This half-hour pilot, used to sell Buffy to network television, features a less-blonde Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, Anthony Stewart Head as Giles, Nicholas Brendon as Xander Harris, and Riff Regan as a mousier, chubbier Willow Rosenberg (Somehow, it seems cruel to name a heavy girl "Willow”). The action takes place at Berryman High; we aren't given the name of the town. This represents the first attempt by creator Joss Whedon to re-vamp the somewhat successful “Buffy” movie into a television show.
The production values are low. Whedon financed the pilot himself, and shot much of it on existing locations. The opening scene is effectively creepy, as the camera pans over a sinister clown knick-knack and through the school. A student and a young woman enter, as they will in the actual pilot episode; a fatal surprise awaits one of them.
The storyline generally follows "Welcome to the Hellmouth" and "The Harvest," but we see neither Buffy’s mother nor future beau, Angel, and we have no evil Master or yawning Hellmouth to account for the town’s statistically significant number of supernatural evil-doers. Xander gets an amusing speech about the various school cliques, which is not repeated in the series premiere.
The very different set provides an interesting first look at the young Vampire Slayer’s superpowers. Giles walks down the library’s elaborate spiral staircase; the Slayer eschews the steps, preferring to do a casual backflip over the railing and drop to the first floor. When she later uses her power against a vampire, the creature turns to dust in a very unconvincing series of dissolves.
Aside from the limited production values, Willow represents the biggest difference between this piece and the actual series premiere. The original pilot Willow is an insecure girl who provides Buffy with someone to rescue. She stands up for herself at the end, but she does not possess the official Willow's helpful computer skills. Granted, her character might have been developed further had she kept the role, but she frankly lacks the chemistry that Alyson Hannigan immediately establishes with the others. She is, however, more convincing as a high-school geek girl. Regan ultimately would appear in the series as an extra.
Although it has not been sold legally, the unaired pilot can be found easily online and at SF, fantasy, and horror conventions. It’s certainly no masterpiece, but one sees the template of the show that would succeed on the airwaves.