, it stirred in the back of his head, sometimes an ember, sometimes an inferno and, as any writer will tell you, when the zone gets you, you have no choice but to go along with it.

Buffy, the true vision of Buffy, had to be brought to life somehow. There was no chance of another big screen version, rotten casting and takings had proved that and it was unheard of to do another remake so soon. Well, if you paid for it yourself you could do it. But what if it could be brought to the small screen? What if somehow you could show them what the show could be; what you wanted it to be all along?

So in 1996, Joss Whedon financed a 25 minute pilot episode that was meant to be a pitch to television executives to persuade them to finance a season of Buffy adventures. This was never meant to be shown in public but, as always with these things, it got out there (see video below). And surprisingly the changes are minimal to what eventually became the first episode of a seven year run for the heroine on the 10th March 1997 with the transmission of Welcome to the Hellmouth.

The story of the pilot played out as a shortened version of this episode. A blond girl, seemingly a damsel in distress, goes into an abandoned building with a boy but she is, in fact, a vampire.

Meanwhile, Buffy Summers arrives at Sunnydale High after the events of the movie to start afresh. There she meets Giles, her new watcher, but she refutes what she is until the discovery of a body. She meets Cordelia Chase and her gang of prima donnas who try to bring her into their ranks but Buffy ends up with Xander Harris and Willow Rosenberg as she saves Willow from being killed by a vampire. Buffy realizes she has no choice but to defend the school and town from the vampires once again. When Willow is almost killed by a vampire, Buffy brings down a whole bunch of them, beating almost all of them, but lets one go telling him that she is the Slayer. He runs off to tell the Master (who does not appear here).

It ends with Buffy, Xander, Giles and Willow in the library which would be the line up for the rest of the run. Much of the core elements of Buffy are present here; the humour (Buffy recognizes Willow’s new man is a vampire because he dresses like Lionel Richie), it seems vampires think fashion dies the day they are turned and it’s a huge giveaway to a Slayer, the Bronze nightclub, the cockiness of Buffy as the Slayer, Xander and his nerdiness, Giles being straight-laced and chiding Buffy for being reckless, Cordelia and in a deleted scene we even had Angel, though not named here, warning Buffy she is living on a Hellmouth and gives her a crucifix. The library scenes were slightly different to the ones in the series as it was filmed in Torrance High School’s library with a second level for Buffy high flips as opposed to the one we see in the series.

What Whedon had put together for this would be pilot was pretty much what would eventually be broadcast but with two major changes. Principal Flutie was played by Stephen Tobolowsky who gave a very straight laced version as opposed to the more emotional one as played by Ken Lerner in the television series. Though it was a fair bet that both versions would all have ended up in the stomachs of demonically possessed students in the episode The Pack where Xander becomes mixed up in it all. For the series, Sarah Michelle Gellar became blonder with nicer, straighter blond hair rather than the Charlie’s Angels wig. Another interesting change here was how a vampire was dusted when staked. As opposed to exploding into dust the second it is staked, here the vampire falls to the ground and begins dissolving into ash.

But the biggest change was the casting of Willow Rosenberg. Here she was played by Riff Regan (left), who plays Willow as a timid doormat who eventually gets a pair and kills the blond vampire by pressing a crucifix to her forehead but she has none of the hyperactive eager to please traits that Alyson Hannigan brought to the role.

There is a flatness to Regan’s interpretation as opposed to the chirpy loser that Hannigan created. Plus her distinctive red hair and wide eyed innocence adds to the character unlike Regan’s more bouffant version. Looking back now, you cannot see how the dynamics of the gang would have worked out the same if Regan had continued in the role. It’s not the actress’ fault. She must have done a good enough audition to be cast in the first place but it just doesn’t feel right.

At the end, Buffy fires a stake into a poster of Nosferatu, a nice nod to the design of the Master as he would appear in the first series as her first Big Bad.

But by the end of these life changing, no, culture changing twenty five minutes, things would never be the same again.

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Husband, dad and Ireland's hardest working author, Owen Quinn is currently knee deep in The Time Warriors, arguably the biggest sci-fi epic ever to come out of Ireland. He has an unhealthy interest in Doctor Who, classic TV and Star Wars, he also hangs around with the Emerald Garrison far toooo much. Is it any wonder he fits in at FTN so well? Find Owen at the