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May 02, 2003
OPINION
Filtering
by Daniel Erenberg

Joss WhedonOver the course of seven years, Joss Whedon (pictured left) has had the undeniably hard task of compiling a writing staff that both he and the fans are happy with and has done a superlative job of it. He's filtered out the unworthies and he's brought in new blood. He's updated the roster while still maintaining the old reliables.

The task I have set forth for myself here is to examine the writing situation season by season.

Season One - Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Rob Des Hotel, Dean Batali, Matt Kiene, Joe Reinkemeyer, Ashley Gable, Tom Swyden.

The writing staff in the first season was somewhat muddled. There were a few shining stars, but the situation wasn't great. This was mostly due to the fact that it was the first season. Joss Whedon didn't have time to see the product before he compiled his staff. He only got to see spec scripts and the like.

It is clear that the best episodes of season one ("Welcome To The Hellmouth", "The Harvest", "Prophecy Girl") and the ones that most resemble the glory of later seasons, are the episodes written by Joss, the creator. At this point, he had the only truly firm handle on what the characters were supposed to be.

The one other shooting star in season one was David Greenwalt who, in "Teacher's Pet" and "Angel" really knew what the character of Angel was supposed to be.

Season Two - Joss Whedon, Ty King, David Greenwalt, Matt Kiene, Joe Reinkemeyer, Rob Des Hotel, Dean Batali, Marti Noxon, David Fury.
Major Additions - Marti Noxon, David Fury, Ty King.
Major Subtractions - Ashley Gable, Tom Swyden.

Season two was when a good show became a great one. This is largely due to the fact that Joss made three wonderful additions to the writing staff. Two of these additions (Noxon, Fury) are still major entities on the staff here in season seven.

Marti NoxonMarti Noxon (right) came in and wrote loads of episodes, many of them instant classics like "Surprise", "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered", and "I Only Have Eyes For You". She would later go on to become Joss's second-in-command.

David Fury came in as a freelancer at the end of the year writing the very funny "Go Fish". He remains wonderful as well. Ty King came in and wrote "Passion" and, for this, we should be forever grateful.

Meanwhile, Joss Whedon put out his biggest and best output to date. Every episode he wrote and directed in season two was a work of utter genius.

The only real subtractions from season one were Ashley Gable and Tom Swyden, the writing team that brought us "I Robot, You Jane". This decision wasn't a bad one.

Season Three - Joss Whedon, Marti Noxon, David Greenwalt, Jane Espenson, Douglas Petrie, Dan Vebber, David Fury.
Major Additions - Jane Espenson, Douglas Petrie, Dan Vebber.
Major Subtractions - Ty King, Matt Kiene, Joe Reinkemeyer, Rob Des Hotel, Dean Batali.

Season three is where the writing staff really began to take shape. Just as in season two with Noxon and Fury, two brilliant writers were added who remain on the show to the end: Jane Espenson and Douglas Petrie.

Magic Jane, as she's come to be called was, up until Buffy, a sitcom writer. Her sitcom sensibilities pop up in her earlier offerings like "Band Candy", but it didn't take her long to shine through as one of the best writers on the staff. At the end of season three, she wrote "Earshot", cementing her place as one of the greats.

Doug Petrie, the other major season three addition, truly knows the characters' voices and has the uncanny ability to write through them. Petrie has lasted and remained one of the best writers on the staff as well as one of the best directors.

Dan Vebber was another addition to the staff in season three. He came in and wrote two fantastic episodes, "Lover's Walk" and "The Zeppo" and was never heard from again after that.

Also, some dead weight was lifted in season three: the mediocre Kiene and Reinkemeyer and "Killed By Death's" Des Hotel and Batali.

Season Four - Joss Whedon, Marti Noxon, Jane Espenson, David Fury, Tracey Forbes, Douglas Petrie.
Major Addition - Tracey Forbes.
Major Subtractions - Dan Vebber, David Greenwalt.

Joss did a fantastic job in keeping the writing staff largely the same in season four. However, there were a couple of major changes.
David Greenwalt was shipped over to the new spin-off Angel, and his loss was felt.

The only addition to the writing staff in season four was Tracey Forbes, Joss's first and last mistake. Forbes came in and tried to lighten everything up a bit. The only problem with this was the fact that he wasn't very good at it. His first episode, "Beer Bad", was reviled by nearly every fan. It was so bad that Joss himself practically renounced it in a recent interview. Forbes's other two offerings weren't much better, and he was not back in season five.

Season Five - Joss Whedon, Marti Noxon, David Fury, Jane Espenson, Rebecca Rand Kirshner, Douglas Petrie, Stephen S. DeKnight.
Major Additions - Rebecca Rand Kirshner, Stephen S. DeKnight.
Major Subtraction - Tracey Forbes.

Season five was wonderful. Joss made few transactions in the writing department, but the changes he did make were extremely effective. He erased Tracey Forbes from the memories of viewers everywhere and replaced him with Rebecca Rand Kirshner and Stephen S. DeKnight.

DeKnight came in midway through the season and wrote a couple of fantastic episodes, "Blood Ties" and "Spiral". DeKnight would really come into his own two seasons later on Angel.

Rebecca Rand Kirshner was another fine addition to the staff, offering up a few heart-wrenching (and somewhat funny) episodes including "Out Of My Mind" and "Tough Love".

Season Six - Joss Whedon, Marti Noxon, David Fury, Jane Espenson, Douglas Petrie, Stephen S. DeKnight, Rebecca Rand Kirshner, Drew Z. Greenberg.
Major Additions - Marti Noxon (as executive producer), Drew Z. Greenberg.
Major Subtractions - NONE.

Go read "Oh Grow Up" for my opinions on season six.

The biggest change to the writing staff in season six was Joss making Marti Noxon co-executive producer, thereby making her the head writer of the staff. I tend to think that she did Joss proud in season six, writing her own share of good episodes ("Bargaining, Part One", "Villains") while also running the staff and leading the show to another successful season.

The other addition to the writing staff in season six was Drew Z. Greenberg whose episodes ("Smashed", "Older and Far Away") were both funny and darkly interesting.

An interesting and important fact about the writing staff in the sixth season is that every single writer that worked on even one episode of the prior season returned for this one.

Season Seven - Joss Whedon, Marti Noxon, David Fury, Douglas Petrie, Jane Espenson, Drew Goddard, Drew Z. Greenberg, Rebecca Rand Kirshner.
Major Addition - Drew Goddard.
Major Subtraction - Stephen S. DeKnight.

The writing staff of the seventh season is the best and most well-rounded writing staff that the show has ever had. There is no dead weight and Joss made the best decision of his life (other than resurrecting his low grossing, badly reviewed Luke Perry/Kristy Swanson movie as a television series) by adding Drew Goddard to the staff.

Drew Goddard came in and wrote epically brilliant episodes and quickly became the best (Joss besides) writer on the staff. He wrote "Selfless", "Conversations With Dead People", "Lies My Parents Told Me", "Dirty Girls", and "Never Leave Me", redefining the show for good.

Meanwhile, the other writers have been peaking. Jane Espenson (Behold the brilliance of "Storyteller") and David Fury are doing the best work of their careers, and Douglas Petrie and Marti Noxon aren't exactly slacking off.

Drew Z. Greenberg and Rebecca Rand Kirshner, the merely "good" writers, were kept on and each wrote one very good episode, Greenberg writing the funny "Him" and Kirshner writing a personal favorite of mine, "Help".

Stephen S. DeKnight left to join Angel and his doing by far the best work of his career, even doing a fine job directing a recent episode.

I'm one of these people that stare intently at the bottom of the screen to find out who has written and directed each week's episode. I have different reactions. When I see the name Joss Whedon, I have an orgasm. When I see Drew Goddard or Marti Noxon, I smile widely. When I see Fury, Espenson, or Petrie, I start to get higher hopes for a given episode. It was in past seasons, when I saw names like Tracey Forbes or Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali when my heart would start to sink a bit. In season seven, however, it has only risen higher.

Daniel Erenberg lives in a gothic-looking house in a suburb of Long Island shrouded by trees and darkness. His backyard is so overrun with shrubbery that he can't plant flowers in the soil. He's penned articles for numerous magazines (and a couple of websites for free). Currently, he's writing his first novel, entitled People That I've Long Since Forgotten. He's also written two plays, Little Room and Dystopia and a screenplay called Youth Or Consequence. He lives a fairly happy life alone and hankers constantly for the hour of eight P.M. to nine P.M. on Tuesday nights. You can contact Daniel on daniel@slayage.com.
Latest Comments


I disagree with Mr. Erenberg's assessment of the evolution of the "Buffy" writing team.

He notes that all writers that left the team were due to Joss Whedon's decision. Is this fact or did some leave of their own volition? Mr. Erenberg obviously did not research the case of Tracey Forbes since he did even get the gender right. Tracey is a woman (I have seen her picture).

Now if Season Seven had the best writing team, then shouldn't it have been the best season? I don't know anyone personally, nor have I seen anyone on the net that says season seven was the best of all. That vote has always gone to either season two or three. Season three is my pick.

I highly disagree with Mr. Erenberg on Drew Goddard. I did not like any episode that he wrote in season seven. Adding him to the team was the worst decision Joss ever made. I was very disappointed to discover that Goddard would be the newest addition to the otherwise flawless "Angel" writing team. Mr. Erenberg stated that "I smile widely" when he sees the name Drew Goddard at the bottom of the screen. When I see the name Drew Goddard on screen in the coming season of "Angel", my heart will fall like a rock.

Posted by: Rick on September 22, 2003 06:27 PM

I HATED the last episode of buffy! It was a complete let-down! There should be a continuance of the seventh season...or in otherwords there should be an 8th season!

Posted by: Lauren on July 25, 2003 05:02 PM

My Buffy writing dream team would be as follows:

Douglas Petrie, David Fury, Marti Noxon, Drew Goddard, and Steven S. Deknight

Posted by: Carrie on May 17, 2003 03:57 PM

I have to say this, I'M SICK OF PEOPLE'S NEGATIVE OPINION ON CALEB, as a villain he rules, period...

the whole point is that no one knew about him, would it have made anyone happier if we had seen him blowing up the council? NO, not necessary, takes the mystery out of him...

i'm as sick about that, as i am from people who still are in the I hate kennedy wagon, just like people were in the I hate tara wagon a couple years ago... can't you just relax and watch the freakin show??

Posted by: Diego Romero on May 13, 2003 01:13 AM

I live in England where Lies my Parents Told Me (episode 17) was just screened yesterday night.

Before that episode, I was sorely tempted to add a comment here, explaining why I was disappointed thus far with this season's BtVS.

It's worth mentioning that I love Dan Erenberg's articles. I usually agree with them. Even when I don't, I can dig where he's coming from. His support of season 6 forced me to review the season and re-watch some of the episodes that I had felt were slightly disappointing the first time around. I now have a new appreciation of what Joss was trying to say with last year's "Buffy."

However, this year, I felt that a lot of good episodes (Selfless, Conversations with Dead People) were being strung along between a lot of filler stuff, which had been written without the usual care or feeling that I have come to expect. Even fillers in earlier seasons kept us on our toes and went some way to sustaining the tension and mystery of the Buffyverse, as well as delve into our heroes' inner lives a little more.

So I was all ready to disagree with Dan E.'s assessment of Season 7's pack of writers in "Filtering" until I saw Lies My Parents Told Me.

Brilliant. Drew Goddard and David Fury were at the top of their game. They - and Joss - should be writing all the episodes.

I await - and dread - with bated breath for the final 5 episodes of my favourite show. And hope that the SIT's are written out totally - particularly Kennedy who's lack of chemistry with Willow and bullying, know-it-all attitude drive me up the wall.

Posted by: Cat on May 9, 2003 09:30 AM
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