It’s tricky to give newcomers a proper pitch but here is a rough equivalent: Imagine Star Wars – sans Force – where the Rebels lost. Han and the gang lurk on the edges of the galaxy and do whatever odd jobs they can find to get by.
Something of a clash between futuristic sci-fi and old Western, Firefly was much loved and gone too soon. But exactly why did it go off air so quickly?
Incredibly original for the time it came out, Firefly smashed together sci-fi and Western genres. Whedon noted on the DVD commentary that Firefly was about “nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things.”
Fox was the unfortunate airer of the show – fans of Family Guy, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and other shows can understand the misfortune. Fox didn’t exactly like the new premise they were presented with and threw out lots of arguments against its continuation.
Dedicated But Small Fanbase
Like Whedon’s previous works Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Firefly had built a strong fan base. Strong but not big enough. The amount of interest was not enough to prevent the cancellation. Despite attempts to have the show taken up by another network or other tactics, Firefly went down without a hope.
The Death Slot
Firefly was scheduled for Friday nights. Now, Friday night slots don’t mean the end on most channels – just Fox. With over three dozen cancelled shows during the channel’s history, Fox actually had an hour-long empty hole for 2013-14. Guess when Firefly aired? Without much of an audience to watch, it didn’t get the love it deserved.
Firefly is a sci-fi-action-Western. So when Fox slated it as an action-comedy, things didn’t go down well. And that was just the start.
Fox also had a problem with Zoe (Gina Torres) and Wash (Alan Tudyk) being happily married. Fox told Whedon to rewrite the characters or they would back out of the deal. Whedon told them “Then don’t pick up the show, because, in my show, these people are married.”
Whedon also designed Firefly as a show with a continuous story set in an episodic fashion. You know – like a television show. So that meant starting with the first episode and then the second, the third, etc. Fox didn’t understand this idea and aired them all out of order. The pilot episode – where they set the scene and introduce characters – came at the end. Maybe River Tam would understand, but the rest of us were less lucky.
With everything set against it, Firefly didn’t do so well in the polls. The average viewings came in at about 4.7 million viewers per episode. While that was a huge number, by network standards, it wasn’t much. Despite the amazing results, Fox only cared about ratings.
When the deal was being hammered out, Fox greenlit only one season for Firefly to make its mark. Most shows develop an interest with the first season and build in the second season. Remember how Firefly had 4.7 million viewers? Another little show had only an average of 2.5 million per episode for the first season but went on to become one of the biggest shows in modern history. Hands up if you remember Game of Thrones.
Fox didn’t handle Firefly well. Instead of giving it a fair chance, they went out of their way to ruin it. They threw out the episodes in the wrong order, put it on when nobody was watching and advertised it incorrectly. Firefly had the opportunity to make it big but ended up getting trampled on instead. If Fox had played it smart, they would have had something to rival Star Trek.
Firefly getting cancelled wasn’t all doom and gloom. The interest and support sparked the motion picture Serenity which explained the Reavers, weakened the Alliance, and brought an explosive end to the franchise.