The Firefly cast

Why ‘Firefly’ Was Cancelled

The history of television is littered with shows that got cancelled before their time. Firefly is one that still hurts the hearts of science fiction fans who wanted more adventures from Captain Mal (Nathan Fillion) and his ragtag crew of galactic outlaws.

Released in 2002, Firefly was supposed to be Joss Whedon’s next big hit on the small screen following the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Unfortunately, the space-western was removed from Fox’s schedule before the first season came to end. The show’s fan base did get some closure with 2005’s Serenity, which is something at least. But why did Fox pull the plug on Firefly in the first place?

Fox didn’t support Firefly from the start

Firefly cast in The Train Job

Tensions between Whedon and Fox over Firefly existed from the get-go. In Serenity: The Official Visual Companion, the showrunner recalled how the executives didn’t like the fact that Zoe (Gina Torres) was happily married to Wash (Alan Tudyk). They wanted a romance between her and Captain Malcolm Reynold’s (Nathon Fillion) instead. Thus, Whedon was issued with an ultimatum: drop the marriage storyline or else.

“The last thing that Fox said was, ‘We will pick up the show, but they can’t be married.’ And I said, ‘Then don’t pick up the show, because, in my show, these people are married. And it’s important to the show,'” he wrote.

Whedon sticking to his guns was enough to keep the relationship storyline in Firefly. However, the problems didn’t end there. Per Mental Floss, the episodes were aired out of order as Fox didn’t feel the original pilot contained enough action and excitement to grab viewers. The planned introductory episode was then moved to the end of the season, while a stitched-together version of “The Train Job” became the pilot.

The network continued to delay and move more episodes around throughout the season, which just caused a big mess at the end of the day. Understandably, the behind-the-scenes chaos and questionable decisions didn’t translate to good ratings.

Firefly had a low viewership


At the end of the day, Firefly just wasn’t pulling in high enough ratings for the network to greenlight more seasons. However, Gail Berman, the former executive president of entertainment at Fox, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (via SyFy) that it wasn’t an easy decision for anyone involved.

“If I had to do it over again, I might have reconsidered it but I’m not sure it would have changed anything,” she said. “It was a numbers things. It was a wonderful show and I loved it and I loved working with him on it but that was a big show, a very expensive show and it wasn’t delivering the numbers.”

Ratings are always the most important factory for any television network at the end of the day, and shows like Firefly aren’t cheap to make (unless they make bottle episodes). That said, Fox did add Firefly to a cursed timeslot that brought an end to many other series’ before it.

Firefly was another victim of the Friday Night death slot


According to TV Tropes, Friday nights are a death sentence for new shows — especially if they’re ambitious and not your usual family-friendly fare. Every network has cancelled great shows after debuting them on this particular evening, but Fox has been more cutthroat than most. Over 30 have been sent to the television graveyard since 1993, many of which went on to become beloved cult classics.

Maybe Firefly would have fared better on a different network, in a different time slot, on a different night. We can’t change the past, however, so there’s no point dwelling on what could have been. Looking ahead to the future, though, it’s possible that Firefly’s voyage might not be over just yet.

The Serenity crew might return, but don’t get your hopes up

Firefly's cancellation led to the creation of Serenity

Given that there have been some revivals of old cult favourites in recent years, fans have been wondering if Firefly will be resurrected in some capacity. The good news is that there is a chance, but it isn’t at the top of anyone’s priority list at the time of this writing.

While speaking to The Wrap in 2019, Fox’s president of entertainment, Michael Thorn, said that he’d consider a Firefly limited series if they can make the story relevant for today’s audience. Thorn also explained that there might be some advantages to greenlighting more Firefly, as the show is an established IP with a dedicated fan base. Therefore, the space-western might not be as much of a gamble the second time around.

Of course, the series of abuse allegations levelled against Whedon may have destroyed Firefly’s revival chances. The creator has come under fire in recent months after some of his former co-workers accused him of misconduct and unprofessional behaviour. If a Firefly revival ever does go ahead, Whedon probably won’t be involved.

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