A notorious gossip started by Kate Kotler in a “Bleeding Cool” article (based on a random one liner during comic con 10th anniversary press conference) has it that Joss Whedon and The Science Channel’s Debbie Myers are planning to reboot “Firefly” (with original cast at that) in the near future. I decided that instead of spending 10 minutes on sending my linguistic abilities into overdrive (if you read any of the previous rants of mine you probably quickly discovered I’m a foreigner myself, and as such English is not my first language) on disparaging investigative skills of the Bleeding Cool columnist without making swear word filter in google search engine blush tomato red, I’d rather explore the actual possibility of such reboot happening.
Firefly is one of the best examples of an internet spawned post-mortem legend. When the original broadcast started on Fox in September 2002, everything that could go wrong, had go wrong. It was given the “Friday night death slot”, which is traditionally impossible to defend in ratings. It then aired with a different pilot than writers intended (“The Train Job” instead of two hour “Serenity”). The Pilot was a bit of a train wreck in ratings, Nielsen given it 4.1/8. Which to all of us outside of US newspeak means that only approximately 4.3 million viewers out of 105.5 million households that owned TV in US at the time had their sets tuned to Firefly premiere. And at the time it had absolutely nothing to compete with. The series broadcasted on Fox at 8:00/07:00c before “John Doe” . The only scheduled scripted programming in its time slot was Providence and Sabrina The Teenage Witch. “John Doe”, a show with Dominic Purcell (“Prison Break”) which noone remembers now, had at least 2 million plus more viewers every time (which also means 2 million people simply didn’t bother turning their TV on to Fox an hour before favorite show in 9 o clock slot on Friday, circa autumn 2002) while “Providence” would regularly attract twice as many viewers as “Firefly” ever reached.
The next few episodes were broadcasted out of order due to network decision to give viewers more interesting episodes first (After Episode 2 became pilot, 3 followed, then 6,7,8,4,5,9,10 and 14). Despite what everyone believes now, the initial reception wasn’t very good either. Press called it “oddball” and “forced hodgepodge of two alarmingly opposite genres”, websites weren’t too happy either ( you can still google up storypundit.com reviews of early episodes). The first time I, personally, read rumours about Fox’ plans to can the show, was back in mid October 2002. And the viewing stats just kept on falling. Nielsen gave episode “Shindig” on November 1st rating of 2.8/5, “Safe” on November 8 got 2.9/5. At that point Fox ordered 3 more scripts to be written in addition to the first 13 episodes just in case slow upward trend was to continue. “Ariel”on November 15 maintained 2.9/5. However, after nearly four week break, when”War Stories” returned on December 6th, it was competing with part 5 of daily installations of Steven Spielberg’s miniseries “Taken” running in parallel on Sci-Fi channel and the ratings collapsed to 2.4/4. On December 13 “Objects in Space” episode drew final straw with 2.7/5, at which point the show got sent on hiatus, then promptly cancelled, just three months after it started, and its time slot given to “Fastlane” (the what? the who? see? Friday Night Death Slot).
It’s easy to quote fan campaigns, postcards to Fox and then attempts to get other networks to pick up the show, but the reality is – at its peak, from the viewer perspective, this just wasn’t a show most of the people watched. Not even the people who campaigned for it and filled pages of internet forums with their anger and tears when it got canned. We did not watch it. Not when it mattered to advertisers and network sponsoring it. And despite being pretty decent story now, when you can watch extended versions back to back in the way they were intended/written, at the time of broadcast the episodes had more of an “arc per episode” feel to it and for obvious reasons suffered from evident gaps and plot holes compared to the story you know now.
God’s honest truth is – as much as the legend and DVD sales were through the roof after it got cancelled, “Firefly”had very little impact on sci-fi community when it run on TV and many of us didn’t think much of it. Certainly not enough to forfeit Friday night just to sit down and watch it. This series didn’t grow to legendary status on the back of solid fan base tuning their TVs to it in US. Despite what we believe now it didn’t grow to this status because of the quality of writing, budget or novelty of special effects used. It found its niche in a “reheated” market. Tivo viewers. International community watching it as xvid download. Syndicated satellite channel viewings abroad. All the things that do not matter to original network at the point of purchase and sale of advertisement space on Friday night prime time TV. This show became legend because it was taken away from those niche viewers – the tivo’ers, sky plus’ers and the internauts. The ones Nielsen ratings never reach.
At over $39 million “Serenity” the movie had much bigger budget that the entire TV series. It was, in many ways, the biggest gift any series creator (and “Universal”) ever given to fans of a failed show. But once we take romantic notions out of the calculations, once again, viewers failed “Firefly” crew. Cinema distribution worldwide never recouped the budget of the film, US domestic lifetime gross distribution stopped at embarrassingly low $25 mil. Movie did very badly in most of Europe and in the end Universal Pictures cancelled cinema premieres in 7 countries just to go straight to DVD and rental as quickly as possible. Because once again, Firefly fans were not the type that would go and see it in cinema.
The cast of Firefly, in many ways, did better without Firefly as well. Nathan Fillion has a long contract in “Castle”. It seems like there was hardly any TV series in recent years that didn’t feature Gina Torres at some point (currently main cast of “Suits“). She was regular on multiple shows even at the time when Firefly was on air (“Alias”, “Angel”). Same goes for Adam Baldwin. Long runs in “The Inside”, “Day Break”, then he went on to co-lead in “Chuck”, way past the standard syndication point. Jewel Staite for many years explored “Stargate Atlantis” a recently resurfaced as regular in Canadian “L.A. Complex”. Morena Baccarin and Summer Glau were both fresh faces back in 2002, things only could go up for them from there. After briefly finding pay check in “Stargate SG-1” Morena went on to headline “V” for two years and is now regular cast in fantastically gripping “Homeland“. Summer has done “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and found regular employment on “The Cape”. It would be nice to see them back together but in most cases it would be a bit like asking Harrison Ford if he wanted to be Blade Runner again. Oh…aammm… wait…
But in the end. Should such reboot take place? I don’t think so. The legend of “Firefly” story that never run its course is stronger than the story actually written for Firefly episodes. You can count successful reboots of anything, let alone with TV series budget, on fingers of one hand. Let the myth remain just that. Let it be “what if” speculation. What if it wasn’t cancelled. What if it had Sunday night X-files slot…. The cast re-unite for the last time on one hour special “Browncoats Unite” documenting 10th anniversary of “Firefly” – premiere Sunday, November 11 2012 on Science.