Undead TV: Essays on Buffy the Vampire Slayer


When the final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired in 2003, fans mourned the death of the hit television series. Yet the show has lived on through syndication, global distribution, DVD release, and merchandising, as well as in the memories of its devoted viewers. Buffy stands out from much entertainment television by offering sharp, provocative commentaries on gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and youth. Yet it has also been central to changing trends in television production and reception. As a flagship ...
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When the final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired in 2003, fans mourned the death of the hit television series. Yet the show has lived on through syndication, global distribution, DVD release, and merchandising, as well as in the memories of its devoted viewers. Buffy stands out from much entertainment television by offering sharp, provocative commentaries on gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and youth. Yet it has also been central to changing trends in television production and reception. As a flagship show for two U.S: "net-lets"-the WB and UPN-Buffy helped usher in the "post-network" era, and as the inspiration for an active fan base, it helped drive the proliferation of Web-based fan engagement.

In Undead TV, media studies scholars tackle the Buffy phenomenon and its many afterlives in popular culture, the television industry, the Internet, and academic criticism. Contributors engage with critical issues such as stardom, gender identity, spectatorship, fandom, and intertextuality. Collectively, they reveal how a vampire television series set in a sunny California suburb managed to provide some of the most biting social commentaries on the air while exposing the darker side of American life. By offering detailed engagements with Sarah Michelle Gellar's celebrity image, science-fiction fanzines, international and "youth" audiences, Buffy tie-in books, and Angel's body, Undead TV shows how this prime-time drama became a prominent marker of industrial, social, and cultural change.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Aiming its Mr. Pointy at preconceived ideas about the show, this collection tackles Buffy from cultural, economic, and aesthetic angles. Cancellation has clearly done nothing to blunt the show’s cutting edge. Read it along with Joss Whedon’s new eighth-season comic book and you’ll agree: Buffy is dead—long live Buffy!”—Heather Hendershot, author of Saturday Morning Censors: Television Regulation before the V-Chip

“Keenly attentive to gender, age, race, and institutional politics, the essays in this collection reverberate with the clarity, cogency, and force of high-quality television studies scholarship. Undead TV is indispensable reading not only for those interested in one of the most important American television series but also for anyone who wants to be informed about the current practices, investments, and prospects of television and other associated media.”—Diane Negra, coeditor of Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822340652
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 11/28/2007
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Elana Levine is Assistant Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She is the author of Wallowing in Sex: The New Sexual Culture of 1970s American Television, also published by Duke University Press.

Lisa Parks is Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the author of Cultures in Orbit: Satellites and the Televisual, also published by Duke University Press.

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Read an Excerpt


Essay on Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2007 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4065-2

Chapter One

Mary Celeste Kearney


For over a decade, the press has repeated ad nauseam the U.S. Census Bureau's projections that the teenage population will peak at close to 34 million by 2010. Not surprisingly, journalists who cite these figures often draw attention to the large amount of money teen consumers spend each year, estimated at $153 billion for 1999. In turn, these phenomenal demographic and economic statistics have been used to explain the rampant juvenilization of American popular culture, particularly the increased proliferation of teenpics, such as Scream, teen magazines, such as Cosmo Girl, and teeny-bop musicians, such as NSync.

More specific to the world of television, numerous trade articles have appeared in recent years bearing titles such as "Smells Like Teen Demos," "Fountains of Youth," and "Media Taps into Zit-Geist" and connecting the teen population boom and teenagers' buying power with the greater number of teens depicted on TV. Trade hype about teen-centered series was the most prolific from 1998 to 1999, largely due to the popularity of the WB's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson's Creek, and the resulting deluge of copycat series on both that and other networks. Virtually all press reports about this latest crop of "teen shows" reveal some rendition of the logic exhibited by James Poniewozik, a reporter for Time: "The business motive behind these shows ... is simple enough: ... the large (about 31 million), fickle 12-to-19-year-old demographic draws ad money."

Several crucial points remain obscured in such reasoning, however. Most significantly, teenagers watch less TV than any other age-based demographic. In fact, despite the large number of contemporary series featuring teens, the fifty-year tradition of teenagers' minimal TV consumption has continued. While adults over eighteen currently average almost 10 hours of television viewing per week, teenagers watch only about 6 1/2 hours. Moreover, many reports show that today's teens are seeking out television entertainment less than ever before due to their involvement in other leisure activities, particularly surfing the web. With so few teenagers watching TV, the teen audience has been spread extremely thin among the numerous programs that vie for its attention, so thin that none of the contemporary teen-centered series would make it on the air, and stay there, if they relied solely on teenage viewers.

Unlike many journalists covering television programming, TV executives recognize that appealing to the teen demographic alone is a risky proposition. As Sandy Grushow, the chair of Fox Television Entertainment Group, argues, "I ... don't believe that targeting teens in and of itself is a sustainable business." Jamie Kellner, the former Ceo of the WB network, agrees: "You don't get as many dollars for teen viewers as adults 18-34." As Kellner suggests, advertisers are similarly tentative about putting all of their eggs in the teen basket, and many have been rethinking their marketing strategies for this particular demographic due to teens' continued deprivileging of TV viewing and their increased interest in other media forms. For example, Frank Castiglione, the vice president of marketing for Mervyn's California, reports, "We're absolutely shifting media.... Traditional TV ... [is] not the way to go."

In order for teen shows to be viable, therefore, other age groups besides teenagers must watch them. Who, then, are the viewers who make up the teen show audience? To understand the construction of this audience more fully we must first move beyond the problematic assumption that media texts featuring characters of a particular age are consumed primarily by viewers of that same age, an assumption relied upon not only by most journalists, but also by scholars studying teen-centered TV series. Although several media theorists have explored how spectatorial identifications cross the boundaries of sex, race, and sexuality, little attention has been paid to how viewers' televisual identifications may blur boundaries associated with age. Nevertheless, the widespread popularity of contemporary teen-centered series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer suggests the prevalence of transgenerational identifications among many TV viewers.

Explorations of cross-generational forms of cultural identification necessitate thinking outside the age-specific frameworks of identity, taste, and desire upon which we have depended for far too long. The work of Philippe Ariès and Joseph Kett is useful in this regard, for these theorists demonstrate that although generation and life-stage status typically are linked to chronological age, such modes of identity are also, and perhaps primarily, socially constructed and thus have no essential, fixed meanings. In other words, "childhood," "adolescence," and "adulthood" are empty terms that have been associated with different meanings at different times according to different social, political, and economic needs. As a result, the experiences, practices, and identities associated with these various stages of life are contingent, unstable, and mutable.

This chapter explores the shifting dynamics of aged-based consumer sensibilities and their relation to contemporary marketing and TV programming strategies in a post-network era. More specifically, I argue that in response to the audience fragmentation that resulted from changes within the television industry, the young WB network (founded in 1994) targeted a multi-aged market whose members shared a "youthful" sensibility. In order to capture this group for advertisers and merchandisers, the WB programmed a variety of teen-centered series whose appeals to youthfulness were collectively embraced by this multigenerational audience. Aired by the WB during its first five seasons and able to garner the broad multigenerational audience the new network needed to stay afloat during its infancy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer offers a somewhat unique opportunity to explore the WB's early programming strategies and to reexamine the teen show audience.


Given the profit-driven, consumer-oriented economy of the United States, American television networks ultimately desire to attract the largest audience possible for each of their shows in order to reach a significant mass of consumers for the advertisers to which the networks are beholden. The networks' traditional strategy for garnering a mass audience during prime time has been producing and programming series that appeal to family members with a shared viewing experience. Yet, with the increased penetration of cable and satellite delivery systems and the rise of new networks since the 1980s, the family audience has become too fragmented to sustain conventional broadcasting strategies. Instead, television programmers have turned to narrowcasting to appeal to smaller segments of the population categorized by demographic traits, such as sex and race. As John T. Caldwell notes, however, narrowcasting is a strategy dependent not just on smaller demographic segments, but also on the buying power of viewers within those groups: "Broadcasters began to value smaller audiences if the income-earning potential and purchasing power of those audiences were high enough to offset their limited numbers." Though extremely popular in the 1980s and early 1990s, narrowcasting ultimately was not the best answer to the problem posed by the fragmented TV audience. As Caldwell argues, "Audience growth was limited by narrowcast boundaries, which meant that advertisers and programmers had to find better ways to build distinctive audiences." One of those strategies has been the creation of what Jim Collins calls a "coalition audience," whereby TV programmers develop series with "interlocking appeals" that are attractive to several different demographic segments. The building of coalition audiences does not require doing away with narrowcasting strategies, but rather reconfiguring such an approach to produce the results generated by broadcasting. For example, instead of scrapping the traditional broadcasting goal of reaching a mass audience, the WB attempted to create a large coalition audience out of several smaller population segments, such as pre-teens and young adults. At the same time, the WB created this coalition by narrowcasting not to individuals who share demographic traits, but to those with a similar cultural sensibility: youthfulness.

A highly unusual development in American broadcasting, the WB's construction of a youthful coalition audience is not new when it is considered within the broader context of the global TV market. For example, in an article about British television in the 1980s, Simon Frith notes that programmers of that period tried

to devise a form of youth programming that could float quite free of any structural base. In this model "youth" became a category constructed by TV itself, with no other referent: those people of whatever age or circumstance who watched "youth" programmes became youth...." "Youth," in this account, no longer described a particular type of viewer, who is attracted to a particular type of programme but, rather, describes an attitude, a particular type of viewing behavior.

Though Frith does not relate this programming approach to advertising, it is important to note that because marketers attempt to ingrain an attitude of youthfulness in consumers of all ages in order to promote indiscriminate and frequent shopping, any network deciding to nurture a youthful viewing behavior among its various audience members is already more than halfway home. In other words, since consumers are encouraged to adopt a youthful sensibility in their commercial cultural practices, the TV industry can be somewhat assured that even viewers who are not chronologically young will gravitate toward programs that encourage a youthful viewing behavior.


The advertising and media industries, however, are not solely responsible for the youthful identity and tastes shared today by individuals of different ages. One of the primary reasons for this common youthful sensibility is that the life stage of adolescence has been extended well beyond the teenage years that had been its defining feature for over half of a century. Indeed, adolescence now extends into both childhood and adulthood, thus blurring the boundaries traditionally associated with these stages of life. It is useful, therefore, to relate the extension of adolescence to the youthful attitude that marketers and media industries nurture in all consumers, for an exploration of this relationship helps to answer the question of why individuals chronologically categorized as children or as adults can be drawn to the same cultural texts, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The extension of adolescence backward into childhood can be explained by a variety of social and physiological transformations over the last century. For instance, because of declines in infectious diseases, improvements in nutrition, and advancements in preventative healthcare, today's children mature physically at younger ages than those of previous generations, and therefore youth are entering pubescence-a traditional rite of passage into adolescence-earlier than ever before. In addition, there is much evidence to suggest that with the increasing number of divorces, single-parent families, and mothers who work outside the home, children are now forced to mature as social beings extremely early in life, often taking on household chores traditionally performed by parents. A life stage called the "tweens" (typically ages nine to fifteen) has re-emerged in popular discourse, a phenomenon attributable both to an effort to offset adult fears about young people's early maturation and to attempts to cater to increasingly smaller segments of the youth consumer market.

With reports from the late 1980s onward predicting that the number of tweens will soon become a 34-million-strong horde of teenagers, advertisers are extremely interested in attracting and grooming this demographic. In addition to the vast numbers of these soon-to-be-teens, the collective amount of tweens' disposable income makes them quite appealing as consumers-in-training. In fact, youth income and thus buying power have risen substantially since the early 1990s as a result of an increase in two-income households and a (once) thriving economy. Moreover, since parents today tend to work longer hours and thus have less time for household chores, they often leave their children responsible for family shopping. Thus, contemporary youth spend a larger portion of their parents' money and influence family purchases to a greater degree than in previous generations. For example, it has been estimated that teenagers accounted for $48 billion of family consumption in 1999. This phenomenon makes tweens a particularly lucrative market worth nurturing.

A primary strategy used by advertisers and merchandisers to attract tweens is appealing to their aspirations to grow up. As Peter Zollo, the president of Teenage Research Unlimited, reports, tweens have far greater age aspiration than do older teenagers. For instance, twelve- and thirteen-year-olds typically desire to be as much as five years older than they are, whereas eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds are fairly content with their current ages. The aspirational desires of tweens directly affects their choice of cultural texts. Since tweens often fail to identify with the images and narratives of childhood targeted to younger children via popular culture, they are likely to seek out teen-oriented texts that help them feel more mature and "cool." As Nancy Dennis, the founder of Chickaboom girls' clothing, notes, "There's a real sophistication going on with this generation.... My daughter moved from Disney to Buffy the Vampire Slayer by age 7."

This aspirational form of consumerism-popularly known as "reading up"-has been exploited rather well by merchandisers and advertisers who, since World War II, have used older teenagers as the primary role models for children. As Zollo notes, "Teens are important because they are trendsetters. ... Younger children, being aspirational, look up to teens...." Evidence of the teen-as-role-model strategy can be seen in the magazine publication industry, which has used this approach to expand its readership. For instance, Alex Mironovich, the former publisher of YM, has argued, "Our philosophy is if we can get the 19-year-old we're pretty sure we'll get the 13- or 14-year-old as well because she's going to want to read up and find out what's going on. ... If you get the older girls, you can get the young girls to read up." Given the success of other media industries' reliance on tweens' aspirational consumerism, TV networks have programmed teen-centered series, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in order to attract younger viewers and thus increase revenue from advertisers.


Excerpted from UNDEAD TV Copyright © 2007 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     vii
Introduction   Elana Levine   Lisa Parks     1
The Changing Face of Teen Television, or Why We All Love Buffy   Mary Celeste Kearney     17
I Know What You Did Last Summer: Sarah Michelle Gellar and Crossover Teen Stardom   Susan Murray     42
Vampire Hunters: The Scheduling and Reception of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel in the United Kingdom   Annette Hill   Ian Calcutt     56
The Epistemological Stakes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Television Criticism and Marketing Demands   Amelie Hastie     74
"Did Anyone Ever Explain to You What 'Secret Identity' Means?" Race and Displacement in Buffy and Dark Angel   Cynthia Fuchs     96
At Stake: Angel's Body, Fantasy Masculinity, and Queer Desire in Teen Television   Allison McCracken     116
Buffy as Femme Fatale: The Cult Heroine and the Male Spectator   Jason Middleton     145
Buffy and the "New Girl Order": Defining Feminism and Femininity   Elana Levine     168
Bibliography     191
Contributors     197
Index     199
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2012

    The most awesome book ever made

    Buffy the vampier slyer is the most awesome book ever made in the world it is so awesome...

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