Fox Killed Firefly
Firefly was in its own genre.
Yeah, you could call it Space Opera. You could even call it Sci-Fi Exploration. But at that time, nothing, and I mean nothing, was Science Fiction mashed into Western Classic TV.
Cowboys and Cowgirls flying spaceships, shooting space-age guns, and smuggling illegal cargo across the galaxy, while being chased by “Alliance” forces without the use of mutant aliens or creatures popping up on the TV screen here and there, really was in its own Sci-Fi category.
Yes. Welcome to Firefly.
Joss Whedon was ballsy enough…no…courageous enough to pitch this show to the Fox Network. And in my opinion, the wrong network to pitch it to. And if it wasn't for Gail Berman, a head at Fox Network, this show would have never gotten off the ground.
Or, better yet, Firefly would have seen the light of day on a different network. And perhaps on a network that actually had its shit together, and knew how to air the show properly.
Gail Berman of Fox Network, on the other hand, wanted Joss Whedon's writing and directing talent on her network, and wanted him badly. She liked the success he had on the WB Network with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. She wanted to match that success with a new, gritty show from the very same Joss Whedon.
She liked his cult following. She liked his show's past ratings. She liked his vibe.
Fox Network Execs, however, didn’t necessarily like Joss’s pitch for the show, and didn’t like that the show needed to go in episodic order, and, well… didn’t seem to like the show in general.
One contention that the Fox Execs had was the marriage between Serenity’s (a Firefly Class ship) pilot, Wash (Alan Tudyk), and second-in-command, Zoe (Gina Torres). They wanted a fling, or even a budding romance, between Zoe and the main character, Captain Malcolm Reynold’s (Nathon Fillion), instead.
Joss told the Fox Execs that it was his show, and in his show Wash and Zoe were married. If they didn’t like it, then he'd take his show someplace else.
Yet, Gail Berman was able to convince Fox to grab Firefly, and made sure Fox found time to air it.
And here is where Fox really screwed the pooch.
Fox made sure to put Firefly in the worst time slot. Heck, the worst time slot in Fox’s history -- Friday night, where more than thirty shows failed on that network alone, and coincidentally, a slot that Fox Network had canceled more shows than any other network on television as well.
Some shows did well in the Friday night slot, right?
But if some shows on Friday night Fox did well, then Firefly must not have been that great of a show if it didn’t do well, right?
On the contrary.
Let’s see how Fox Network aired Firefly, and you'll see a reason why I think Fox flopped the show, or rather, killed it.
The first Firefly show they aired wasn’t the first show. Firefly was created as an episodically continuing story, meaning, you must watch the first show, the second show, the third show, etcetera, and in that order. Otherwise, airing one of the last episodes as the show's first episode, like Fox Network did, would confuse the average viewer.
It’d be like watching the second to last scene in Return of the Jedi as the beginning scene in Star Wars. Instead of watching Luke Skywalker's hero's journey from the first frame onward, you'd instead watch Luke unmask his father, Darth Vader, who had just saved Luke from some psycho wizard shooting electricity out of his hands.
It just wouldn’t fly. You wouldn't have a clue what was going on.
However, that’s what Fox Network did. They aired the wrong episode for Firefly's first show.
Firefly’s real pilot, the episode intended for the first show and intended to be watched first, introduced the characters, the conflict, the story arc, and the important antagonists, and why they were the antagonists. This pilot episode -- again, the first episode -- aired at the very end of the season.
The screw-ups didn’t stop there.
Fox Network then aired the rest of the shows out of order. Like I said before, to make any sense of the story, the episodes needed to be watched in a specific order.
If they were watched out of order, the viewers would be confused, and confused they were.
Firefly was doomed out of the gates.
And to make matters worse, Fox Network bungled Firefly’s marketing campaign.
Yes, Fox pitched the show entirely wrong.
According to the author of “Joss Whedon: The Biography”, Amy Pascale wrote, “Instead of advertising ‘Firefly’ as a space western or a gritty sci-fi show, the promotional campaign suggested that it was a wacky genre comedy – ‘the most twisted new show on television.’ Several promos strung together jokes about a ‘flighty pilot’ (Wash), a ‘space cowboy’ (Mal), a ‘cosmic hooker’ (Inara), and a ‘girl in a box’ (River, referencing a plot point from the pilot episode the network refused to air), tied together with the tag line, ‘Out there? Oh, it’s out there!’”
Firefly should be a household name, much like Star Trek, and Star Wars. It was THAT original, and THAT well done. If it was pieced together as it was supposed to have been pieced, the show would have aired for at least five years, or maybe longer.
From Business Insider, “Take it from Whedon’s mentor, film professor Jeanine Basinger, whose comments were recounted by blogger Nikki Stafford: ‘She calls it the biggest screw-up in television, and if she could kill television execs, she’d kill these guys. She apparently chews them out every time she sees them. She was on the ground floor on this one, leading him [Joss Whedon] to noir westerns to help him with his idea."
Despite the fact that Fox dispelled the show, and practically ran it through the shredder before airing the first episode, Firefly has since developed one of the biggest cult followings. After the DVD came out with all episodes in order and intact, and the way the producers and director wanted to air them, it did well.
It did very well.
What’s Joss Whedon’s favorite show? In his own words: “You know, I love all my raggedy children. But if I could be anywhere, I’d be on board Serenity.”
If it wasn't for Fox, this show would be one of the most talked about shows in the history of Sci-Fi television. Oh, wait. It actually is, which tells you something very important – if it wasn’t cut to pieces by the time it shot out of the gates and to our television sets, then this show would have been placed atop the ranks of Star Wars and Star Trek.
You’d go to work and ask your fellow worker: “Hey, Sally [or Frank]. What did you watch last night?”
She’d reply: “I just finished the sixth season of Firefly on Netflix. Why, what did you watch?”
“That’s funny,” you respond. “I just so happened to finish the seventh season of Firefly.”
Thank you for reading,
Brandon Ellis www.brandon-ellis.com