HomeOur ObsessionsBroken series, broken hearts: ‘Firefly’

Broken series, broken hearts: ‘Firefly’

In the history of broken shows, none has caused as much heartache or brouhaha as the cancellation of Joss Whedon’s Western sci-fi classic 'Firefly' in 2002.

Broken series, broken hearts: ‘Firefly’

In the history of broken shows, there have been few (if any) other shows that have caused quite as much heartache or brouhaha as the cancellation of Joss Whedon’s Firefly in 2002. Despite the show having ended over fifteen years ago, fans continue to share their great love for the show and (every now and then) rally together hard in support for its return.

In 2011, Nathan Fillion went and opened his big charming mouth and plunged hope into the hearts of fans everywhere when he (innocently) suggested he’d buy the rights for Firefly from Fox if he were to win $300 million in the California lottery. Within three weeks, this quickly resulted in a fan-created web page receiving $1 million in pledges towards the cause of seeing Captain Mal squeeze himself back into those tight pants of his again.

Though there were no hard feelings against fans trying to bring back the show, it was noted on Twitter that “no-one in the Whedonverse is in support” of the campaign. Fillion himself also told Entertainment Weekly that though the sentiment behind the campaign warmed his heart, it also made him feel a little uncomfortable. “Would I want to do (Firefly) again? Yes. Do I want people sending in money? No.” 

However, at Long Beach Comic Con in 2016, Fillion appeared to be less excited for the prospect of returning to Firefly. The actor divulged that though he “loved every minute of” starring on the show, “it’s really hard to look at that kind of stuff and say ‘give me more.’ Because enough is enough.” Not that such statements are enough to put fans off their dream of seeing the good ship Serenity return to the skies again. And it’s completely understandable.

Firefly was only given a cruddy grand total of fourteen aired episodes, three of which debuted a year after the original run, long after Fox had so graciously chosen to dump the show after mishandling its marketing and scheduling. However, within just that one season, the show had managed to find a home in the hearts of every self-proclaimed Browncoat who found themselves enraptured with the space Western.

Though it was marketed by Fox as being a straight-up action comedy, Firefly actually offers way more than just comedy japes and tense shootouts. By following a diverse ragtag crew of pirates, misfits, sex workers, pilots, and engineers, Firefly also features a heartfelt set of character studies.

We came for the wit and the quips, sure. But we stayed for the emotional and in-depth arcs of the characters. With an incredible cast including Summer Glau, Morena Baccarin, Alan Tudyk, Jewel Staite, and Gina Torres bringing the characters to life, Firefly is irresistible.

Fans continue to care and to root for the characters even though the show becomes ever more unlikely to return in any form. There’s a good reason why fans are still shook by the death of Wash in Serenity – and it isn’t just because Tudyk makes the character so damn loveable. That’s because Firefly is a show built around unlikely relationships that somehow still manage to thrive in the rough terrain of deep space and confined quarters of a battered old ship.

As a result, the emotional connection shared between the oddball crew of the Serenity is one fans share as they watch too. Why wouldn’t the Browncoats want to check back in with their beloved crew for even just one last time? The passion for the cult show was obvious from the beginning – fans recognized the warning signs of a fledgling show and did all they could to help save it.

Ratings for the space Western had been low on Fox, but fans also suspected (and continue to suggest) that part of that is due to how the network completely (to put it bluntly) shit the bed on how they handled the show.

Fox had aired the episodes out of chronological order, making the plot difficult to follow, including swapping out the original two-hour pilot (that introduced the ensemble of characters) for the action-packed second episode “The Train Job”.

A month after it had premiered, Firefly was facing low ratings and fans immediately mobilized a campaign to keep the show on the air. They sent thousands of postcards to Fox alongside a fundraising campaign to run an ad in support for the show in VarietyFans also coordinated viewing parties, purchased local ads for the show, and sold Firefly inspired apparel to simultaneously raise awareness of the show while also raising money for charity.

Two months after the show had landed, it was given the all-too familiar kiss of death by being put on “hiatus” (much as Fox recently did to the supernatural comedy Ghosted). A month later, the fan-funded ad was published in Variety, featuring a series of thank yous to Fox, the advertisers, and the cast & crew of the show.

At the bottom of the ad, fans proclaimed their unwavering dedication to Firefly so long as it kept going, stating: “You keep flying. We’ll keep watching.” However, just three days after the advert ran in Variety, Fox advised the Firefly team to halt production on the show, but allowed for it to be “shopped” to other networks. Despite there being no official announcement, Firefly was effectively cancelled.

But fans continued to rally behind the show throughout the first few months of 2003, urging networks like UPN and SciFi to consider picking the show up via an impassioned postcard campaign. The TV industry may not have been interested, but the fan ruckus surrounding the show arguably helped to bring the story to the big screen instead. In March 2004, it was announced that Firefly would be returning to the big screen as Serenity.

Sadly, it seems unlikely that Firefly will ever return to the small or big screen again. As Fillion suggested with his off-hand 2011 quip regarding that hypothetical lottery win, 20th Century Fox currently owns the rights (which also now means that Disney do too, following the Fox-Disney merger).

Watching Nathan Fillion, we’re reminded of how magnificent the actor was in the 'Firefly' role of wise-cracking outlaw Mal Reynolds.

That means a hefty chunk of change would have to be thrown around to buy the rights for Firefly. Or, by some miracle, 20th Century Fox or (good lawd no) Disney would have to be interested in developing a new miniseries or movie to cash in on the cult sci-fi show.

Considering Fillion isn’t exactly sounding keen on returning to Firefly anymore and Whedon (a man who has just given a thumbs up to a Buffy reboot) has suggested he’s not a fan of revisiting classic properties, a Firefly revival seems like an even bigger gamble to dream about.

Still, you never know – Fillion could win that $300 million California lottery jackpot. Just don’t hold your breath.

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Amy Roberts is a freelance writer who occasionally moonlights as a hapless punk musician. She’s written about pop culture for websites like Bustle, i-D, and The Mary Sue, and is the co-creator of Clarissa Explains F*ck All. She likes watching horror movies with her cat and eating too much sugar.

amy@filmdaily.co