Mar 31, 2020
Firefly fans: It’s time to forgive Fox
Last Tuesday, it was announced that the sci-fi series Almost Human didn’t get renewed for a second season. This news wasn’t terribly surprising; the futuristic buddy cop drama about a detective (Karl Urban) reluctantly assigned an android partner (Michael Ealy) was the very definition of an “on the bubble” show: The ratings were mediocre, and so were the reviews, and the high cost of a effects-heavy sci-fi series almost certainly contributed to the show’s demise.
And it wasn’t terribly surprising that loyal fans of Almost Human immediately took to social media with lots of angry comments about the show’s cancellation. What was surprising was how many of those comments also angrily complained about the cancellation of Firefly. Eleven years ago.
If you were dropped into the middle of this online conversation with complete ignorance of American genre TV of the past decade, you’d be utterly baffled as to how a show that only aired for eleven episodes way back in 2002 somehow became relevant to discussions about the recently axed Almost Human. On the surface, the shows seem to have nothing in common beyond existing in the broad “futuristic sci-fi” genre.
But chances are you do know the common link here, and have already expressed a similar angry sentiment yourself: You see, both of these shows aired on Fox, a network that will now and forever be known primarily for killing off sci-fi shows early.
But is this reputation really deserved after all these years? Should fans of sci-fi TV really carry a grudge against the Fox network all the way to their graves? Here are a few reasons why still being bitter about Fox’s cancellation of Firefly in 2014 doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Nobody who cancelled Firefly still works for Fox.
The Fox executive who ultimately made the decision to cancel Firefly is Gail Berman. Berman left Fox in 2005 to become president of Paramount Pictures, and was replaced by Peter Liguori. Liguori left the position in 2007, and was replaced by Kevin Reilly. And Reilly wasn’t working for Fox Broadcasting at the time of Firefly’s cancellation—he was entertainment president at sister network FX.
Which means we’re now two generations removed from the regime that’s to blame for Firefly’s cancellation. And yet, its fans are still determined to teach the network a lesson—generally, through empty “I’m never watching Fox again!” threats on Facebook—without realizing that the people they seek to punish are long gone, and the people who work there now had absolutely nothing to do with Firefly. It’s a bit like calling up whichever company currently owns the Atari name and demanding a full refund for a shitty game you bought for your 2600.
Whether or not your anger at the 2002 version of Fox is justified, taking it out on 2014 Fox is at best pointless, and at worst, counterproductive. But really, your anger isn’t justified, and here’s why.
Fox actually gives sci-fi shows more of a chance than other networks.
Over the past 25 years, Fox has aired such sci-fi shows as Alien Nation, Dollhouse, Space: Above and Beyond, Millennium, Dark Angel, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, FreakyLinks, Fringe, Harsh Realm, The Lone Gunmen, Sliders, and Terra Nova. And I know many of you are now reading this through rage goggles, picturing all the seasons of great TV you were deprived of because Fox cancelled most of these shows early on.
Now quick: name one other broadcast network that’s even come close to airing this many sci-fi shows in the same amount of time.
The cruel irony is that Fox has a rep for cancelling a lot of sci-fi shows because they air a lot of sci-fi shows. The other broadcast networks generally don’t even bother with them in the first place. Just look at CBS, the network that can apparently only air one sci-fi show at a time, and never long enough for anyone to even notice. Remember Century City? No? My point exactly.
As much as Firefly fans rail against Fox, it’s extremely unlikely the show would have lasted any longer (or even been picked up at all) by any of the other major networks back in 2002. It really is an unfortunate case of sci-fi fans biting the hand that feeds them.
Firefly got a second chance away from Fox, and failed again.
Firefly’s fans are firmly convinced that the show’s cancellation is entirely the fault of Fox’s mismanagement, which included putting it in the Friday Night Death Slot, not promoting the show enough, airing episodes out of their intended order, and giving creator Joss Whedon two days to write the pilot (even though a writer being given less than a week to write a one-hour TV episode is hardly unusual).
Some of those fans take things a step further, insinuating that this is all part of Fox’s master plan. They clearly want sci-fi shows to fail. Of course, the question remains as to why the network would even greenlight them in the first place, or (in the case of Almost Human and its big World Series/NFL marketing blitz) spend tons of money advertising these shows if they only want them to fail. But clearly, a huge corporation beholden to its shareholders is always happy to throw away millions of dollars on a secret anti-sci-fi agenda.
Or maybe there’s a much simpler reason Firefly failed: People just didn’t want to watch it.
Maybe the concept of a “space western” was just bewildering to most; a lot of TV critics at the time were turned off to the show because of the jarring mishmash of genres. Maybe it didn’t have that “water cooler” moment that made people want to spread the word. Maybe viewers were more interested in unwinding with America’s Funniest Home Videos on a Friday night.
All of the above would be firmly in the realm of conjecture, if not for the fact that Firefly actually did get a second chance. The show was resurrected for the 2005 feature film Serenity, and despite the show’s massive cult status and a substantial viral marketing campaign, the movie fizzled at the box office. It may have eventually made back its money in DVD sales, but it clearly wasn’t enough to justify a sequel.
Given that Fox had nothing to do with the revival of Firefly and yet it still failed, isn’t it entirely possible the show was doomed no matter when or where it aired?
Fast forward eleven years, and people are once again complaining that Fox deliberately killed Almost Human by moving it around the schedule and airing episodes out of order (even though the showrunner himself said he was cool with the network airing episodes out of order). But isn’t it more likely that people didn’t watch it because it just wasn’t very good?
@twilight2000 It;s okay that they are out of order for the first 7 or so — then, they should really be in order.
— JOEL WYMAN (@JHWYMAN) November 20, 2013
Personally, I think the quality of Firefly gets overstated a lot, precisely because it was cancelled early on, meaning it never got a chance to let people down. But even if you believe Firefly was the pinnacle of contemporary television, it’s a bit silly to insist that Almost Human was also a modern-day classic and that Fox could never hope to do any better.
And I haven’t even touched on how (most likely due to the Firefly backlash) Fox has been even more patient with sci-fi in recent years. There was a time when shows like Dollhouse and Sarah Connor Chronicles never would have made it past thirteen episodes, and yet both were picked up for a second season. Add to that Fringe, which lasted for five seasons, despite its eventual move to the same Friday Night Death Slot that many blame for the demise of Firefly.
Given all this, it’s not unreasonable to think another great sci-fi show will eventually air on Fox. But will the fans be there to support it, or will they keep up an 11-year Firefly grudge/boycott that serves no purpose?