Way back in the mists of time (1992 to be exact), a movie named Buffy the Vampire Slayer was released. Despite featuring a schoolgirl who fought vampires — seemingly a sure-fire guarantee of at least a certain degree of attention — the movie failed to set any records at the box office and then entered the dim and murky world of the cult movie when it was released on video.
The film's writer was Joss Whedon, who has since worked on the scripts to hits such as Speed, Toy Story and Alien: Resurrection, and despite the relative failure of the Buffy movie, he was convinced that the idea had sufficient legs to be a success. And so it was that in March 1997 Buffy the Vampire Slayer made its debut on the WB network.
With five years having passed since the movie — and also because movie hits seldom cross over to television with the same actors — the lead part was recast, with the role of Buffy Summers being taken by Sarah Michelle Gellar. Newly arrived in Sunnydale, she quickly hooks up with her Watcher, Rupert Giles (Anthony Head), and meets Willow (Alysson Hannigan) and Xander (Nicholas Brendon) who, together, form the core group of high school kids whose everyday lives now revolve around battling evil spawned from the hellmouth on which the city of Sunnydale sits.
Aimed unashamedly at the teenage market, the series managed to straddle the two often disparate groups of viewers who were attracted to the dark and often violent X-Files and also the rather less fantastical world of Beverly Hills 90210. From the latter, Buffy drew upon the endless pool of good looks that Hollywood could provide as well as the everyday problems that modern-day teenagers face. From the former it drew upon the endless tales of dark and mystical forces, and added a good side helping of wisecracks as the bad guys got a deserved thumping. However, as in The X-Files, the good guys didn't necessarily come out on top on every occasion.
While Season 1 was formed mainly of standalone stories, with a linked arc as the villainous Master laid his plans for Sunnydale, it is most notable for its introduction of Angel (David Boreanaz), a vampire with a soul who would (surprise, surprise) become a love interest for everyone's favourite vampire slayer.
After the most alarming graduation in US history (in which Sunnydale High met an explosive end) at the conclusion of Season 3 (as well as seing Angel leave town) the start of Season 4 saw Buffy starting college, with the same television season seeing the debut on the WB of a spin-off show.
Angel, which would eventually run for five seasons, saw the eponymous character setting up shop in Los Angeles, aided by Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) who had also left the parent series after three seasons, and providing possibly the most unusal and unlikely detective agency in the history of television. Darker than the original show, the series was no less afraid of convoluted story arcs, with the level of violence also stepped up.
In the UK, the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in an early-evening slot on BBC Two (in which it was frequently edited) prompted Channel 4 to bid for the spin-off. Unsurprisingly, they immediately got into trouble with the fans for some extremely heavy-handed editing in an attempt to fit the grittier Angel into a similar timeslot, and also with the television regulators for not editing some episodes enough. They finally dropped one episode completely before giving it up as a bad job, with the series eventually re-appearing in a late-night lot. Channel 5 later picked up the series for transmission in a similar late-night slot, but low ratings mean that Season 5 has never been seen in the UK other than on cable and satellite channels.
Back on the parent series, Buffy was getting involved with Riley (Marc Blucas), Willow broke up with werewolf Oz before coming out and pairing up with Tara (Amber Benson). Of note during Season 4 was the episode The Hush which contained minimal dialogue for much of the episode.
Season 5 was to see changes for the show, and in the opening episode Buffy got a chance to go up against the daddy of all vampires, with the appearance of Dracula. The same episode also saw the introduction of Michelle Trachtenberg as Buffy's sister Dawn (actually an energy being known as the Key — not that even she was initially aware of the fact). Season also dealt with the unexpected death of Joyce Summers (Buffy and Dawn's mother), in the acclaimed episode The Body, and, in the final episode of the season (the 100th in total) the death of Buffy herself as she finally confronted Glory.
That wasn't the end for the series, however, although Season 6 did see saw Buffy the Vampire Slayer moving to a new home, with the series being picked up (or more accurately poached) by UPN. Angel remained on the WB where it would continue until its conclusion in May 2004.
Unsurprisingly, Buffy wasn't to stay dead for long, being swiftly resurrected in the opening two-parter. Willow's use of magic was to play an increasing, and ever more dangerous part throughout the season, culminating in the final episodes of the season where she literally ends up skinning one of the bad guys alive after Tara had been shot dead. Needless to say, much editing was carried out before it was shown in the UK...
Also of note during the season was the musical episode Once More, With Feeling (released in script form by Simon Pulse in 2002), which was to be Joss Whedon's only contribution to the season.
Season 7 continued in a similar vein, with Buffy getting a job at the newly re-opened Sunnydale High as the school counselor, with a new group of trainee slayers helping out against The First, The season, and indeed the series as a whole, concluded with the now abandoned Sunnydale finally falling into Hellmouth.
Over on the WB, Angel was now starting its fifth and final season, and the initial set-up of the show, like the parent series, had now changed somewhat. Season 1 had seen Angel Investigations being involved in various demonic cases, in the usual standalone story format, with the shady law firm of Wolfram & Hart often being involved in some way. Series regular Doyle was killed off in the ninth episode, Hero, with Cordelia gaining his visionary powers. Season 1 also saw the arrival in L.A. of Wesley Wyndham-Price (Alexis Denisof) — formerly of the Watcher's council and last seen in Sunnydale at the conclusion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4, and Charles Gunn (J August Richards) as the leader of a group of vampire hunters
Unsurprisingly, as the series progressed the show began to draw more strongly on elements from the past, with various crossovers with Buffy and the re-appearance of Darla as well as the introduction of Buffy regular Spike (James Marsters) into the mix for Season 5. By this point the series was well established in its own right (in the UK it even outperformed Buffy on Sky One) and it therefore came as a major surprise to many when it was announced that the series would end at the conclusion of Season 5.
Despite endless speculation about a proposed cartoon spin-off set during the early years of the series, a spin-off series starring Giles in the UK called Ripper, a live-action spin-off starring Dawn and even an occasional series of TV movies set after Season 7, nothing new has emerged from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe (merchandising aside) since the cancellation of Angel in 2004. But if there's one series from the most recent crop of US telefantasy that's got a chance re-emerging in fifteen years' time for a new generation of viewers, it'd be hard to pick a more likely candidate than the one about the teenage girl wielding a wooden stake and slaying vampires.