Chart Beat Podcast: 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' Star Anthony Head on the 15th Anniversary of the Show's Musical Episode
"Giles" looks back at the Joss Whedon-written and -directed "Once More, With Feeling" TV tour de force.
For the latest Chart Beat Podcast, we're staking out a spot in the Buffyverse.
On Nov. 6, 2001, the UPN network (forbearer, with The WB, of The CW) aired the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode "Once More, With Feeling." The TV Guide-sized synopsis, as fans will fondly recall: a demon is conjured to Sunnydale, sparking the cast to spontaneously break into song. Blending darkness and humor, two of Buffy's central elements, the tunes' lyrics cause the characters to involuntarily reveal fears and confessions, developments that would carry through that season (the sixth of the series' seven total).
Beyond an hour filled with catchy choruses, the episode – written, including its music, and directed by Buffy creator, and now A-list film director, Joss Whedon – sparked a trend, as Scrubs and Grey's Anatomy would subsequently stage musical episodes, while Glee would make the practice the basis of its run (during which its cast of rotating members set the record for the most hits on the Billboard Hot 100: 207).
"Once More, With Feeling" subsequently became a Billboard chart hit. A year after the episode aired, its soundtrack bowed at No. 3 on the Soundtracks chart and in the top 50 of the Billboard 200, turning Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and the Scooby Gang into chart slayers.
Upon the 15th anniversary of "Once More, With Feeling," series star Anthony Head – aka Giles – called in to the podcast to chat with host Gary Trust and share memories of the episode, which, he recalls, had been in the works even before the series premiered.
"I'd done Chess, Godspell and Rocky Horror before I joined Buffy, and, on the pilot, [Whedon], Sarah Michelle and I were waiting in the back of the library set and he said he had a huge fondness for musicals," Head recalls. "We said then, if the show ever gets picked up, wouldn't it be fun to do a musical episode? Pretty much every season, for three or four seasons, I said, 'Are we going to do the musical episode this year?!'"
Head says that Whedon wanted to wait until it felt "organic," and by the sixth season, after the cast's vocal chops had been discovered through singalongs at Whedon's house, and the show's storylines had deepened, the timing was right. Before the season, Head received a demo of songs from Whedon and, at last, he realized, "We've got a musical!
"It was just remarkable. Even in that home-demo stage … the melodies were so strong. It was a great, eclectic compilation of songs. From that moment on, I was like, 'What can I do? What can I do?!' "
Head also discusses the possibility of a Buffy reunion (beyond Whedon's series of comic books that have taken the show into offshoot directions) and his brother Murray Head, who hit No. 3 on the Hot 100 in 1985 with the new wave classic "One Night in Bangkok." (Head checked in ahead of his upcoming role on Shonda Rhimes' Still Star-Crossed, set to premiere on ABC in mid-season.)
Fifteen years after "Once More, With Feeling" (and 13 after the show's final episode), fans continue to tell the actor-singer what Buffy means to them, even fans that didn't watch the series during its original run. "I get kids coming up to me. [Buffy] keeps catching new generations," Head marvels. A key reason for its enduring appeal? "[Whedon] used humor to counterpoint the horror and the thrills. We now take that for granted as a way of storytelling, in TV and in film. He had a huge part in changing our perception of storytelling."
A sampling of previous episodes with host Gary Trust:
Suzanne Vega / iHeartMedia's Bobby Bones (hosted by Jim Asker) / How Daya Broke Through on New Label Artbeatz / Timothy B. Schmit / Chart Historian Joel Whitburn / Debbie Gibson / Hit Songs Deconstructed on The Chainsmokers & Meghan Trainor / Lionel Richie (hosted by Trevor Anderson)
Enjoy the entire latest Chart Beat Podcast and check back for more upcoming episodes with artists, label executives, radio programmers and personalities, songwriters, producers and more. And, to receive every episode automatically in your inbox, subscribe to (and rate) the Billboard Chart Beat Podcast on iTunes!