Serenity is Back


Once upon a time in a land far far away, I vowed never to watch Fox again after they cancelled Joss Whedon's Firefly after only half a season. This was not because the show rated poorly, but rather because it did not rate as well as another show (Fastlane, I believe it was called) that was aired in the same spot later on. They decided that they would keep whichever show did better. Ultimately though, Fox cancelled both of the shows.

Network television, and Fox in particular, seems to consider their shows to be rocket ships. They either take off, or they fail. The problem is that ratings are judged relative to other channels. Thus if a show "takes off" on one channel the show airing in the same timeslot on another channel will be far less likely to be considered a success. Its like a foot race whoever comes in last in a given timeslot is typically considered to be a loser (depending on what network it is in any case). Of course, if a show can pull viewers away from another show (a popular one perhaps) it might be seen as successful even if it gets less viewers than other shows.

Now suppose that the viewership got roughly evenly split between several channels during a particular time slot. The networks (other than UPN and the WB) typically treat these shows as failures. Why? Because none of the shows "took off," and you cannot really "take off" if you are not substantially pulling viewers away from other networks. So Firefly gets 10 or 11 episodes to become an instant success or gets cancelled. Its a good thing Buffy never aired on Fox, or else they would have cancelled it just as quickly.

Luckily, because DVD sales took off for Firefly (thanks in no small part to the internet), the show is coming back in the form of a new feature movie that is scheduled to be in theaters next April. The movie is going to be called Serenity after the name of the ship the characters lived on. From the movie's site:

The film centers areound Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, ecletic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family - squabbling, insubordinate, and undyingly loyal.

When Mal takes on two new passengers (a young doctor and his unstable, telepathic sister) he gets much more than he bargained for. The pair are fugitives from the coalition dominating the universe, who will stop at nothing to reclaim the girl. The crew that was once used to skimming the outskirts of the galaxy unnoticed find themselves caught between the unstoppable military force of the Universal Alliance and the horrific, cannnibalistic fury of the Reavers, savages who roam the very edge of space. Hunted by vastly different enemies, they begin to discover that the greatest danger to them may be on board Serenity herself.

This just goes to show that even monopolistic networks seeking to appeal to the least-common-denominator of the masses are not enough to keep a great show out of the public eye for long. I am hoping the movie will be a big success. Maybe then Fox will consider changing its short-term instant gratification technique for picking shows. They probably won't though.

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Hopefully, they'll bring

Hopefully, they'll bring back Firefly just like they brought back Family Guy.

Well, I understand that the

Well, I understand that the deal with Universal was that they could do more movies but they can't go and do a new TV show for like 10 years.

Though its kind of fuzzy. I dont know if it is because that is when Fox's option runs out (and so they could shop the show to another outfit and show it on TV) or whether that was Universal's terms for doing the movie- not wanting a TV show to compete with its movies (which makes no sense, but its hollyweird...). Dunno.

Excellent news. Firefly is

Excellent news. Firefly is superb and one of the best series I have seen. Also, it has quite a good fan base here in Britain.

I have to disagree and I do

I have to disagree and I do think they are looking at it as an investment. I don't know the specific finance of the show, but I'm sure it was expensive to produce. As such, they have to have a higher nominal return to have a higher ROI. This is why a show like Big Brother, with relatively low ratings is able to stay on the air. It only needs a little bit of ad revenue to have a high ROI. Would it have been worth it for Fox to let the fanbase of the show grow? I don't know.

I'm looking forward to a

I'm looking forward to a Firefly/Deadwood crossover. Maybe make it a three-way and have them team up to annihilate the cast and crew of The West Wing.

I think you should have

I think you should have titled this "Serenity Now"

I agree that Fox didn't give

I agree that Fox didn't give the show the chance it could have, by 1)not showing the pilot first, and 2)putting in a bad time slot.

However, I'm not sure that it was necessarily the wrong move to cancel the show at the time. The shows costs a lot of money, mainly due to the cost of the set on which a near replica of Serentiy was made, and due to the special effects used. It might be that Fox simply could not afford it with the poor ratings it was getting when it was being aired.

But if you are going to

But if you are going to invest a lot in a show that is high in cg and special effects you should try and air it at a time when it is likely to get a high viewership. Furthermore you would attempt to give it as much chance as possible to do well so that you could recoup your investment.

The problem is Fox does not treat its shows like an investment. They are an expense that they want immediate returns on or they cancel them. Even if the reason they did not get immediate high ratings is because of when and how they aired them. The problem is that this doesn't make good business sense. Also I am told that Firefly had a smaller budget than the Buffy series did. They were operating on a shoestring.

Lol, now that would be

Lol, now that would be rather amusing Micha. Its funny networks do seem to have a habit of keeping on rubbish SF and cancelling the good ones.

ROI is not the right measure

ROI is not the right measure for "genre" shows (sci/fi or fantasy), given history. The sign of a rabid fanbase is the sign that you're going to make a lot of money in the near future (2-3 years off).

If Firefly's demise was met with silence, and prior to that nobody called, wrote, or made any kind of effort to keep it on, I could agree with you that it wouldn't make sense to keep it on at its current expense.

The problem is that when the Firefly DVD was released, it shot to #1 with a bullet and sold thousands upon thousands of units. For just 13(?) episodes.

DVDs are gold, man. The writing was on the wall before they pulled the trigger- this show has a rabid fanbase that could only increase. That Nielsen's ratings didn't capture them is irrelevant (Nielsen's service is irrelevant, IMO). Many other measures showed that Firefly had a good base and was likely to increase that base in the future (all things remaining equal). Joss' other shows also had similar followings (Buffy, Angel). Money, money, money.

If a network doesn't own the show (and thus may not make much money on the accessories, like DVDs and such) then I suppose it makes sense to look only at ratings (ala the WB and Angel, grr). But Fox *owned* Firefly. It's going to make the money anyway.

To sum up: Fox=Dumb. Keeping Firefly on was a no-brainer, financially (so they have anti-brains, I suppose).

Hey, it's not like

Hey, it's not like cancelling Family Guy wasn't a dumb move too.

I'd be curious to see what their optimistic, pessimistic and expected NPV of Firefly would be.

Fox were total arses to can

Fox were total arses to can the excellent Firefly. I am glad to see a movie is being made...I hope retains the humour and intelligence of the TV show.

Every small business owner

Every small business owner knows that you're not going to be in the black for at least 3 years. Or something to that effect.

In any case, the point is that a similar situation holds for arc'd sci-fi (or fantasy) in a TV serial format- if it is not an immediate 'consumer good' (reality TV, sitcom), that is cheap and can deliver in the short run, it must be considered an investment good, which will pay off (if at all) some time in the future.

Given that the most successful shows in the history of TV have been sci-fi (Star Trek, X-Files, Dr. Who, for example), and that in the case of Trek and X-Files both shows had dismal ratings their first seasons (for Trek the ratings were bad all 3 years, before ratings took into account demographics, etc). The X-files was a cult show in the Friday death slot that took off on Sundays only because they'd done the yeoman work for a few years developing the cult.

X-files has made Fox millions upon millions. Trek is the cash cow that kept Paramount alive in the late 70s and 80s.

Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed that despite lousy ratings for seasons 1-2, it turned into a cult and then commercial hit. BTVS is making its producers money in spades. (DVDs, yo, DVDs.

Hence it was pathetically stupid for Fox to cancel Firefly *especially* given the already rabid fan base it had built up in less than a dozen episodes. Nothing but upside on the fanbase growth, and those people are the ones that bring in the big bucks; DVD and accessories purchases. They're also the ones that eventually convert a critical mass of viewers to watch the program (ala the X-files); they write the fansites, the fanfic, produce the buzz and cultural moment for the show. And given that Fox *owned* Firefly (and thus would be the ones raking in the dough from DVD sales, accessories, etc), it really made no sense to cut all that short by putting Firefly to the "short run gain" test.

Except for the fact that cable-only series tend to be bastardized to 13 episode runs every year or every other year (rather than 22-30 a year), I'd say Firefly would have been better on the cable nets. One day a cable network will have the cojones to go a full season 22+ episodes against the broadcasters, and then we might get good TV again...

(ps. The Sopranos is good, but give me a fookin' break with the 13 ep runs every other year. What the fawkin' fawk are these guys' problems that they couldn't've done one every season?)