June 23, 1964 -
Joss Whedon is a popular American writer best known for his work in television, particularly the critically beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Whedon's hallmarks include ensemble casts of outsiders, witty, culturally-aware dialogue, strong, empowered female characters, a tendency to toy with audience expectations, and significant long-term character development.
After attending high school at all-male boarding school Winchester College in England, which he recalls as a very positive formative experience, Whedon attended Wesleyan, which has one of the best film programs outside of LA or NYC, majoring in film and minoring in gender studies.
Television writing ran in Whedon's family - his father, Tom Whedon, wrote for shows like Benson and The Golden Girls, and his grandfather, John Whedon, was a scribe for Leave it to Beaver and The Dick Van Dyke Show, among others. Whedon originally resisted this destiny, disillusioned by the experience of his father, who Joss thought was not allowed to reach his full potential, earning a living by producing formulaic work while his best scripts languished unfilmed in a drawer at home. Joss planned to write, yes, but for independent films.
His friends thought they knew better, however, and teased him with taunts of "3G TV" - third generation television. In the end, they were right. Upon graduating college Joss realized that it's not very easy to make a living writing art movies, and after discussing things with his father reconsidered television. In 1988 he joined the writing staff of the new sitcom Roseanne. At first he was mostly overlooked amidst all the chaos, as the show became known even outside the industry for its vicious backstage politics. Eventually he found a champion in John Goodman, however, and after surviving a writers' purge crafted an astounding six scripts for the second season.
After he, too, jumped ship from Roseanne, Whedon found a place on the staff of Parenthood, an hour-long dramedy based on the popular 1989 movie. The series didn't make it to a second season, however, and Joss turned back to writing for movies. He first earned a cinematic writing credit with 1992's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a fun little action/comedy about a valley girl who discovers she is fated to battle the undead. Echoing that eternal screenwriter's lament, however, Joss felt director Fran Kuzui and actors butchered the project and that the final product fell far short of its potential.
In this period Whedon earned a reputation as a skillful script doctor - a screenwriter who rewrites and (ideally) improves existing screenplays. He worked in this capacity on several high-profile films, including Speed, Toy Story, and Alien: Resurrection, the latter two of which he was awarded joint credit for. His major breakthrough, however, would see him working in television again.
In 1997, a Buffy television series adaptation was commissioned as a midseason replacement for the new WB network. Whedon jumped at the opportunity to revisit the project and do it right, and signed on as showrunner. The series was a breakaway success with critics and audiences alike, and served as a critical element of the WB's drive to establish itself with teen audiences. The show ran for seven seasons, surviving abandonment by the WB (the show moved to rival upstart network UPN) and spinning off another popular Whedon-run series (Angel) before the title character's actress Sarah Michelle Gellar decided not to continue, effectively killing the show.
Whedon's next show was 2002's Firefly, an hourlong "space western" adventure on the FOX network. Though the show drew critical praise, it succumbed to network politics, cancelled after only a few (seemingly arbitrarily reordered) episodes. The show was a runaway success when released on DVD, however, spurred by a loyal fan base and critical support, and this success led to a Firefly movie, "Serenity", written and directed by Whedon and featuring the original cast, which was released in September 2005. The cast are apparently on three-picture contracts, so if Serenity proves successful, we can expect sequels to follow.
After Firefly, Whedon pledged that he was done with television. Given that he's broken a no-TV pledge before, one questions how seriously we should take this, but fans should not fear, as Whedon's tremendous popularity has made him a very hot Hollywood property. In addition to Serenity and its possible sequels, Whedon is known to be on board as writer and director of a Wonder Woman movie expected out in 2006, and can almost certainly expect to have his choice of projects afterwards. Those fans of his serial work will be pleased to know that Whedon has not sworn off comics. Indeed, in addition to writing comics based on his existing properties, Whedon now helms his own X-Men series, Astonishing X-Men, which has consistently been Marvel's top-selling title.