Why was Firefly cancelled?
October 2, 2005 7:30 PM   Subscribe

Why was Joss Wheedon's Firefly series cancelled?

I've tried searching, but there are so many damn sites that casually mention the series/cancellation/Serenity movie that it seemed wiser to ask here.
posted by mediareport to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I know "low ratings" is the easy answer, but I'm looking for more details. Thanks.
posted by mediareport at 7:32 PM on October 2, 2005

It was expensive and wasn't pulling in enough viewers.

That's the short answer. Spend any time in close proximity of a Firefly fan and you're bound to hear the long answer.

I'm not sure how much you know. The feeling is that Fox contributed heavily to the downfall of the show, if not being outright responsible for it. The episodes were aired out of order (the pilot was not shown for quite awhile), the show was poorly advertised, and the show was moved and pre-opted often. I can't confirm any of this personally, but I'm certain the first allegation about the episode order is true. Other than that, I couldn't say.

I'm actually pretty suprised you're asking this. Even though I'm a big fan of the show, hearing about how Fox screwed the series over has become one of my big pet peeves. It seems as though I can't have a conversationa about the show with anyone without it being brought up. Sometimes I'd just like to talk about a great TV show without having to sidetrack into how evil and stupid Fox is.
posted by ODiV at 7:41 PM on October 2, 2005

Best answer: Generally, FOX incompetence. It was a relativly expensive show, aired on Friday nights, was preempted 3 times (twice in a row the second two times,) and aired heavily out of order, a liability even though the series was not overwhelmingly arc-based. Even though it was able to attract modest numbers and had decent audiecne rention, considering it's airday, Fox felt it was then too expensive to continue with.

Apparantly, the executives that initally green-lit Firefly had been replaced before it went to air, and there is some speculation that the replacements, in order to make their predecessors look bad (and therefore, validate their replacement,) sabotaged Firefly as much as they could, so that it would fail.
posted by Snyder at 7:44 PM on October 2, 2005

Best answer: Like ODiC and jimmy said: Fox is stupid. Wikipedia has a decent entry on Firefly.
posted by nathan_teske at 7:45 PM on October 2, 2005

This Firefly Wiki says pretty much what I said except in more detail. It lists the air dates of the episodes in case you were curious about how they were aired.
posted by ODiV at 7:46 PM on October 2, 2005

Re: Fox

See: Family Guy, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Futurama, etc.....

Basically, they'll take a great show with good initial ratings and keep switching the night it shows, ensuring that even those that love the show have no idea what night it's on.

I'm still bitter about andy richter controls the universe. That show was solid gold.
posted by slapshot57 at 8:13 PM on October 2, 2005

See, what I don't get is how Fox maintains its relationship with advertisers. They must have to provide make-goods and renegotiate contracts constantly.
posted by bshort at 8:38 PM on October 2, 2005

Don't forget Wonderfalls.

No, wait, to be fair only 10 of us watched that show. Maybe that was it.

As for advertisers, what advertisers? It seems like all I see while fast forwarding by are ads for other Fox shows and movies.
posted by sevenless at 10:19 PM on October 2, 2005

bshort, make-goods are routine anyway. FOX also has less than 2/3 the programming of the other networks, and that makes them pre-empt more to begin with, especially if they have any sort of sports contract going. Also, believe me, the advertisers know far in advance, it's just the viewers and producers who are surprised!

Anyway, I've been watching it with my nephew recently, and while I like it a lot, I can see why it didn't gel right away. Among other things, Mal is a problematic central character, and the taciturn, square-jawed Fillion eventually rises to the call, but it was only with "Our Mrs. Reynolds" that I really began to like him. The characters are loosely joined -- you can't divine why most of them are on this ship now -- and it's hard to buy the stuff they do for each other if there's no common mission. At times it feels more like a pick-up MMPORPG than a TV show. ;-) The River character is such a huge challenge the writers usually can't figure out what the hell to do with her. The Western model is a neat conceit, but too much of the time it's forced (the show might fit better into a Joseph Conrad, South Seas format). I could go on.

All that said, the first season of Star Trek:TNG was awful -- cringeworthy at times -- and it survived largely because viewers were already very familiar with the general idea of Star Trek and the Enterprise, and because Paramount committed to a multi-season run in advance. That was a hard sell already in the 80s, and today that just doesn't happen.

It would be nice if it becomes a movie series -- I haven't seen the theatrical release yet, but I've heard quite good things about it and its potential -- but I think its natural home should have been TV.
posted by dhartung at 10:41 PM on October 2, 2005

Response by poster: Firefly was promoted as an action-comedy rather than the more serious character study it was intended to be; episodes were occasionally preempted for sporting events, and the episodes were not aired in the order that the creators had intended. Most notably, the two-hour episode Serenity was intended to be the pilot episode, as it contains most of the character introductions and back-story. However, FOX decided that Serenity was not a suitable pilot, and so the second episode, The Train Job, was rushed into production to become the pilot episode.

Wow, that explains a lot. Thanks for the link, nathan_teske. I've had a couple of disappointing experiences with Wikipedia pop culture entries lately, so it didn't occur to me to look there. And thanks for the executive changeover gossip, Snyder.

My roomie and I are Netflixing Firefly before we see the movie, and I was so impressed by the pilot and first couple of episodes that I started digging into why it wasn't given a chance at a longer run. I mean, this was *Joss Wheedon*, you know? Hell, the first few episodes of Angel were much weaker than the first few of Firefly, and Angel ended up running for 5 years. It just seemed weird that Wheedon wasn't given any breathing room on this one.

Among other things, Mal is a problematic central character

Problematic? I'd call him complex. Hell, he's one of the most interesting lead characters I've ever seen in a TV adventure series. And while I agree the Western conceit seems forced at times (especially in the music, which really should have had a beat under it), I'd disagree that the characters being "loosely joined" is a problem. This is a frontier, after all. The idea that relative strangers would stick together, and even begin to trust each other, in the face of more aggressive danger doesn't seem all that far-fetched.

/new Firefly fan
posted by mediareport at 11:22 PM on October 2, 2005

Given the (albeit underground) popularity--not every cancelled show gets a motion picture created almost entirely by fan request post mortem--could another network not have bought the rights to it and continued producing it? Like, say, the Sci-Fi Channel?
posted by robbie01 at 1:03 AM on October 3, 2005

Another reason is that Firefly on Fox had to pull much bigger numbers than Buffy or Angel on WB or Paramount.

Good call watching the series before the movie. I think Serenity stands on its own but it'll have a much bigger impact if you're more familiar with the characters and some of the mysteries of the series.

And although I'd rather have had another 5 or 6 seasons of Firefly, I have to say, wow, every TV series should be so lucky as to end with a "final episode" like Serenity.
posted by zanni at 5:16 AM on October 3, 2005

I'm a big fan of Firefly but I do wonder if it was a hyphenate too far to find its audience. Certainly given what Fox did to it (my British brain is still processing the idea of airing the pilot at the *end* of the series!)

Anyway, the good always die young; look at all the great shows that barely managed a year or two. I'll mention Profit as a personal favourite and that barely lasted nine hours.
posted by mtonks at 6:41 AM on October 3, 2005

fan request post mortem

Close, but...The reason Serenity was greenlit was that the DVD sales were so out-of-the-ballpark impressive. So it was indirectly fan-love that got Serenity made, but it was because we voted with our wallets.

I can't remember if it was licensing problems, money issues, or creative issues that caused SciFi to not pick it up, but I do remember that it was a no-go from the beginning.

/old Firefly fan
posted by desuetude at 6:46 AM on October 3, 2005

It made a bad first impression. I rarely missed Angel or Buffy and I love a smart science fiction show ... but Firefly just never made it for me -- I gave it two episodes and no more: it just wasn't compelling. That it later became compelling, apparently, is too bad.
posted by MattD at 10:54 AM on October 3, 2005

Peter: Everybody, I've got bad news. We've been cancelled.

Lois: Oh no! Peter, how could they do that?

Peter: Well, unfortunately, Lois, there's just no more room on the schedule. We just got to accept the fact that FOX has to make room for terrific shows like Dark Angel, Titus, Undeclared, Action, That 80's Show, Wonderfalls, Fastlane, Andy Richter Controls The Universe, Skin, Girls Club, Cracking Up, The Pitts, Firefly, Get Real, Freaky Links, Wanda At Large, Costello, The Lone Gunmen, A Minute With Stan Hooper, Normal Ohio, Pasadena, Harsh Realm, Keen Eddy, The Street, American Embassy, Cedric The Entertainer, The Tick, Louie, and Greg The Bunny.

Lois: Is there no hope?

Peter: Well, I suppose if ALL those shows go down the tubes, we might have a shot.
posted by trevyn at 1:53 PM on October 3, 2005

Given the (albeit underground) popularity--not every cancelled show gets a motion picture created almost entirely by fan request post mortem--could another network not have bought the rights to it and continued producing it? Like, say, the Sci-Fi Channel?

Fox owns the TV rights until about 2012, and, apparantly, has been very reluctant to liscense them. The result is that the movie and other Serenity products, like the RPG, can only reference the show obliquely, if at all. (Hence the name "Serenity" for the film.)

Oh, and mediareport, glad to be of service! :)
posted by Snyder at 2:07 PM on October 3, 2005

mediareport (anybody still listening? posterity, then), don't get me wrong -- I'm a fan. I'm looking at the series with the eye of someone who had minors in creative writing and comparative literature. Bearing in mind I've only seen about half the TV shows so far (which I honestly think is enough to judge it -- after all for many viewers one show is all that's needed either way), Mal is "complex" but not in conflict, at least not nearly enough to matter. It's all in attractive ways -- I'd even hazard to say that he's a bit of a Mary Sue. Rough and tumble, a criminal, but gosh such a nice guy. There are too few hints of the compromises he would have to bear. This is one of the problems the series faces from a writing standpoint.

The other is the loosely joined problem. I'm not saying it isn't possible that people could act that way -- I'm saying the show hasn't been convincing as to why they would. With Trek, and the Enterprise, the problem is easily solved. The crew are all Starfleet, bound by oath to a common mission, by military and personal necessity to defend each other.

Star Trek:Voyager had a bit of the same problem with the Starfleet/Maquis crew issue -- despite the fact that it could have been a rich mine of storylines, Trek bible rules forbade too much intracrew conflict, so the whole idea was resolved as quickly as possible. I was never convinced.

Mind you I like each of the characters, even Mal, I like the character interaction, dialog, and so on, but I'm just not convinced of the necessity of this choice for them in the Firefly universe. Maybe some of the blue-hand-guy stuff will convince me of the Tams' needs, but I'd never be convinced that it was truly a good idea for Firefly to run around with these fugitives on board, let alone a supernumerary like River. There would have to be a stronger compelling relationship, and while that's building over the course of several episodes, the initial problem remains.

Now, I get that Whedon is going for something murkier here -- different agendas, a bit of mutual suspicion -- but you must admit how that acts as an internal contradiction or even something that undercuts key storylines or plot points. I wish he had, but I just don't feel that Whedon really made it all work as well as it should. This leaves me with a sense that it's an A- concept, a number of A characters, several points of A+ execution, but with an overall grade of B+ at best. I have found this frustrating because I do want to like it.

I'm also someone who was alternately amazed and underwhelmed by signal efforts such as Farscape. I was, however, completely won over by all but a few episodes of the new Doctor Who, and plans to begin catching up with Battlestar Galactica after my nephew and I finish Firefly. ;) I didn't much like the pilot, but I only recently watched "33" and was blown away by the gutsy writing and grim, tight suspense. Firefly could have used more of that, I thought.
posted by dhartung at 12:59 AM on October 7, 2005

Response by poster: I'd never be convinced that it was truly a good idea for Firefly to run around with these fugitives on board, let alone a supernumerary like River. There would have to be a stronger compelling relationship, and while that's building over the course of several episodes, the initial problem remains...you must admit how that acts as an internal contradiction...

Nah, I mustn't. While I can't deny the impact of the limitations imposed by series TV, I don't see your "internal contradiction" at all, dhartung. Mal's dislike for the Alliance couldn't be more obvious as a driving force for his character. Place an undercover Alliance agent on his ship, have him shoot the ship's beloved mechanic, and you have a perfectly fine set-up for Mal's impulsive decision to hide River and her brother ("good idea?" of *course* it's not a good idea). Throw in the crew's cooperative close escape from Reavers and you have more than enough narrative oomph to bond the crew for a little while, until they get to know one another more deeply through further adventures. Again, it's a frontier. People with few options stick with what they have on a frontier.

I'm no comp lit expert, but I think I know a good story when I see one. Firefly's setup worked just fine. And as a rather obvious hero figure, Mal's internal conflicts are underplayed, sure, but they're definitely there if you watch for them.

That aside, we agree on the character interaction, dialog and so on. I'm almost done with the series, and will be sure to let posterity know if my opinion alters dramatically. :)
posted by mediareport at 10:29 PM on October 10, 2005

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