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March 03 2011

Why Firefly had to be cancelled. Former Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman gives her reasons.

When "Firefly" reruns air on Science Channel,"Sci-Fi Science" host Dr. Michio Kaku will appear to comment on the science behind each "Firefly" episode, explaining "why the science fiction featured in the show really isn't that far from science fact.," per the Science Channel.

Ooh, that's a nice little bit of "added value" for those that watch it on the Science Channel (whatever you think of Dr Kaku) although he seems to be starting from a less than neutral position i.e. an actual critique is more interesting to me than patting the show on the back for what it got right.

Nice to hear how much it pained Gail Berman to cancel the show (in a way - I don't mean "Cool, she has angst !" ;) but not a whole lot new there, we already knew it was quite dear, the ratings weren't great and that's why it went (talking about the episode order might've shed some more light but intentionally or not, she kinda avoids answering that one directly).
but not a whole lot new there


True but there are misconceptions associated with the cancellation. As we get further and further away from the date of the show's demise, we can lose track of what actually happened. Like 20th Century Fox shoppping Firefly around to other networks, not a bite from anyone. It was the same for Angel.
Oh it's definitely worth putting up whether to keep the record straight or just out of interest at what she does say. I was more just observing that it's slightly disappointing that she could have talked about the thinking behind swapping the episode order or given more specifics about her reasoning or whether she considered trying anything to give the show a chance but instead went with basically "The numbers weren't there" which is so obvious it's almost tautological (not too many hit shows get cancelled after 14 episodes ;).
Maybe Joss should start his own tv network. Yknow, one where programming doesn't revolve around money but actual artistic value.

Regarding the Fox decision, so a programme doesn't get enough ratings, therefore it doesn't bring in advertiser's money, therefore it costs more to make than it brings in in ad money, right? But isn't Fox Entertainment, like, massively wealthy? Can't they afford to fund a few projects that aren't ratings hits but that someone like Gail Berman cares about? Don't they ever redistribute costs from monetarily successful shows that are cheap to make?

I'm actually interested to know, I'm not just trying to be a dick to Gail Berman or Fox particularly.
"Regarding the Fox decision, so a programme doesn't get enough ratings, therefore it doesn't bring in advertiser's money, therefore it costs more to make than it brings in in ad money, right? But isn't Fox Entertainment, like, massively wealthy? Can't they afford to fund a few projects that aren't ratings hits but that someone like Gail Berman cares about? Don't they ever redistribute costs from monetarily successful shows that are cheap to make? "

In a word, No. Executives or even ownership who do this risk
firing in the first case and stockholder lawsuits in the second.
Its not impossible but whatever it is has to be something that
benefits the entire network such as Public Service Broadcasts,
Debates, Childrens programming in some cases, and so on.

That is not to say that an executive can not have an effect.
Dollhouse got a second year that was very iffy and was then
allowed to finish its run when it becanme clear that the
ratings were not going to improve. But saving it was simply not
something an executive at the Network could have done.
I think that's partly just a difference in perspective between US network TV and other parts of the world and partly a difference in the amount of money involved. As Ms Berman says, each ep cost $1 million and i'm fairly sure there're licencing fees on top of that. A US series can easily end up costing in the region of $40+ million per annum (or about £30 million - to put that in perspective, the entire BBC drama budget across all channels is about £300 million per annum, ITV spends similarly).

It'd be very expensive to run a US show at a loss in other words, aside from the point that it's not necessarily the best business model (reminds me of the old joke:

Business Man 1: Of course, we lose money on each unit sold...
Business Man 2: Really, then how do you make a profit ?
Business Man 1: We sell a lot of units.

;)

and when you have responsibilities to shareholders etc. it's a bit hard to justify - US networks are there to make money, full-stop, if they make great TV too that's a happy bonus (compared to e.g. the BBC which is there to make great TV/radio/etc. and isn't actually allowed to make money because of how it's funded). That said, some (smaller or cable) channels do keep some shows that're either borderline or slightly unprofitable because they're critically acclaimed and so adding value in another way. Was 'Firefly' critically acclaimed at the time though ? Memory tickles say not but i'm not sure.
I can totally understand why a network has to cancel a show that isnít being profitable. However, I think FOX would save themselves so much grief if they just didnít make ridiculous decisions like, for example, airing the episodes out of order. The same thing happened with Dollhouse S2 when I promised myself that no matter what happened I wouldnít blame FOX if the series was cancelled because they gave it another shot. However, then they made it really hard for me because not only did they not advertise the show at all leading up to its return, but when they did they advertised the wrong times and the advertisements were so incredibly BAD that it was plain embarrassing. I definitely donít place all the blame on them for the shows not performing (and Iím not even a huge fan of Firefly) but they do make it very hard to defend them because they make some really stupid decisions. Basically, they just make it very easy for people to hate them.
Completely agree with vampmogs...except for the not being a huge fan of Firefly.
Who holds the rights nowadays-- is it still some kind of split between 20th and Universal? Are the comics all titled Serenity because of that?
Berman says "it was a big show, an expensive show, and it wasn't delivering the numbers".

Well lets see .... if you're going to commit to a "big, expensive" show, wouldn't it make sense to promote the hell out of it, give it a good time slot with a tested lead in, and air the episodes in order???
surely the only valid answer to why firefly had to be cancelled should be: "because the world is about to end"?
But not actually ended yet ? Still sounds a bit premature then IMO ;).
if they make great TV too that's a happy bonus (compared to e.g. the BBC which is there to make great TV/radio/etc.


But the BBC is also dependent on ratings as well. Look at the rescheduling of Outcasts, moved from a prime-time slot to a Sunday night deathslot. And presumably no chance of a second series either.
JDL:
In a word, No. Executives or even ownership who do this risk
firing in the first case and stockholder lawsuits in the second.
Its not impossible but whatever it is has to be something that
benefits the entire network such as Public Service Broadcasts,
Debates, Childrens programming in some cases, and so on.

That is not to say that an executive can not have an effect.
Dollhouse got a second year that was very iffy and was then
allowed to finish its run when it becanme clear that the
ratings were not going to improve. But saving it was simply not
something an executive at the Network could have done.

I guess we've come a long way from the days when William S. Paley could decide on his own to reverse the network's decision and cancel Gilligan's Island in favor of Gunsmoke, even though Gilligan was still consistently winning the ratings in its time slot while Gunsmoke's ratings had plummeted.
But the BBC is also dependent on ratings as well.

They are and they aren't Simon. If they make a big, expensive show designed as primetime entertainment like 'Outcasts' then absolutely (because they're answerable to the BBC Trust and, ultimately, the closest thing the BBC has to shareholders which is to say, anyone that legally owns a TV in the UK i.e. the licence fee payers - they have to be able to justify that we're getting our money's worth for that sort of show).

At the same time though, they're virtually charter bound to also produce niche programming (as part of their remit to represent the diversity of British culture, educate and inform their viewers etc.) i.e. programming that almost by definition won't be popular, it'll have a small viewership and that's fine because it serves another purpose. That's not true of US network TV.

(FWIW I think 'Outcasts' has got better although to start with it was almost embarrassingly bad IMO)
Well lets see .... if you're going to commit to a "big, expensive" show, wouldn't it make sense to promote the hell out of it, give it a good time slot with a tested lead in, and air the episodes in order???

You would think.
Berman says "it was a big show, an expensive show, and it wasn't delivering the numbers".

Well lets see .... if you're going to commit to a "big, expensive" show, wouldn't it make sense to promote the hell out of it, give it a good time slot with a tested lead in, and air the episodes in order???

---------------------------------------------------

This. As someone from the UK it gets tiresome how often I catch a series by chance look it up on the net only to find it's cancelled after a series.

If you're going to spend alot of money on something then give it everything you have to make it successful.

I can't believe Firefly couldn't have been successful in marketed right and given the right slot.
digupherbones It's my understanding that Fox, as all US(?) for-profit corporations, has a legal obligation to its shareholders to be as profitable as possible. I'm pretty sure that knowingly throwing money away on a project that's losing money mean the corporation would not be fulfilling its obligation to its shareholders.
If you're going to spend alot of money on something then give it everything you have to make it successful.

Couple of things:

1) clearly someone at the network was already nervous about the show or they wouldn't have changed the episode order (which meant Joss/Tim more or less writing 'The Train Job' over a weekend to have it ready in time), which may also have made them leery of spending on it (if you don't believe it's going to be successful no-matter what you do then it obviously makes no sense to keep throwing good money after bad - watch 'Episodes' or better, 'The TV Set' for a probably-exaggerated-but-also-probably-true-ish depiction of how network execs blow hot and cold over pilots/series) and

2) was it actually badly/under promoted, anyone got any actual information on that ?
The show was definately badly marketed. I never watched Firefly on TV since, at the time, I wasn't a Joss Whedon fan and the marketing campaign seemed to hinge almost entirely on "from the creator of Buffy", and "look a girl in the box." It was all out of context, and the tone of the commercials was really off, showing the jokeyness without providing the context that makes those jokes funny. The end result was that I was not only disinterested, I thought the show actively looked bad. Also, the girl in the box and "space hooker" thing made it look rediculously sexist.

That's all really funny when you consider that I love the show, and almost everything about it now. I think Firefly was a masterpiece. So if they couldn't get me to even try it, than yah, they did a piss-poor job even before they aired it out of order, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of both critics and the viewers who did actually sit down and give it a try.

I've introduced Firefly to so many people who have, almost universally, loved it. Most of them never even heard of it, and those who had were also turned off by the marketing.
Any sympathy I have for Gail being pained over cancelling Firefly is mitigated by the fact that almost a decade later she doesn't seem to have learnt anything from the whole experience. =\

I always wondered what would have happened if Firefly had started out on The WB/UPN. Anyone have any reasoning behind why Joss went to FOX (which to be honest never really felt like a good network fit for Firefly anyway)?
Obvious answer: become major shareholders in FOX.
I'd say that it was very badly/under promoted. Fox was (still is) one of the few networks that I watched at the time and I cannot recall seeing so much as one promo for Firefly.
Who holds the rights nowadays-- is it still some kind of split between 20th and Universal? Are the comics all titled Serenity because of that?

Dark Horse's license was with Universal for Serenity, hence the use of that name. That said, apparently the rights reverted to 20th last year. (FWIW, my understanding is that this does is not impacting Dark Horse's plans; they'll deal with 20th now.)

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2011-03-03 17:23 ]
At the same time though, they're virtually charter bound to also produce niche programming


Whilst they do have a remit to produce niche programming, if you look BBC One's primetime schedule you'd be hard pressed to find anything that would be deemed "niche". It's essentially populist and ratings driven and therefore could be compared to US network tv.
Credit to Berman for commissioning Firefly to begin with. And for getting the ball rolling on Buffy the TV show. Without Gail Berman, we'd have no Joss.
Ah, I see, the old profit for the shareholders problem. I wasn't aware of this until I read Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson and this clause reared it's head in the narrative, seemed a bit ridiculous to me but then I'm neither a lawyer nor driven by the prospect of making a profit.

Once again makes me appreciate the BBC. I've got Outcasts queued up on iplayer but I am a bit worried about it being shite.
I remember seeing promos for Firefly at the time, but they were very few and just... bad. Like Dollhouse bad. It seemed to me every single one I saw tried to make it look like a straight up comedy. The did little to make anyone want to watch (obviously ;-)).

I did not need to be swayed as I was sold at "Coming to you from Joss"
I tried to find Firefly promos on YouTube. All the promos I found are fan-made.
There were ads in comic books. Featuring an actual Firefly made to look a spaceship from what I recall. Sometimes I wonder if Firefly would be greenlit in this day and age. Probably not, but the only network who might take a chance on it would probably be Fox.
It's essentially populist and ratings driven and therefore could be compared to US network tv.

Except as I say above, the BBC is a non-profit organisation. BBC1 is one channel, the "primetime channel" if you like, for it to be comparable to the US Fox Broadcasting (for instance) would need to have Fox as its primetime channel and then a whole bunch of other channels which were partly or even mainly not ratings based featuring programmes which it explicitly recognised wouldn't be popular with the majority of its viewers. And that simply isn't the case (FX may be happy with fewer viewers but it's still a commercial entity, Fox News may be mainly intended to inform - hah ! ;) - but it's also still a commercial entity).

(which is to say, with the BBC what digupherbones talks about is actually the case - some shows are made not because they'll be popular but because they serve some other function whether it's prestige for the channel, promoting the diversity of British culture both home and abroad, education and so on. They're both bound and liberated by their charter)

I've got Outcasts queued up on iplayer but I am a bit worried about it being shite.

Well worry no longer, it is ;).

(IMO, obv. And it gets better as it goes on though it's still not must-see TV for me)
That's what I find shocking and a little short-sighted about a lot of the FOX hate. About 30 minutes ago I was Googling something and saw the question "Why does FOX hate sci-fi?" when if I had to say what broadcast network was most genre - it would certainly be FOX. ABC have their soaps, CBS have their police procedurals, NBC do comedies and copycats of other successes and The CW simply aren't competing. FOX strikes me as the most ballsy and risk-taking network around so although they might not be consistent, they have shows that are either goings to sink or swim. For the most part anyway; Early Bones was bubble-worthy and Raising Hope is pretty middling. No one else would be greenlighting Firefly, Glee or Terra Nova. (Or for that matter, Lonestar and Drive).
I think the problem many have with them is that they commission a fair amount of genre programming BUT then treat it the same as mainstream programming (or sometimes like the runt of their mainstream litter), needing the same numbers of viewers to judge it a success and so on. As things stand the way they work isn't really geared towards small but loyal audiences and yet they tend to launch a lot of shows that attract that sort of audience.
No Gail, but airing the episodes out of order might have contributed to giant drop in ratings after the premiere episode. Ya think?
I remember watching the 1st episode (which was Train Job) and thinking that i felt like I was dropped into a show halfway through. No explaination of who these people were, how they got there...nothing. It was FOX's decision to have Joss and Tim write Train Job as the first ep and to NOT air the actual pilot...the only reason I kept watching was because it was Joss and I have total faith in him. It must have been difficult for folks who were watching a Joss show for the first time to get hooked...Then showing the rest out of order AND sometimes not showing episodes for weeks at a time - ON FRIDAYS....the show never really had a chance.

Despite all that - I feel like the longer Browncoats continue to whine about the "EVIL FOX" network and do things like try and raise money to buy the rights...it makes us look kind of sad and ridiculous. Look - it happened. I think it might be time to move on. Firefly will always be one of my favorite shows and I'm sad that it was cancelled but..life goes on.

Also I've often wondered if we would feel the same way about it if it had not been cancelled. Firefly will always be a near perfect 14 episodes....it never got the chance to "jump the shark" or hit it's season 4 slump...As much as I love Buffy it never really was the same after they left high school...even GREAT shows can't be GREAT their entire run....Firefly will ALWAYS be GREAT.
I don't recall seeing much promotion -- one three-paragraph article in the newspaper, maybe, but it's their job to talk about new TV shows.

On the other hand, promoting Firefly is hard. Hard even for us. Space Western just sounds awkward, and the sheer number of characters makes it tricky to encapsulate. Usually the only way I can do it is strip it down to nothing and say, "It's about family" or some such. Now I usually say, "Here, watch the first few minutes," and if they don't laugh at Wash and the dinosaurs I just give up.

With the possible exception of Angel ("Vampire PI," but even that ignores all the backstory/history), Joss just doesn't make shows that are easy to explain or that sound at all appealing at first. I resisted BtVS for years because of how ridiculous it sounded.

About the only way to promote a Joss TV show, I think, would be to make it a mystery and have people tune in to see what the show's about, rather than try to explain it. Either that or film a short comedic scene and air it in its entirety, rather than just have clips.
I saw a lot of promotion during baseball on Fox and Fox Sports. The commercials didn't make much sense, but they had me at "Joss Whedon" so I didn't need any further incentive to turn in.
I was late to the game...heard a bit about Firefly, but as people have commented, nothing I heard was really appealing. It doesn't do well on paper. Or rather, descriptions can't prepare you for how awesome it is. I agree that the "just watch a few minutes" is the best way to introduce someone to Firefly. Or Buffy for that matter.

Oddly, it was a tv commercial for the dvd release of Serenity that grabbed me. It was awesome, and looked like something I HAD to see. Good promo can be done, and Firefly didn't have it.
Can someone remind me, what did they do to the episode order other then ditching "Serenity" (the episode) for "The Train Job"?

I ask because one of my Severely Unpopular Opinions about Firefly has always been that FOX had a point about "Serenity" not being a very good pilot.
There was definitely a fair amount of promotion that summer before its debut. I don't remember what I was watching on FOX that summer and TVIV's grids are down, but I saw enough to build up my anticipation. I just really wish UPN had picked it up to pair with Enterprise. *sighs*
Also I've often wondered if we would feel the same way about it if it had not been cancelled. Firefly will always be a near perfect 14 episodes....it never got the chance to "jump the shark" or hit it's season 4 slump...As much as I love Buffy it never really was the same after they left high school...even GREAT shows can't be GREAT their entire run....Firefly will ALWAYS be GREAT.

Insofar as the great shows are concerned, everything I've seen about Firefly leads me to believe that it had the best chance of avoiding The Shark for the longest possible time. And the fact that it ends so soon and so abrupty - that right there is a MAJOR flaw.
I hate this woman, so much. No remorse? Awful
When Gail talks about the cost of making Firefly I'd have to assume that one of the most significant costs would have been building the Serenity set. So once built that's it. The pilot may have cost $5m because it included the cost of building the set but every episode after that would be far less because the set is already built and paid for. It would make more sense to make as many episodes as you could to spread the capital cost of the set as much as possible, the cost of each episode would be less and less for each additional episode.

And, though it really pains me to say it, I think promoting it as "From the creator of Buffy" was a mistake.
We know how great Buffy was. But to most people who have never seen it they think of it as some cheesy kids show. To most people Buffy and Sabrina Teenage Witch are the same.

And it sounds like they also made the same mistake as Universal made promoting Serenity. Showing funny bits on trailers made people think it was a comedy or a spoof. And for a comedy or spoof it wasn't that funny.
Far better, IMHO, to have promoted it as a straight action drama and left viewers to discover the comedy as a happy surprise. You don't promote a BMW M3 by telling people what a great towing car it is or that it has a big boot (trunk for USA folks). You promote its performance and then let buyers discover it has a spacious boot or can tow a trailer.
Still it was a big mistake.
I hate this woman, so much


Hate is a very strong word and not something that we particularly care to see used here. And Gail Berman is probably the greatest ally and supporter that Joss ever had. The fandom owes her a great deal.
Has anyone ever made a tv show about deciding what tv shows get made and cancelled? It's a serious question. I feel like it must've been touched on at some point but I'm drawing a blank.
There was a pilot about a cult show with weird fans and conspiracies but it never made to series. I think it was around the 2006/7 season but I can't quite remember.
Mentioned it above but the recent Showtime sitcom 'Episodes' touches on it though it mainly concentrates on the filming of a pilot for one show (unless you meant a reality TV show, in which case I dunno). Also the David Duchovny film 'The TV Set' (same thing though, just one pilot - Simon 'Moist' Helberg's in it in a small but significant role).

The pilot may have cost $5m because it included the cost of building the set but every episode after that would be far less because the set is already built and paid for.

I'd heard $12 million for the pilot, is 5 pretty much the accepted figure now ?

Also not really getting the "cost spreading" argument zz9. The episodes cost $1 million each, the cost of the set has already been spent, that money's gone - if the show's a (financially) losing proposition then every episode only adds to the total amount of money lost. Again, it's the "gambler's ruin" of throwing good money after bad.

(maybe if it looks like it'll turn around you could consider waiting it out due to the money already spent but unfortunately - for whatever reason - 'Firefly's numbers kept going down)
I was thinking more along the lines of The West Wing. But I think that about a lot of things. Most things? I'm not sorry the cult show didn't get made, it's always sounded pretty dicey.
Ah right, like a proper long-form drama about it ? Not seen one. Might be interesting though it's maybe a bit "inside baseball" (and I suspect, a bit like real-life espionage, it'd mostly actually be pretty dull and involve sitting around looking at spreadsheets) ?

Also, for the characters to be well-drawn you'd need a bunch of writers and showrunners to sit at work every day imagining that network execs were actual human beings and that might be a big ask ;).
Ravenwing263 - IIRC, Tim Minear postponed the broadcasts of "Safe" and "Shindig" until after "Out of Gas" because FOX didn't air "Serenity," so he thought that audiences wouldn't understand the characters well enough to "get" those episodes if they aired third and fourth instead of later on. Joss Whedon decided that "Objects in Space" should be broadcast instead of "Heart of Gold" because by that point the show had been canceled and they only had one more broadcast scheduled (other than the two hours laid out for "Serenity"), and Joss decided that "Objects in Space" was a more important episode.

Although FOX is often blamed for airing the series out of order, they really can only be blamed for postponing one episode (even if it was one really crucial episode).
Firefly had a smattering of TV promos, but they were poorly done. Those promos seemed like a deliberate, and unfortunately single-minded, effort to pull in the all mighty male 18 to 34 demographic. Two promos come to mind, the infamous "Walking on the Sun" montage and the cringe worthy "Spaced Out Spacemen!" tagline. The promos made Firefly look kind of goofy, frat boy humor and I most likely would have never given it a chance if the ads didn't mention that the show was from Joss Whedon. It was his name alone that convinced me to give the show a chance, because honestly those ads made the show look like something I probably wouldn't like.

TV networks are heavily invested in attracting particular age and gender demographics, but FOX unfortunately made heavy handed promos aimed right at the young male audience, but in such a way as to turn off so many others because they'd get the impression this wouldn't be "their" kind of show. The shame of it all is that ads that attract the young male audience can also be made to still draw in so many others... there is overlap... like clips showing handsome men in dramatic moments, beautiful women (Firefly is packed with pretty!), exciting fx shots, other worlds, etc. But noooooo... the FOX promos looked like the work of folks who panicked and got tunnel vision to try and madly grab those late teen, early 20s guys. Hit those young guy demos, and apparently don't bother much about anyone else (which is probably why 'Fastlane' was eventually put in Firefly's time slot.)

So, inadequate and misleading advertising is nearly as bad as no advertising at all. Then, not show the pilot first for a show that really does need a certain degree of introduction, and that's not the best start. I saw the first episode of Firefly and also got that feeling that someone mentioned about being dropped into the story after it already started. But the show was different and intriguing, and perhaps the 'dropping in feeling' was its way of saying to the audience that it thinks you're smart enough to figure things out as you go and the answers will come.

Another big blow to the success of Firefly was that by the second episode, the SECOND, it was already being preempted for baseball! Both the second and third episodes were not aired in their regular time. Helluva way to build the audience. It was only because I went to the Firefly website and saw in the message board that people on the east coast saw Firefly aired at 11 p.m. (instead of its 8 p.m. slot) that I checked FOX later and indeed saw the episodes aired at those later times (and made sure to record them). Sheesh... what a way to treat a brand new show... not being in its time slot by the second episode, and then again for the third.

Then the next episodes aired were out of order, and after about four or five more airings there was November sweeps and FOX pulled Firefly off the air to show Adam Sandler movies and some such on Fridays. Firefly was gone for THREE weeks in a row. How can a show build a following if it keeps getting pulled from its time slot?

FOX didn't know what it had. Great harm was done to Firefly right from the beginning. Firefly fought the good fight, but it did not get the basic smart treatment that a new, original show needs to get a good footing and fly. Poorly done promos, not airing the pilot first, episodes out of order and very erratic scheduling are poison to a new show. So of course the numbers weren't what the network wanted... Firefly was messed with from the beginning. FOX blames Firefly's death on low ratings (i.e. Firefly's fault), which deflects attention from looking at how FOX screwed up.


Edited for spelling correction...

[ edited by 11thHour on 2011-03-04 00:52 ]
That $1M number is no where near accurate. Like in not even a little bit. It gave me a good chuckle though.
How pointless was this article? The only reason I could think of them doing this is to rile up fans in an attempt to get their mailboxes full of hate mail.
Saje, that $5m was just a figure I plucked out of the air to contrast with the $1m per ep cost quoted in the article. Even that seems very low, though it was ten years ago. Maybe they paid $1m and the studio (albeit part of the same group) absorbed the cost?

And, in public at least, she does appear to be in denial. If you are an exec and a project fails you have to ask yourself what you did wrong. Whatever the problem was, what did you do or fail to do to anticipate or resolve that issue? Did you pick the wrong pilot? Did you pick the wrong writer? Did you put it on the wrong day? Did you fail to market it enough? Did you fail to give it enough time?

On the face of this article it does appear that she simply dismisses the suggestion that airing a serial in the wrong order could possible have been a problem. Non linear storytelling can be great, look at Out Of Gas, but it has to be planned that way.

Give her credit for respecting Joss and greenlighting the show, but have the confidence that you picked the right guy and air the episodes in the order he wrote them!

The impression is that many of what we consider mistakes (poor quality promotion, low level of promotion, Friday death slot, network demanded rewriting of episodes, episode preempting) were repeated with Dollhouse does suggest that Fox did not learn from the Firefly experience. Some of the execs may have changed but they should still have been aware of what happened.
iwearthecheese:

How pointless was this article? The only reason I could think of them doing this is to rile up fans in an attempt to get their mailboxes full of hate mail


Oh yeah, cuz she wants to get lots of hate mail, especially from inflamed Firefly fans.

Actually, me thinks Firefly is the show that won't die, and the people who did it wrong are recognizing that. Now that Firefly will be aired on the Science Channel then there's another potential large group of new folk who will discover the show, love it, and wonder why the heck it got cancelled.

Pre-emptive spin control for FOX's cancellation decision so as not to get pounded with hate mail...
I think that's overstating things a bit. The truth is closer to the fact that almost everyone running a website has figured out at this point that the cancellation, talk about the cancellation, talk from people even tangentially involved in the cancellation, and most things Joss related tend to equal hits. As a result, you can see Firefly references worked into interviews that really ought not have them in at all.

At this point, is there really even a logical reason that Nathan is forced to answer a Firefly question in every internet interview? Not really, but most interviewers know their demographic. Serentity was 6 years ago. If I met him on the street, I'm not going to ask him about it at this point.

The idea that Fox needs to spin-control a seven year old cancellation decision is a bit silly. They're probably more focused on what they're going to do with Fringe and how to find another Glee.
Everyone realizes that Gail doesn't work for Fox and hasn't worked there for many years. Right? The title here kinda gives that away. Fox doesn't call up Gail and ask her to do nonexistent damage control for them.
TV Guide had a very nice article that was very complimentary of the show, I remember it clearly as I had decided to try to avoid ever watching anything by Whedon ever again (semi-long story), but the article was compelling enough to convince me to reluctantly give Firefly a try.

As has been said, Fox deserves tons of credit for okaying all sorts of great and original shows (including, imo, over a dozen that have not yet been mentioned in this thread), but they really defeat themselves once their promotions department gets ahold of them. They're not the only Network guilty of this, but because they have so many good projects it's been very obvious.
The idea that Fox needs to spin-control a seven year old cancellation decision is a bit silly.

And not only that but is anyone really going to send hate mail to a network 8+ years after the show was axed ? I mean there's keeping the flame alive and then there's burning down the house due to flame-enthusiasm.

Serentity was 6 years ago. If I met him on the street, I'm not going to ask him about it at this point.

Nah, you'd ask him about "Serenity 2" right ?

(and re: that typo, I guess if ever they make a porn parody... ;-)
"If you're going to spend alot of money on something then give it everything you have to make it successful.

I can't believe Firefly couldn't have been successful in marketed right and given the right slot."


faneater, I agree with you, but ironically, my understanding is that if Fox had been thinking this way then they might never have agreed to Firefly in the first place. Dark Angel was doing fine on Tuesdays, but dropped once it was moved to Fridays (of course part of that probably had to do with the quality of S2). Producer James Cameron was reported to have recognized the problems and vowed to address them if given a S3. He directed the finale of S2 and was said to have been willing to become more involved in the show if it was extended. Supposedly Fox then had to choose between one of Dark Angel S3 or Firefly S1 because it would have been too expensive to do both. If Fox had followed your advice, then they might well have stood behind Dark Angel and passed on Firefly. If that meant that Firefly wound up with a better chance later then that's great, but if this was Firefly's only chance, then we're fortunate that they weren't thinking this way.
"Despite all that - I feel like the longer Browncoats continue to whine about the "EVIL FOX" network and do things like try and raise money to buy the rights...it makes us look kind of sad and ridiculous. Look - it happened. I think it might be time to move on. Firefly will always be one of my favorite shows and I'm sad that it was cancelled but..life goes on."

It depends on your perspective. I'm sure that that works for some people, and it may even be the healthier approach, but some of us are committed to our bitterness (and not just about Firefly, there are dozens of other "canceled too soon" Fox shows and I, for one, enjoyed quite a lot of them.

"Also I've often wondered if we would feel the same way about it if it had not been cancelled. Firefly will always be a near perfect 14 episodes....it never got the chance to "jump the shark" or hit it's season 4 slump...As much as I love Buffy it never really was the same after they left high school...even GREAT shows can't be GREAT their entire run....Firefly will ALWAYS be GREAT."

I've never understood this argument. If the show became bad then we still would have had the first Episodes, but why is it more likely that the show would have become worse? It easily could have stayed the same, or even gotten BETTER. Yes, better. Look at Buffy S1, early Angel S1, and Dollhouse S1, as much as I (now) love Joss, are the beginnings of his shows/Seasons really where he does his best work? Imo, and that of many others with whom I've spoken, then the answer's not so much. Firefly might have gotten better and better for at least 2-3 years and we wouldn't have risked the initial Episodes in any way by seeing it continue.
"And, though it really pains me to say it, I think promoting it as "From the creator of Buffy" was a mistake.
We know how great Buffy was. But to most people who have never seen it they think of it as some cheesy kids show. To most people Buffy and Sabrina Teenage Witch are the same."


Great point zz9. I saw the Kristy Swanson movie, with which I'm sure we're all familiar with. TV has had a long history of adapting movies into mediocre to terrible TV shows (with the exception of MASH). As soon as I heard/assumed that they were "ripping off the Buffy movie to make a bad TV show" (I know, I know, assumptions are very bad) then I made sure to avoid BtVS and I know I'm not the only one. I'm sure that Joss' name drew some viewers, but I'm equally sure that some were turned off by it. (a huge apology to Joss if he ever reads this)
The idea that Fox needs to spin-control a seven year old cancellation decision is a bit silly. They're probably more focused on what they're going to do with Fringe and how to find another Glee.


Perhaps "spin control" isn't the best description, but she does think the subject is important enough to make a statement to explain her reasons for the cancellation, even now 8 years later. So there's some reason why she wants to state her side of the story, perhaps she still does catch a lot of grief over the topic from people. As to the programming executives currently at FOX, yes of course they are far more concerned with present and upcoming properties. Most likely personnel has changed dramatically since the Firefly days, so not the same folks anymore anyway.

Any references to "hate mail" were stated in response to another post, and I thought sardonically enough to express how silly it would be. The topic of Firefly's cancellation can be an interesting philosophical and emotional discussion, and perhaps also an exploration into a TV business model that will eventually be replaced. The topic is also a deceased equine which invites all manner of whips and sticks.

Any future incarnations of Firefly will take a different form in production and delivery than the original. Oh, and Joss will have way more say too.
11thhour, my point was why say any of this now? There really isn't any point in it and doing so is only going to add oil to a smoldering flame. The fact that it's going to be aired on the Science Channel is no real reason to start making excuses. If anything, it doesn't even make any sense to do preemptive damage control considering it hasn't even aired on the Science Channel yet. Any new fans the channel manages to garner won't even see the damn thing.
How pointless was this article?


I'm not sure why a retrospective look back at the show's cancellation be described as "pointless". It's been a topical issue of late and instead of the usual suspects trotting out the same old cliches about evil Fox, the article features new quotes from the person made the call to cancel the show. Though I suspect she had advertisers and senior management breathing down her neck as well.
I didn't want to watch Firefly when it aired because I was angry at it. Some say Buffy wasn't the same when they left high school-- quite true, but in my own mindframe it just wasn't the same when Joss Whedon was straddling two shows, Angel and Buffy. And then to try and launch a third show, when I felt like Buffy was already struggling from a lack of the direction they had at the beginning, and I was a bratty older sister not wanting to meet a new step-sibling.

I still feel like Firefly would have done a lot better in 2007 or NOW and not then. It just wasn't the right moment. With all the steampunk stuff around now I feel like exactly what we need is a show like Firefly on TV. 2002 just wasn't the moment.

And that's why I saw, rock on with your fundraising Browncoats. This show has life in it yet. If anyone even mumbles a thought about bringing it back, I will be there loudly supporting that thought. More so than Buffy, and it pains me to say this because Buffy is my first love and I feel like this is a great moment for those stories to have a revival as well, but more than my vampire saga this story has so much left to tell.
So there's some reason why she wants to state her side of the story, perhaps she still does catch a lot of grief over the topic from people.

and

11thhour, my point was why say any of this now? There really isn't any point in it and doing so is only going to add oil to a smoldering flame.

Well, it's right there in the linked article. The relevant quotes are:

I had the chance to talk with the woman who canceled the show, former Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman, for an upcoming Post-Gazette feature story...

and
When asked about some of the more painful cancellations during her tenure, Berman mentioned both "Dark Angel" (2000-02) and "Firefly,"...

I.e. Gail Berman was being interviewed for a feature and the interviewer asked her about painful cancellations (and they're presumably posting this snippet because of the helpnathandostuffthatwonthappen campaign). She didn't decide to state her side of things, she just had the barefaced effrontery to actually answer a question honestly when asked rather than think "I wonder if this will make the internet angry ?" beforehand - 'Firefly' was one of her more painful cancellations, presumably for the reasons she gives about liking the show, liking Joss and liking working with him, and so she said so.
Okay.

My attention is somewhat scattered tonight... working, and not sleeping too much, in order to meet deadlines. Better to stay focused on work right now.

I'll close by saying that mostly I felt compelled to offer some arguments when the subject of low ratings comes up for Firefly. It's troubling to see the low ratings issue cited without also mentioning that several legitimate issues with the network's mishandling of the show played into hurting Firefly's chances for success... and those numbers.
Yeah, on that I couldn't agree more 11thHour, it would've been great to hear some reasons for the low numbers (even if they're not ones we agree with, hearing Ms Berman's perspective would be interesting).

In fairness to her, I guess she still works in the industry so she's not completely free to say what she likes (ideally it'd be like you sometimes see with retired politicians - suddenly, instead of toeing the party line, hedging everything they say or scoring party political points, they become actual human beings and describe what they were actually thinking and feeling at various points). Or it could really be that she feels the reasons don't flatter her handling of it and is avoiding answering, i'd just rather not immediately assume that.
Saje - Interesting notion to ponder on how the stories of how Firefly was handled would change if a kind of "retirement" as you described removed the fears of disclosing what lead to a confluence of decisions that doomed Firefly. Although what played out most likely was not a deliberate step-by-step plan to sabotage a new show (or was it?), it certainly had that effect. FOX didn't really know what it had, tried to make it into something it wasn't, then seemed like it wanted to escape the whole situation. Someone once compared Firefly's mishandling by FOX like a patient who was given the wrong meds, then smothered with a pillow.

Also it's quite frustrating when the argument is made that FOX's mishandling of Firefly didn't really make that much of a difference, and the end result would have been the same. Oh really? It's hard to imagine that a plan for successfully launching a new show would consist of ill-conceived promos, not air the pilot first, pre-empt the second and third episodes, not show it all the next week, show some, then pull the show again for 3 weeks for sweeps, back-off promoting the show, and then air the rest of the episodes out of order. If a new launch plan like that was pitched at a network meeting they'd be wondering, "Are you trying to kill that show?"

Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.
- Napoleon Bonaparte


hmmmm... perhaps... though in TV exec land fear and CYA comes into play, which might just be another form of incompetence. This isn't aimed at one particular person, there's probably plenty of blame to go around.

There have been many classic TV shows that started off with mediocre ratings, but someone with power saw the quality and supported the show. The audience found it and the show went on to be one of the greats. These days there seems to be more concern about stockholders than taking care of the shows and creators themselves. The business side is important of course, but when it becomes out of balance with the creative product then great harm will be done. Short sighted, fear based decisions will ultimately erode success.

Back in the day, The X-Files struggled at first, but because FOX was a new network then they were kind of forced to hang on to one of their only new shows. That extra time on the air grew the audience and eventually created a cultural phenomenon. The X-Files may not have made it past mid-season one in the kind of climate Firefly was born into. Something to ponder.
This is so depressing. It just reminds me of how frustrating it was during those few months 'Firefly' was on the air: hard to follow because shows were obviously out of order, AND hard to find because it was delayed for Baseball (one night it started after midnight) so frequently. How could it possibly build an audience?
It never had a chance.
It is very hard to not feel bitter about it. In fact I AM still bitter about it.
The X-Files may not have made it past mid-season one in the kind of climate Firefly was born into. Something to ponder.

Sure or 'MASH' (went from not even in the top 30 to number 4 from its first to second seasons) or 'Cheers' (which, IIRC, placed dead last in its first season, then 12th then 5th) or numerous others. I don't disagree that US TV seems a more cut-throat environment now and that good TV and even good money-makers are likely being lost because of it.

Re: what difference it made, it's hard not to see preempting, moving episodes etc. as having a deleterious effect but my own take on that is it's also impossible to say that if the promos had been great - whatever that means, what with it varying by individual - and it hadn't been preempted/shuffled then it would've been a success since we can't know that either (look at e.g. 'Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles' which seemed fairly well promoted, premiered to 18 million viewers - it had a big American football match as its initial lead-in - and then gradually tailed off, getting cancelled after two seasons/31 episodes).

As fans we can assume everyone would've loved it but we can't know (I for one have basically entirely given up trying to predict what mainstream US TV audiences are going to take to).
The X-Files may not have made it past mid-season one in the kind of climate Firefly was born into. Something to ponder.

Which is an awful thought, really.

One of the things I've noticed about Firefly is purely because it was cancelled early on, before it had a chance to evolve into something, people forget that it wasn't very good.
people forget that it wasn't very good.


I think that's an opinion and not a fact. Thought some episodes I found to be lesser that others. The one with River got kidnapped and the sword fight episode were just ok. And why bring Saffron back so quickly? That never gelled with me.

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