Staking A Claim
By Bruce R. Miller

Buffy' changes to meet TV demands

LOS ANGELES - Vampires were just the beginning.

When "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" begins its stint this week as a television series, the high schooler with a stake in her hand will have to fend off robots, giant insects, demons, "whatever we can come up with," says series creator Joss Whedon.

The goal is to make the new WB series a teen "X-Files."

"It's a show we think will appeal to the "Goosebumps' audience at the same time it captures the "X-Files' viewers," says Susanne Daniels, head of prime-time series programming for The WB.

The secret, she says, lies in Buffy's scope. In the series, "she is the Chosen One - chosen to fight all the forces of evil she comes upon."

To make the high school a real cesspool of trouble, the town lies on a mystical port hole called "hell mouth." The Master, a head vampire, lives in a church underground, waiting to get Buffy.

Trouble lurks everywhere, which means typical teen fare won't get screen time.

"We are not going to get terribly issue-oriented," says Whedon. "We will deal with teen subjects, because that is where all the interesting stories come from. The horror and the stories have to come from the characters, their relationships and their fears. Otherwise it won't really be interesting."

In the first episode, a mother pushes her daughter into cheerleading tryouts. When the girl doesn't win, cheerleaders start dropping at an alarming rate.

Witchcraft is at hand, but Buffy doesn't figure it out until her number comes up.

Another "Carrie"? Hardly, the creators say. There's comedy in the series but there won't be as many laughs as there were in the film.

Here, Whedon says, "we've broadened (the premise) with different monsters, different problems, new characters and stuff. There's an idea in the "high school horror show' that could sustain an entire television show that goes for years."

Horror stories, Whedon says, are important to audiences. People "need the big bad wolf. They need something to project their fears onto. There hasn't been that on television for a long time."

Human relationships that are twisted and scary are the most disturbing, he says. "When it's somebody's parent or somebody's friend who's turning into something horrible, it brings up issues that are real."

Mean teens - a recurring Buffy theme - will give the main characters a chance to triumph.

In addition to Buffy (played by "All My Children" star Sarah Michelle Gellar), the crowd includes Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon), Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) and the conniving Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter). A wise adult (Rupert Giles, as played by Anthony Stewart Head) serves as their adviser.

Whedon, who also wrote "Toy Story," opens the door on a series of teen-age fears.

"What Joss has done with the show is take something very real, like sexual tension, and fulfill it by having a guy trapped in a basement with a giant bug who's going to eat him," says co-executive producer David Greenwalt.

High school, Gellar adds, "scares everyone - no matter how popular you are. And we touch on that a lot. I think people will relate to the fact that high school is hard and scary. What's wonderful is that all of us are going through it differently and we cover all aspects."

Says Whedon, "There's never a time when life is more like a TV show. Everything is so turgid when you're in high school. Everything is so powerful, so dramatic."

Wooden stakes and potions aside, Whedon and company think it's fraught with excitement.

"It's not what you expect," the Emmy-winning Gellar says. "It's not your typical show." "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" airs at 7 p.m. Monday on The WB network.

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