Heresy of the Week: Cancellation made Firefly a success


mal zoe and jayne firefly

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

Whilst it has become a cult classic in a remarkably short space of time, spawning comic-based spin-offs and even a fan driven film to complete the series, Joss Whedon’s Firefly would never have enjoyed the success it had Fox hadn’t put a bullet in it three episodes before the end of its first season.”

And you thought last week was controversial!  I understand that Firefly and Joss Whedon are more popular than God, and that this one is going to be a hard sell, but bear with me before you reach for the torches and pitchforks.

Firefly, for anyone living under a rock for the past few years, was a science-fiction show created by Buffy-creator and current airborne film-fixer for Marvel, Joss Whedon. Decked out with steampunk-esque visuals reminiscent of the wild west, it followed the crew of transport ship Serenity as they smuggled, robbed and honestly worked their way to survival on the fringes of a post-Earth civilisation. It was quirky, humorous and well-written little show with some nice ideas and a talented cast. Whedon purportedly planned it to run for seven years.

Until Fox killed it before it finished its first season run, citing poor ratings. Only then did it come to mainstream attention, with a small but vocal cadre of fans rallying support and raising its profile to the point where the powers that be gave in and granted a film (Serenity) to round off the story.

The thing is, though, would it have reached such heights if it hadn’t been prematurely cancelled? Granted, it is a very good show, but the ratings at its time of cancellation were poor. Giving it a graveyard shift hadn’t helped that, but still.

As a counterpoint, look at Farscape. A similarly quirky SF showFarscape was made by the Jim Henson company. It managed four seasons before being cancelled, and a similar fan-campaign got it a mini-series to conclude the storyline — but that pales next to a feature film. Honest, I thought that Farscape was better than Firefly, but it remains so obscure that jokes have even been made at its expense in other (slightly more mainstream) shows.

Joss Whedon’s Buffy-fame might have helped the Firefly campaign’s visibility, but the fact remains that though their situations were mostly identical, Farscape and Firefly’s paths have sharply diverged. The only meaningful difference in circumstance is just how early Firefly was cancelled.

In today’s TV production environment, so many shows run far longer than their stories and mythos can support (cough*True Blood*cough). In stark contrast, Firefly combined a world of could-have-been possibility with a real life display of the never-give-up pluckiness its characters embodied. Everyone loves an underdog.

So whilst it may forever be regarded as short-sighted, foolish, even treasonous, Fox’s decision to take Firefly out back and shoot it in the head is likely as not what ensured its present divine status.

Shiny.

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