Was Dolly Parton Really a Producer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Dolly Parton produced Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

As we have seen many times over the years, the same instincts that leads certain people into becoming successful performers does not necessarily translate to the world of business. Disaster stories about the way that celebrities and their families handled their money are prolific (in one case, it even led to a notable child actor ending up doing porn). There are notable exceptions, of course, and one of these exceptions is Dolly Parton. The successful singer and actress grew up very poor (she was the fourth of twelve 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 spoke about using the same approach her father had in managing his finances (small that they may have been for him), which was basically “don’t trust anyone else with your money.”

This is not to say that 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 personally oversee how all of her money is being spent and such an approach has served her well over the years. One way that Parton spent her money was on a production company and sure enough, this 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 as the star of a not-so-successful film titled Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The film was directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui and Kuzui (through her production company Kuzui Entertainment) produced the film and owned significant rights to the character (Kuzui also made some notable changes to Whedon’s screenplay).

The film was co-produced by Sandollar Entertainment. Sandollar Entertainment is a production company created and owned by Dolly 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 inquired about the story and discovered that it was already being made into a film. Berman suggested that they 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 they 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 it 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 that now would be a good time to try to adapt the story into a television series. Originally, Berman was thinking of the show as being a syndicated show, similar to then-popular shows like Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess. Sandollar had to first contact Whedon, as his contract required that he had the right of first refusal if the show was being adapted. Said contact was seen as more of a courtesy than anything else, as everyone (including Whedon’s own agent) figured that Whedon, who was working successfully in film at the time, would not be interested in doing a TV series. Surprisingly, Whedon was very interested, especially when Berman explained to him how much she loved his original screenplay (before it was altered by Kuzui).

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 on the series, 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 the legend as…

STATUS: True

Thanks to my pal Wayne for suggesting this one to me!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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