Since I recently posted a transcript of the Buffy Pilot Episode, I thought it would be interesting to do a mini-review of the episode, comparing it to the version of 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' that actually aired. And yes, this means I'm making a Buffy meta post that isn't about Season 8 - in fact, it's as far from season 8 as it's possible to get without straying into movie territory. :-)
The first thing to notice is that the overall outline is the same. We get a teaser showing us that vampires are real in this world. Then the show introduces us to Buffy's first day at her new school. She meets the Principal, and then encounters Cordelia, Xander, Willow and Giles. She's freaked out by Giles talking about vampires and refuses to listen... until the boy Darla killed in the teaser is found in the women's locker room. She then confronts Giles again and we get some exposition on what a Slayer is... but Buffy is still unwilling to cooperate. That night she goes to the Bronze, but discovers that Willow has gone off alone with someone that she deduces, from his lack of fashion sense, is a vampire. With an innocent in danger, Buffy forgets her reluctance to be the Slayer and rushes off to rescue Willow.
So far, so similar. The biggest difference in the pilot is probably that 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' was extended into a double episode, so it ends in a cliffhanger as Buffy confronts the Master's minions for the first time. In the pilot, the climax of the episode is Buffy successfully rescuing Willow and dusting the vampires: there's a happy ending and most of the loose ends are tied up. Significantly, the Master doesn't appear in the pilot at all; he's not even mentioned, and so the enemy in this episode becomes simply a random vamp attack: a monster of the week. I'm guessing that the reason for this was partly to avoid the expense of building a separate set for the Master's cave and hiring lots of extra actors, which would be uneconomical for a pilot episode. Perhaps also, throwing in foreshadowing and future arc elements with no pay-off in the actual pilot might only confuse the studio executives who would need to approve it.
Sunnydale High School is called Berryman High School in the pilot, but it's recognisably the same building. The library looks different, though: with a very high raised balcony instead of the short flight of stairs up to a raised area. Buffy's stunt dive over the balcony is one of the bits in the pilot I wish had been kept in the actual episode: the replacement, her standing jump over the school fence in 'The Harvest', isn't nearly as impressive.
Apart from the school, the only other location in the pilot is the exterior of the Bronze - which, I understand, was actually the exterior of the Mutant Enemy studio! Presumably this was a money issue: once they had a contract they could afford extra locations - not only the Master's cave as I've mentioned above, but also Buffy's house, an alleyway and the inside of the Bronze.
The major Season 1 regular characters are all in the pilot - Buffy, Giles, Xander, Willow and Cordelia. (Although the actress playing Willow, Riff Regan, would be replaced before the start of the actual show.) However, there are notable absences among the second rankers: no Joyce, no Angel (remember, he wasn't a series regular in the first few episodes), no Master... and no Jesse. Harmony is in the pilot - although not referred to by name - which makes Mercedes McNab the only person to appear in both the pilot of 'Buffy' and the series finale of 'Angel'. Danny Strong also makes a cameo, although it would be a long time before the name 'Jonathan' was given to his character. And most amusingly of all, Darla appears - and gets killed in the last act, meaning that technically we have seen her die not four but five times on screen. Although admittely this one isn't canon. :-)
I think there were some noticeable differences in the way the characters were played in the pilot compared to the actual episode:
Seems a little bit more childish, what with the bubblegum and general perkiness, and her reaction to being the Slayer is more teenage-sullen than tragic destiny. However, she's still recognisably Buffy all through the episode.
Also fairly similar. However, the very amusing scene in the pilot where he's introducing Buffy to the various groups in the school - which was dropped from the broadcast episode - does show him in a different light. He seems more integrated into school life; exchanging banter with the surfer dudes, clearly knowing how the different groups interact. Xander in the actual Season 1 is shown as rather more of a misfit and outsider than the way he comes across here.
The most obvious difference, of course, is that she's played by a different actress. This Willow doesn't have the quirkiness that Alyson Hannigan would bring to the character: Riff Regan plays her as more straightforward: nice, sensible, helpful and friendly, a little dull. In short, the female Riley. While Willow in the pilot is just as inexperienced with the opposite sex as 'WttH' Willow, the impression we're given is that this is because she's too plain and unattractive to boys, not because she's too insecure to talk to them
and prefers girls anyway.
There's a definite sense of mutual sparkage between Buffy and Xander in the pilot, rather than the purely one-sided attraction that we'd see on the show. Buffy smiles at Xander frequently, and always seems very pleased to see him, and hangs out with him a lot. On the other hand, there's no real suggestion of any relationship other than friendship between him and Willow; no 'he stole my Barbie' speech.
Is much the same, or perhaps a little bit nastier. One interesting change to the dynamic is that in 'WttH', Buffy seemed to find Cordelia's cruelty to Willow offputting, and sought out Willow afterwards herself, perhaps as a grand gesture or a way to make amends. In the pilot it's Willow who approaches Buffy first and offers to help her get caught up with the work, and tells her more about the school: Buffy clearly appreciates this and responds to Willow in a friendly way.
What with this and the more obvious sexual attraction between Buffy and Xander in the pilot, it felt much more natural for the three of them to get together as friends. In the actual first episode it came across as a little bit forced. After all, Buffy used to hang out with people like Cordelia at her old school, and if she's trying to forget about being the Slayer and start her life anew, you'd expect her to want to do that here as well. Not deliberately annoy Cordy by hanging out with someone she's pointed out to Buffy as a loser. Unless it's a power struggle thing; Buffy wouldn't want to be just a Cordette, and Cordelia would rather die than become a Buffette, so maybe they were doomed to be enemies...
Seems rather more meek and mild and eager to please than he would do on the show; it's probably a good thing they gave him more of an edge.
And some notes on a few characters who didn't appear:
Just as there are no scenes in Buffy's house in the pilot, her mother never appears either. I'm guessing this was a budget issue to leave her out of this episode rather than that they hadn't thought of the character yet - since it would be hard to have an ongoing show about a 16-year old if her parents were never seen or heard of.
My guess is that he doesn't appear because of the need to keep things simple; a mysterious stranger offering cryptic advice is a long-term plot element, not something for the pilot.
The character who, everybody loves to point out, was supposed to be Xander's best friend but then was never mentioned again after the second episode of the show. Well, he wasn't in the pilot either. Poor guy; added to the show at the last minute only to get killed off again.
It was interesting to see Dingoes Ate My Baby as the name of the band playing at the Bronze. Xander mentions that they don't know any chords: by Season 3 they would have learned three. :-)
The Housers, Panga Inbreeds, Drama Club, Film Club and Dirty Girls would never appear on the show. Which is a pity; that was a fun little scene.
Willow gets to kill a vampire - not just any vampire either, but Darla herself - right in the pilot episode. How long would it be until she did that again?