AKA Joseph Hill Whedon
Birthplace: New York City
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Film/TV Producer
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Creator of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly
In childhood Joseph "Joss" Whedon was fascinated by comic books, and perhaps to instill more dignified values in the boy, he was sent to a prestigious British all-boys boarding school. When he returned to America, he attended Wesleyan University, then worked in a video store, before joining the family's de facto business -- writing for television, as his father and grandfather had done. Whedon has produced several TV shows, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, that were seen by relatively few viewers (by TV standards) but madly loved by fans. His work usually features believable characters in bizarre situations trading snappy dialogue, loaded with rapid-fire references to pop culture and clever, winking nods at genre icons.
Whedon began his career writing unsolicited scripts, and at the age of 25, he sold one to the producers at Roseanne. Amidst that sitcom's early turmoil as Roseanne Barr fired the show's executive producer and took command herself, Whedon was hired as story editor. He wrote several poignant episodes, including stories about Darlene's poetry, Roseanne's teenaged boss, Becky breaking into the liquor cabinet, and the first visit from Dan's motorcycle-riding buddy. From Barr's backstage tirades, Whedon says he learned how not to manage people. He left Roseanne as soon as he sold his first screenplay, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
On the big screen, though, Buffy was filmed as a typical teen comedy, and it turned out typical indeed. Kristy Swanson was an amiable if airheaded Buffy who seemed unsure who her character was supposed to be, and Donald Sutherland played Buffy's watcher, but made it clear backstage that he felt he was the movie's star. The film had its moments but it was lukewarmly received, and compared to TV's BtVS it seems to have, well, no blood.
Over the next several years, Whedon worked on TV's Parenthood and became a "script doctor," fixing other writers' screenplays, usually with an infusion of humor. He had a credited hand in Toy Story, Titan AE, and Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and did uncredited (but well-paid) work on Speed, The X-Men, Twister, and Waterworld. He wrote Alien: Resurrection starring Sigourney Weaver and Winona Ryder, the fourth Alien movie, which was a vast improvement from the cheap, cheesy Alien 3, and almost as scary as Alien or Aliens.
With his rising reputation, Whedon took a meeting at the fledging WB network, where he proposed giving Buffy another try, but this time with the camp and valley girl elements toned down and the vampires and assorted evil entities treated more seriously. Given a relatively free hand at the low-profile network, Whedon made BtVS into a subtle allegory for the demons most kids face growing up. Sarah Michelle Gellar gave some character to the character, with Alyson Hannigan as her bewitching sidekick Willow, Nicholas Brendon as the wisecracking platonic pal Xander, and Anthony Head as Buffy's watcher, sent to guide her in the ways of vampire slaying. Audiences were chilled and charmed, though even Buffy's highest-rated season would have warranted quick cancellation on any of the major TV networks.
In the cast of Buffy, David Boreanaz played the brooding vampire Angel, who had a soul and fought with the good guys but occasionally slipped into bloodthirsty old habits. The character was at first mysterious, emerging from the shadows unexpected and unexplained with just a few lines each week. Eventually he became Buffy's first love and BtVS's breakout character, and he was spun off to his own series, Angel, where he kept Los Angeles nominally safe from its ever-present vampires, evil spirits, werewolves, and monsters. In the Angel episode "Through The Looking Glass", Whedon himself played Numfar of the Deathwok clan. With a lounge-singing demon and an absent-minded but clairvoyant office girl, the series was almost as well-conceived and executed as Buffy, with perhaps even more ambitious narrative arcs. And unlike Buffy, which was drained and depressing by its last year, the Angel series underwent near-constant change, and was at its strongest critically and dramatically at its end.
Producing these series, Whedon involved himself as writer or director for only a handful of episodes every year, but he proved himself an able supervisor, nurturing a staff of writers who understood the characters. He wrote and directed some of each series' best episodes, including Buffy's "Hush" (the near-silent episode), "Once More, With Feeling" (the singing-and-dancing episode), and "Becoming" (the emotionally ravaging two-parter in the series' second season). Story arcs often played out over entire years, and while the shows had their uninteresting stretches, overall the quality was high for television. After seven years, Buffy ended in 2003, and after five years Angel was finished in 2004.
Whedon's 2002 series for Fox, the science fiction adventure Firefly, was excellent, with memorable, intelligent, clearly defined characters in well thought-out stories, starring Nathan Fillion as the scruffy captain of a smuggling ship in deep outer space. But rarely has a TV series been so savagely sabotaged by its network. Fox ran almost no advertising for the series, and then for inexplicable reasons the episodes were broadcast in random order, instead of sequentially. So week after week, viewers were baffled at characters whose motives had not yet been explained, and dialogue mentioning moments the characters remembered but the audience had not yet seen. The show's pilot episode, establishing who was who and why these characters were on a spaceship, was the last episode aired before the show was cancelled. When Firefly was released on home video with the episodes in proper order, all of the sudden the show made sense, and on the strength of strong video sales it was brought back three years later as the motion picture Serenity, which drew rave reviews but not much box office interest. After Serenity flopped at the box office he made Dollhouse, a lukewarmly-received sci-fi series starring Eliza Dushku as a woman reprogrammed for espionage.
Though Whedon spent the heart of his television career toying with religious and supernatural myths, he is "a very hard-line, angry atheist." He is also a committed feminist, but he advances his agenda subtly. "If I made Buffy the Lesbian Separatist [as] a series of lectures on PBS on why there should be feminism," he has said, "no-one would be coming to the party, and it would be boring. The idea of changing culture is important to me, and it can only be done in a popular medium." Firefly/Serenity, with its rebels, fugitives, and escape from cruel government, had a clear theme of resisting unjust authority.
Still loving comic books, he has written for Marvel's X-Men, and for comic book versions of Buffy and Firefly/Serenity. For his own creative freedom, Whedon once told reporters that he hoped to never work in television again but instead make movies. He has returned to the big screen in a big way, as writer-director of Marvel's The Avengers movie and its sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron, and as writer-producer of the horror think-piece Cabin in the Woods. Since 2013 he has also been executive producer of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a television series for ABC.
His mother, Lee Stearns, was a high school teacher and political activist who inspired one of her students to establish the women's rights group Equality Now. Whedon always credits his mother as the "extraordinary, inspirational, tough, cool, sexy, funny woman" whose life inspired his creation of such strong female characters as Buffy, Willow, and Firefly/Serenity's kick-ass co-pilot Zoe.
His father, Tom Whedon, wrote for Captain Kangaroo and sitcoms including Alice, Benson, and The Golden Girls. He co-wrote the first feature-length Muppets adventure Hey, Cinderella, and served as head writer for The Electric Company, where he won an Emmy in 1973.
Whedon's grandfather, John Ogden Whedon, wrote for early radio's very popular comedy The Great Gildersleeve and The Rudy Vallee Hour, and for TV's Leave It to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. He was managing editor at The New Yorker magazine in the 1930s, and he wrote several plays, including the musical Texas, Li'l Darlin', which ran on Broadway for nearly a year in 1950.
Father: Tom Whedon (TV scriptwriter)
Mother: Lee Stearns (political activist, d. 1992)
Mother: Pam Webber (stepmother, married Tom Whedon)
Brother: Zack Whedon (half-brother, film production assistant)
Brother: Jed Whedon (half-brother, sings in the rock band Southland)
Brother: Samuel Whedon (musician, fronts Grim Orchestra)
Brother: Matthew Whedon (game writer)
Wife: Kai Cole (one son, one daughter)
Son: Arden (b. 18-Dec-2002)
Daughter: Squire (b. 2005)
High School: Winchester College, Hampshire, England (1980-82)
University: BA Film Studies, Wesleyan University (1987)
Dark Horse Comics Writer, Fray
Marvel Comics Writer, Astonishing X-Men
Obama Victory Fund 2012
Dollhouse Creator (2009-10)
Firefly Creator (2002-04)
Angel Creator (1999-2004)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Creator (1997-2003)
Roseanne Staff Writer (1989-90)
FILMOGRAPHY AS DIRECTOR
Much Ado About Nothing (8-Sep-2012)
The Avengers (11-Apr-2012)
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (15-Jul-2008)
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