Recently my geek esteem took a battering when I found myself in a debate about the best Firefly character (Wash) and I realised I was handicapped in backing up my arguments by the fact that my memories of the show were like a leaf on the wind – mostly symbolic, and tinged with an inexplicable sadness.

Two weeks back I re-watched Firefly. It took me less than two days.

I now suspect that my sieve-tastic recollection of the show was possibly a sub-conscious self preservation tactic. We were robbed.

Over the past few years I have become bitter and jaded, and now struggle to commit to new television shows as axing is a fate that seems to befall most of them. If not that, then they get diabolical treatment by Australian networks. Smallville, Supernatural and Veronica Mars all underwent the channel 10 treatment where  the shows were suddenly stopped mid-season with no explanation as to why. A month would go by, two episodes would come back at an inconsistent and confusing time, and then the series would stop being aired completely, leaving me to wait a year for them to come out on DVD.  It’s a hard pill to swallow when shows like The Biggest Loser are chuffing in to what seems like their millionth season, and ad breaks are rife with promotions for Please Marry My Boy.

Can't. Too much hair.

It would seem that creativity, intelligence and originality are sins not suffered lightly at the hands of networks, studios, and apparently the population at large as the few shows which demonstrate promise that manage to actually make it on to television seem to not attract the required ratings and thus just fizz out and die, doomed to an afterlife of high DVD sales and wistful, speculative online forums.

Firefly lived up to its name, and ran for one season until it was unceremoniously axed. Many theories have been floated as to why.

By far the most popular is the fact that the episodes were screened out of order, thus making the show difficult for people to initially access and follow, making some of the story lines confusing, and the characters more difficult to relate to. Whedon designed the show to run for seven years – the same as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There was a expositional two hour pilot episode explaining a lot of the foundations of the show, including the war, the Alliance, Reavers, character ties, and glimpses in to future plot lines. It also featured Wash playing with dinosaurs. Naturally, this was deemed ‘unsuitable’ by Fox, and so instead the writers were given two days to come up with a new, shorter pilot which had to both fit in with the original, and still provide an introduction to the rest of the series. Bam. You have a series starting with a bunch of people, including a doctor and a preacher, on a spaceship for no particular reason stealing from a train. Excellent.

I don’t think that this was the entire reason that Firefly failed though. The evidence demonstrates that shows like this just rarely survive on television. It’s not because there isn’t an audience for them. Maybe people just don’t watch tv anymore, preferring to download or wait for DVD thus skewing the ratings. I really don’t know.

A man walks down the street in that hat, people know he's not afraid of anything.

Part of the reason may be that networks seem to have a mental image of the population at large as something that needs to be coddled and talked to slowly. This would certainly explain why Young Talent Time has returned. They have a story book attitude to characters, and shades of grey need not apply. You can either be ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Any deviation from this, and the red pen comes out. Characters like Mal were deemed to be “too dark”. Hey, he came through the losing side of the war, and on a daily basis has to make difficult ethical decisions in order to keep his crew alive. On average, two people die per episode. I’m sorry that he isn’t knitting floral cardigans for puppies. Similar stamps were put on Tru Calling and the first season of Veronica Mars, with networks stepping in so far as to dictate where the body would be dumped in the latter’s pilot episode. I’m amazed Twin Peaks made it to two seasons.

It also feels as though there is deliberate sabotage, though I can’t see why this would be the case. Maybe networks give up on shows before they even start. At least in Australia, Firefly received little to no promotion. I have to confess that I don’t know how it was treated when it aired, as at the time I was harboring ill feelings towards ‘Whedon’s Mistress’ as it appeared to me at the time. Teenage logic. Infallible.

Shows like Firefly inevitably only end up gaining popularity through word of mouth as they receive no additional help. Unfortunately, by the time this happened, it was too late. The axe fell, and all we were left with was Jayne’s theme song, a love of knitted hats, and a whole lot of complaining on the internet.

Fox: curse your inevitable but sudden betrayal!

Elizabeth can also be found at her blog Harold is Cool.

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  1. Yes, a tragedy. To its credit though, New Fox is pretty good and has struggled overcome the tag of ‘network that cancels things’. Terminator got two seasons even with poor ratings (the second of which was great), and would have got a third if not for Dollhouse’s second season. It was one or the other – the right choice financially as Dollhouse was internally produced, but the wrong one creatively, because despite Dollhouse’s overdue improvement in that second year it was still inferior to the Sarah Connor Chronicles. But best evidence of Fox sticking with genre shows?

    Fringe has been on for four full seasons now, and is as good or better than any of the above. It may or may not see a fifth, but the network knows it has fans and has given it more episodes than Firefly, Dollhouse and Terminator combined despite cancellation-worthy Nielsen ratings.

  2. Alex says:

    More Firefly please!

  3. Ah, the sad loss that is Firefly. And I agree, for all its weirdness Twin Peaks got a second season, but firefly couldn’t even make it to the end of one. I think its also a little to do with time and place, at the end of the day Firefly didn’t have a contemporary setting and was no buffy. And a space western has always been a difficult idea to sell. It will always be one of my all time favourites.x


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