Buffy the Vampire Slayer's lasting success tells us that demographic targeting is a complex process that requires both fan participation and forms of merchandising that literally allow everything to be for sale.
Spanning across seven television seasons over the course of roughly six years, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of the key shows for the fledgling WB Network. It generated a fan following that has helped turn the series into a worldwide cultural landmark, while cementing creator Joss Whedon as one of the most acclaimed television writers in the industry. It's worth addressing why the series has been so successful, considering how varied its audience is in gender, race, and most importantly, age.
Originally, in order to capture the teen audience for advertisers and merchandisers, the WB programmed a variety of teen-centered series like Buffy, whose appeals to youthfulness were collectively embraced by a multigenerational audience. This origin is crucial, because the wide range of merchandise produced for the series, such as novels, comics, role-playing games, collectable card games, and others offered a lot of material for fans of the show to take part in.
Merchandising has long been an important part of marketing and generating fandom in a television series, and in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, merchandising is used to a great degree in order to harness a dedicated audience. The official canon of merchandise and texts approved by 20th Century Fox and creator Joss Whedon is known colloquially as the Buffyverse . While the Buffyverse originated with a disappointing 1992 film starring Kristy Swanson, it is the WB Network’s television series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar -- which ran from March 10, 1997 until May 20, 2003 -- that is the main center for the universe. A spinoff series titled Angel followed successfully, airing from October 5, 1999 to May 19, 2004. While thought to be a product of narrowcasting, a post-network method of targeting demographics, Buffy’s serial format and focus on teenagers allows for an exploration of identity as unfixed, providing for multigenerational identifications and appealing to many contemporary viewers of different ages.
Consequently, the fandom for the series reaches a variety of demographics, making it easy for growth in popularity to occur. Importantly, it also makes merchandising for the show more profitable as well, because a wider demographic means a broader range of products to sell to audiences. The original series itself is reproducible and far reaching, given its successful release on DVD, a technology which invites repeated viewings by devoted fans, as well as an easy introduction for new fans to become acquainted with the Buffyverse.
Other written works include numerous novels, which have been steadily published since 1998. These novels are unlike fan fiction in the sense that they are approved by 20th Century Fox, and thus count as official publications in the series. Official guidebooks have been released to provide viewers with a textual accompaniment to the series, offering great amounts of information for devoted fans. Even a Buffy the Vampire Slayer magazine was released in the United Kingdom, running for several years and including interviews with stars from the show. There have also been five video games in the series, which is notable because it is a visually interactive medium that involves fans playing as characters from the series. There is even a Buffy massively-multiplayer online game (MMO) currently in development that will most likely garner dedicated users, as MMOs tend to be very gripping, engaging fans with the chance to communicate together and play as their favorite characters.
The official trading card game allows for not only the act of collecting rare memorabilia, but also interacting with fellow fans in a game that involves multiple players. Role-playing games take fandom even further by being fully immersive and taking place in real world interactions between fans of the show. These fan practices occur at a high level of involvement and are suggestive of a devoted following that interacts with its text in ways that most cultural entities do not.
Sexual pairings of characters are also prevalent in the Buffyverse fan fiction. Erotic parodies created by fans or independent producers work to bring out the sexual undercurrents from the original series and channel it into a pornographic production. Two softcore pornographic films have been released based on the series, entitled Buffy the Vampire Layer (1996), and Muffy the Vampire Layer (1992). Though not a part of the official Buffyverse canon, and most likely not advertised (for obvious reasons), they do signify a cultural trend that extends even to the demographic of the pornography-viewer. An erotic fan-made web comic called The Erotic Adventures of Buffy and Evil Vampire Willow uses adult subject matter for its depiction of the Buffyverse as well, illustrating pictures of Buffy and Willow in the nude and in sexual situations. These productions suggest an extremely diverse audience, because although the show is seemingly intended for a teen audience, the broad scope of who really watches it is reflected in the nature of its production.
Fan films are crucial texts in a cultural product’s fandom, because they're a practice that requires time, devotion, and creativity that only certain fan communities are capable of producing. Within the Buffy fandom, there have been several fan films, aside from the undeterminable amounts of short clips on YouTube, that have gained notoriety for being impressively made or otherwise interesting. Fluffy the English Vampire Slayer is a fan-made short film from England written and directed by Henry Burrows. The film was completed on Burrows's home computer and sports impressive special effects. Australian fans Emma Paige Langley and Darren Hawkins released the 40-minute fan film Forgotten Memories in 2007. Although these fans do not get official licensing from 20th Century Fox to produce these films, Joss Whedon is known to be understanding of fan practices and allow for distribution of fan videos on YouTube and in other mediums. This comfort makes for little tension between the creator and the fandom, providing an environment that is welcoming to fan productions.
The fact that the original series puts so much emphasis on youth, while at the same time providing an encyclopedic and ongoing mythology, enables it to be consumed by one of the widest demographics imaginable. You'd be hard-pressed at this moment to form a stereotype of a Buffy fan, while the same cannot be surely said about the overly juvenile Twilight series that is currently at the peak of its capitalistic fervor, due to the strict and alienating targeting of its young female demographic. The reason Buffy triumphs over such generalizations is that Whedon created a series with such broad appeal that gender, race, and economic divisions did not prevent anyone from enjoying an intelligent, funny, and deeply engaging production. Whether this passion will continue for decades to come with new generations of Buffy fans remains to be seen, but so long as people keep investing in the series with their money and their minds, Whedon's vampire slayer will continue slaying all the Edwards in the world, while Bella Swan remains painfully aloof.