The enduring legacy of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer writers' room

Contributed by
Nov 21, 2014

It's hard to talk about this far-reaching, amorphous thing we call "nerd culture" without bringing up Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the supernatural TV series that made its creator, Joss Whedon, a pop culture immortal, and made an indellible mark on television, genre storytelling, and pop culture at large. It's been more than a decade since the show aired a new episode, but we're still talking about its capacity for powerful character moments in the midst of fantastical plots, its focus on strong women, its ability to weave serialized storytelling into self-contained episodic narratives, and its sense of humor. The show influenced legions of writers, including writers we haven't discovered yet, but droves of fans who are also creators isn't the only way to measure Buffy's influence.

As Buffy took shape, a core group of writers started to emerge on the show, and though it was augmented by new additions in later years, much of that core group remained to steer the ship right up until the series finale. For many of those writers, Buffy was either their first major writing job or their first writing job, and the environment of Whedon's writers' room left an impression on them that they would take with them to other projects. The Buffy writers' room has been described by some of those writers as a place where risk-taking and trying new things was encouraged, where writers felt comfortable branching out and refining their skills. As a result, it was an incubator of talent that's still rewarding us to this day.

So, just as we did earlier this year with Star Trek: TNG, we're taking a look at the enduring legacy of the Buffy writers' room by examining what its core group of writers did after Buffy. To help get a better picture of this, we gathered quotes from these writers, and reached out to a couple of writers ourselves. We asked prolific Buffy writer and Warehouse 13co-creator Jane Espenson what she thought the legacy of the room was, and she reflected on both the show's tone and on the DIY enthusiasm that came from Whedon.

"I think Buffy has been a huge factor in what TV looks like now – the mixture of tones in shows like Orange is the New Black feels Buffy-like to me, the recognition that humor creeps into our darkest moments. And for me personally, it has been a ticket onto the staffs of some amazing shows where I’ve been able to apply the skills I learned there," she said. "Beyond that, though, I think it’s been Joss’s continued mold-breaking and entrepreneurial instincts that have been the biggest influence. I wouldn’t have had the courage to team up with Brad Bell to create Husbands if I hadn’t had the example of Dr. Horrible and other Joss post-Buffy projects. And, of course, Brad and I built Husbands around a reason to tell the story – the first lesson of the Buffy room."

We also asked Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. writer Drew Z. Greenberg, who joined Buffy in season six after having been a fan of the show for years.

"On a micro level, Buffy changed the paradigm for women in genre television. It was suddenly a lot easier to sell people on the idea that you could have a woman as a lead character, and she could be smart, kickass, funny, strong, flawed, dangerous and awesome (basically, all the things we were used to seeing in male characters and very much not used to seeing in female characters). It’s easy to take it for granted now, but in 1997 when Buffy started, that wasn’t entirely common," he said. "But in a larger context, I think Buffy established that it was okay to have a show which was both fun and intelligent – that you could be engrossing, mainstream, pop entertainment while still having something to say, still having a specific point of view about the world. To me, that’s what we all took with us from the show, and I think it’s an example that’s been followed by lots of people who never even worked on Buffy: just knowing it could be done gave everyone license to create other fun shows with a voice if they wanted to. And as legacies go, I think that’s a pretty good one."

Check out the legacy of the Buffy writers' room, as reflected by the careers of 10 of the writers who populated it, in the gallery below.

Make Your Inbox Important

Get our newsletter and you’ll be delivered the most interesting stories, videos and interviews weekly.

Sign-up breaker
Sign out: