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As we’ve seen many times over the years, the same instincts that leads certain people into becoming successful performers doesn’t necessarily translate to the world of business. Disaster stories about the way celebrities and their families handled their money are prolific (in one case, it even led to a former child actor making porn). There are many notable exceptions, of course, and one of those is Dolly Parton. The successful singer and actress grew up very poor (she was the fourth of 12 children of a tobacco farmer; her classic hit “Coat of Many Colors” gives a strong description of what her life was like growing up) and she has always spoken about using the same approach her father had in managing his finances, which was basically, “Don’t trust anyone else with your money.” That’s not to say you don’t let other people work with your money, of course, as you have to have managers and the like, but Parton has always made a point to oversee how her money is being spent, and such an approach has served her well. One way that Parton spent her money was on a production company, and sure enough, that production company played a major role in the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Read on to see how!
In 1992, Joss Whedon’s creation, Buffy Summers, first saw life in a not-so-successful film titled Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui, who through her Kuzui Entertainment produced the film and owned significant rights to the character (she also made some notable changes to Whedon’s screenplay). The film was co-produced by Sandollar Entertainment, created and owned by Parton and her former longtime manager Sandy Gallin. In 1991, before the film came out, a new executive at Sandollar, Gail Berman, saw Whedon’s original screenplay and liked it; she thought it would make for a great television show. She asked about the story and discovered it was already being made into a film. Berman suggested that Sandollar get the TV rights to the story, as well, just in case. No one was particularly interested at the time (Sandollar did, though, eventually end up with the TV rights; I just don’t know when it got them).
As I noted before, the film did not do well in theaters. However, a few years later, in 1995, the film Clueless came out and was a big success. Berman, now the president and CEO of Sandollar Television, remembered Whedon’s original screenplay and thought that the surprising wit of Clueless (where the seemingly ditzy lead, Cher, is a lot savvier than she seems) had a lot in common with the Buffy Summers of Whedon’s original screenplay, so she figured it would be a good time to try to adapt the story into a television series. Originally, Berman was thinking of the series for syndication, similar to then-popular shows like Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess. Sandollar had to first contact Whedon, as his contract ensured him the right of first refusal if the show were to be adapted. It was seen as more of a courtesy than anything else, as everyone (including Whedon’s own agent) figured Whedon, who was working successfully in film at the time, wouldn’t be interested in doing a TV series. Surprisingly, Whedon was very interested, especially when Berman explained how much she loved his original screenplay.
The series debuted on The WB in early 1997 and the rest, as they say, is history.
In the opening credits of the series, only Sandy Gallin and Gail Berman are listed as producers, but they’re there as representatives of Sandollar Television. At the end of the show, after Whedon’s Mutant Enemy Productions gets a title card, there is one for Sandollar Television. So while Parton clearly was not directly involved in the show, her production company was. Is that enough to consider her a producer? I think so, so I am going with the legend as…
Thanks to my pal Wayne for suggesting this one to me!
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