Why do you think Buffy has such a wide audience?
With a teenage show it’s very easy to get this attitude of us versus them, and I was very anxious not to do that. I didn’t want this to be a show that alienated grown ups at all. I was raised by teachers, so when I went to school, I had a very different perspective on it than most of my fellow students. I definitely had teachers who were idiots, who were the enemy and all that stuff. But at the same time I went home every night and heard it from a teacher’s perspective. I also saw that my mother worked a hell of a lot harder than I did (laughs). All of my work is based on this idea – that everybody who makes any kind of effort is deserving of respect. Respect is the most important thing in my work and my life.
But despite its wide appeal, Buffy is still labelled a cult show.
A Cult is a tough word because it tends to ghettoise a show in the sense that it sounds exclusionary and it’s not. As Buffy would say, “the show was very includy”. It was designed to appeal to any person who might stumble across it. But I was trying to create something that would speak to people so specifically so that they would take it to their hearts in the way that you just don’t with a lawyer or doctor show. When you’re in genre, inevitably you’re in cult to an extent. Actually, most of the top 10 grossing movies of all time have been genre films, so there are a lot of people into ‘cult’ who wouldn’t admit it.
Buffy dealt with some very controversial themes such as sex, death and the occult. Was there a lot of protest?
What’s interesting is that there wasn’t. I expected more of a backlash because we went to some very dark, adult places. Some people said: “this is a bad show for families” but others said, “this is the best show for families”. Most people understood what we were trying to say and saw past the sensationalist aspects that we might have used to say it.
Like Willow coming out?
The most important thing for me was that they eventually had to kiss or it became offensively coy. They were lovers and we were showing Riley and Buffy hanging from the rafters with devices strapped to them – for the love of God, they could do anything. So I was like, “they’re gonna kiss.” I wanted it to be in The Body, because The Body is a very emotional episode and a very physical episode. I wanted it just to appear to the viewers as it should, as part of life, instead of a giant promotional stunt.
Did you set out to educate people about other people’s lives with the Willow story?
Oh my god! What? This is just a fantasy show. You mean gay people really exist? I didn’t realise it was true!
Did you set out to shock?
On Buffy we got away with stuff that was incredibly subversive, sexual, dark, strange and truthful. I’m not a guy who set out to shock, but neither am I guy who set out to bore. These things are important. There are two vital subjects, sex and death, and we dealt with both of them rather a lot.
Was there really no opposition to anything you did?
The network called me and said, “do we have to have this kiss?” and I said: “Let me put it this way, I’ll clean out my office.” I’ve said things like that before, but only once or twice. I don’t fight with the censors, I try to work with them. They have a job. They’re people. A lot of people are like, “oh, screw them. They’re the enemy.” But that’s not the way I work.
So Buffy was completely uncontroversial?
The only time the network got their knickers in a twist was when Buffy worked at the Double Meat Palace and we made fun of fast food. The advertisers were unhappy so we said sure. It wasn’t like we were trying to make a big statement about it. I just thought she looked funny in that hat.
You’ve blamed reality TV for killing quality drama like ANGEL. Why?
There is some good reality TV. It’s not like I don’t think the format can be exciting, interesting and different. But it’s cheap and doesn’t pay off in the long run – people lose jobs. Basically to me it’s a lot of competition, backstabbing and cheesiness. And it’s not he part of humanity I am interested in exploring. I see enough of that in life.
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