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May 03 2013

Netflix's Ted Sarandos on whether he'd revive Buffy and Firefly. Stuff spoke to Ted Sarandos (Netflix's Chief Content Officer) recently and the conversation got onto shows that Netflix might bring back. His answers may surprise some fans.

So he really thinks Firefly has a smaller audience now than it did when it was on TV? I think it's proved the exact opposite of that statement.
Well then... I'll just sit here and mope. (It's a mopey kind of week anyway.) The fandom hasn't gotten any larger. Then I wonder why there's all these Firefly fans my age.
Wow, he couldn't be more wrong about FIREFLY. People often come across it after exposure to Joss's other works or seeing it on some Top 10 list. So I can imagine the fanbase has increased exponentially since Joss has got all this Avengers success.
I doubt anything about Firefly fandom has been exponential, per se.
Maybe not exponentially, but I thought it was accepted fact that a great many people only discovered Firefly on DVD, and continue to do so.

Whether that's enough people to support new stuff is something entirely different, of course.
Out of the scores of people I know who love Firefly (myself included) only one or two were actually fans when it aired or even before Serenity.
I love "Firefly", sincerely, utterly love it, but I doubt it would be any more of a ratings winner on a broadcast net now than it was then. Or, it would have been... Firefly + Dollhouse, maybe? Which would certainly not be anyone's idea of a "hit". I do think that in a cable setting it could do as well as "Falling Skies", though.

Not sure I think he's right about "Firefly" specifically, precisely because of its DVD success and having a movie to sort of bridge new interest, but I totally agree with his basic premise about cult TV shows/fandoms. I found his candor about show revivals quite refreshing, actually.

Depending on what kind of production value they could bring, some Netflix "Buffy" movies would be fine by me. Of course, I'm still an enthusiastic proponent of someone making some "Buffy"... a movie relaunch under the '92 sequel rights, a TV reboot from 20th, what have you. Won't make my DVD sets evaporate on the shelf.
See, I introduced, or stumble upon, tons of people that discovered Firefly after it originally aired. I'd say most fans of Firefly watched it after the fact.
I'm not sure if I'm reading the same interview as everyone else. He says he would be interested in reviving Firefly in the one I just read. He then goes on to make a sweeping comment about all these "cult" shows to the effect that their audiences remain cult audiences.

I think your real problem with Firefly is getting the cast together and finding time in Joss's schedule.

OToH, you could do some really great "Buffy-in-her-30s" TV movie stuff, I think. Unfortunately the comic books are probably an obstacle there. Trying to work in continuity with the comics would be a nightmare (how on earth do you get the non comicbook reading audience up to speed?), but ignoring that continuity could create a lot of bad blood in the very core of your fandom.
See, I introduced, or stumble upon, tons of people that discovered Firefly after it originally aired

Yeah, sure--but has that audience actually grown in size since, say, the year Serenity came out? I doubt it.
It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that Netflix has done a business case for bringing back Firefly and seen that the numbers aren't there to support it. Which may explain his answer.
I think the issue is the difference between "fans" and "audience". When we're chatting on the internet or talking with friends, it's easy to think that everyone who watched the show is like us. That the people who watched the show originally would all be enthusiastic enough to seek it out if it came on Netflix or in some other form.

However, some percentage, perhaps a very large percentage, watched the show when it was on but were not "fans", in the sense that they wouldn't put more effort into the show than into any other shows they watched. Even someone who bought the DVDs 8 years ago and enjoyed them might feel like he enjoyed it at the time, but would rather watch something else at this point. Some definitely would, but those are the people who are likely to get on a board like this one and say that they would. You never hear from the people that have fallen out of interest over the years because they're not on the message board.
Firefly fans have always grossly over-estimated their numbers. Always. See the failure of Serenity for reference. Passion is not a substitute for actual eyeballs.
@KIngofCretins – Hey what about a Mash-Up. It'll be hard to get the entire cast for both shows and since they're both SF it could "Firedoll" or maybe "House Fly"?
That should actually be a superhero tandem.
That notion is utterly ridiculous. I didn't even know Firefly existed back when it aired in the US. This person is completely out of touch with reality.
I'm not saying Firefly has enough fans at this point to have a successful relaunch on TV or any other medium. However I do think his statement just seems inaccurate. He appears to indicate that, as time goes on, Firefly fans diminish in numbers. I think we can all agree this is almost certainly false.
It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that Netflix has done a business case for bringing back Firefly and seen that the numbers aren't there to support it. Which may explain his answer.


Absolutely this. I imagine Netflix like with Arrested Development would like nothing more than the prestige of being the service that brought back that franchise.

Firefly fans are loud to the point that Firefly is often vaulted to the top of influential Sci Fi lists. I think it's a hard case to make considering what came after was entirely dissimilar or represented serial story telling which was present before Firefly. For me, it's still that delightful show I'd love to see again but there's a reason it hasn't come back. Everyone in Hollywood knows who Joss is. It would get a green light if the business case was there. There is no executive in Hollywood who gets a nifty house for saying no to more money.

@SuperScuba - Since I'm a Star Trek guy, I can tell you that no amount of fervor will take care of the attrition that happens when a franchise is put on the back burner. It's a slow slide from things we actively love to things we nostalgically remember.

I actually did a rewatch of TNG a few weeks ago and I was astonished the number of how transitional a show it was. I'd forgotten why I loved it (S1 perhaps excepted.) There are so many storytelling facets attributed to later shows like DS9, B5, and Firefly that are in it. But TNG is so old now and has been replaced in many people's consciousness. They forget what it was at the time and that it was cancelled arbitrarily as well to make movies despite having ratings that would have sustained Firefly for a decade.
Read his comments carefully. He says the "cult" gets smaller and more intense over time. He isn't talking about "people exposed to Firefly." He's talking about the vocal, rabid, fanbase. And it is completely likely that cult is getting smaller as people, you know, move on.

edited for spelling 'cause that's a theme with me today.

[ edited by IrrationaliTV on 2013-05-03 20:17 ]
None of the people I know who LOVE Firely watched it on the air. Heck, none of the dozens of people I know saw Serenity in the theaters either. I didn't even know either existed until long after the fact. Considering how many younger fans there are out there (in their teens and 20's), I'd say the fan base has grown. He couldn't be further from the truth there.
Whereas I've never seen Arrested Development or heard of it. Considering all the hype, I will check it out, but I wouldn't make a case that there are more fans for one or the other. Both are niche markets.
Firefly may very well have not enough fans to make a comeback, there are also insurmountable problems of bringing the busy cast members together, finding money, building sets etc. But stating that fan numbers have diminished seems ridiculous. It's just not true.
@azzers, I'm also a huge Trekkie/Trekker/WhatHaveYou. So I feel your pain there as well :)

I guess what just bugs me about his quote was that he seems to think that Arrested Development is one of the few shows that has a "bigger" audience now than when it originally aired. While I won't disagree about AD's place on that list, I think he's just not giving other shows the credit they deserve. Firefly especially.

If you're registered to this site, I'd guess that you have lent your Firefly DVDs to 3 or more people. In my case, I've shown it to 5 and all of them absolutely loved it. Whether Netflix should consider Firefly for resurrection or not, I just think he didn't give it due credit.

Also, almost every comment on that page is about Firefly now, not Arrested Development. lol. We are clearly a vocal bunch, but I'd bet good money we have numbers to back up the amount of passion we few "posters" exhibit. Is it enough to bring the show back? Who cares!?! Just don't tell me we're "shrinking."
I have always thought one of the problems with Serenity was that they advertised it as being "by the creator of Buffy". So anyone who didn't like Buffy (and sadly there are many) would immediately dismiss it, even though it was completely different.

Due to the mismanagement of Firefly the show on its own wasn't enough to get people to watch Serenity either. As we now know, a huge chunk of the fan base were from the DVD release and Netflix, much of which was long after Serenity itself.

Now imagine today, "by the director of The Avengers movie", that would have a very different reaction. Joss is at the peak of his popularity, arguably so is Firefly, I think it has a lot of potential. The question is if it will still have by the time Joss is able to consider it.
The strange thing about his comment is that it compared the growth of "Arrested Development" fans after its cancellation vs. other cult shows, and I hate to say it (as a fan of the show) but has the fandom really grown through the years so explosively via exposure to DVDs, etc?
Despite my mopyness, I have to agree. In my opinion though, there isn't room for a Firefly continuation anyway, with the way Serenity wrapped things up. And anything that would take place between "Objects in Space" and Serenity loses it's punch. So whether or not there's the numbers, whether it not there's room in Whedon's and the casts' schedules, I doubt there's any material that would feel, for lack of a better word, truly exciting and fresh.
It’s kind of been done, with Serenity, but yeah as a series


Can I just point out, again, that he absolutely does not suggest that it would be a bad idea or economically unviable or anything of that kind to bring back Firefly. He says "yeah" to the idea of bringing it back as a series. He thinks it would be a good idea. He also thinks that it, like all the other shows proposed to him other than Arrested Development, would remain something of a niche market.

As for the comparative sizes of the potential Firefly and Arrested Development viewerships: I imagine that Netflix have a pretty good idea of that based on how many people stream the shows. Does anyone have records of all time DVD sales for the two shows? That would also be an interesting proxy for relative audience sizes.
To be fair, Yoink, as much as he doesn't specifically say it would be a bad idea or economically unviable, he also doesn't say he thinks it would be a good idea either. And, really, given that he specifically makes his point about size/passion of the Firefly audience versus size/passion of the Arrested Development audience immediately after the interviewer suggests Firefly, Sarandos basically is suggesting that the model works for AD but doesn't for Firefly. (Whether or not anyone here agrees with him on that point.)

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2013-05-03 21:40 ]
Here's the other thing. Let's say just for the sake of argument that the size/passion of the AD and Firefly fan bases were the same. That still wouldn't show that Netflix reviving Firefly were economically viable, as the budgets for the two shows are nowhere near comparable. Everything anyone has ever said in this arena is that doing more Firefly is a near-impossibility. I'm not sure why or how any fan could read statements as saying otherwise.

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2013-05-03 21:44 ]
I couldn't tell you numbers, but very few of the Firefly fans I know are fans dating from its broadcast days - they mostly got into it via DVDs, so I think he's mistaken about that. That said, I've no clue how well it would do as a Netflix series. I don't have any concrete sense of the DVD sales numbers, etc.

Additionally & also anecdotally, there do seem to have been some big Firefly/Serenity fan forums that have burned out, but I couldn't say why that is, 'zackly. Anyhoo, I'm not sanguine about seeing more live-action Firefly ever again for a host of economic & logistical reasons, but I'm glad the 'Verse lives on in its myriad ways - from autumn-colored hats to fan mash-up vids et al., including ten-year reunions at ComicCon.

What I thought was interesting was this:

"One of the things is we get ISPs to publicise their connection speeds – and when we launch in a territory the Bittorrent traffic drops as the Netflix traffic grows. So I think people do want a great experience and they want access – people are mostly honest. The best way to combat piracy isn’t legislatively or criminally but by giving good options. One of the side effects of growth of content is an expectation to have access to it. You can’t use the internet as a marketing vehicle and then not as a delivery vehicle."

I think if more entertainment execs knew this, the better off we'd all be.

[ edited by QuoterGal on 2013-05-03 22:20 ]
QuoterGal, I think most entertainment execs know that what they haven't been able to figure out is how to not lose money doing it. If you make something available everywhere on the internet at the same time you piss off and lose money from what can be your biggest revenue stream, international broadcasters and cable. "Knowing" isn't the issue. Monetizing it without cutting off other revenues that make it possible to afford to make the show in the first place.
And, really, given that he specifically makes his point about size/passion of the Firefly audience versus size/passion of the Arrested Development audience immediately after the interviewer suggests Firefly, Sarandos basically is suggesting that the model works for AD but doesn't for Firefly

Except that he isn't really saying "here's the problem of Firefly vs. AD" he's saying "and now that I mention Firefly, let me just point out a problem with ALL of the cult shows you've brought up." Or, not to paraphrase, here is exactly what he says:
Let me give you one broad statement about these recovery shows. In almost every case the cult around the show gets more intense and smaller as time goes by. Arrested Development was the rarest of birds in that the audience of the show grew larger than the original broadcast audience because people came to discover it years after it was cancelled.

So the statement is not "here's the problem with Firefly" but, rather, "here's why Arrested Development was a particularly tempting property." He is not singling out Firefly at all.

Now, I don't for a second believe that Firefly is going to start being made as a Netflix series, for all kinds of reasons. But it's simply misreading what is said in that interview to think that he is saying "well, the one show we're definitely not going to remake is Firefly because of its teeny tiny fanbase." If Arrested Development turns out to be a hit on Netflix, I could well imagine that they might start looking at developing what look on paper to be more marginal properties in its wake. The expense of producing Firefly and the difficulty of getting all its stars and Joss together will probably be what nixes that as a possibility, not the size of its fanbase.

So the statement is not "here's the problem with Firefly" but, rather, "here's why Arrested Development was a particularly tempting property." He is not singling out Firefly at all.


And immediately afterwards he says

The Firefly fan is still the Firefly fan from when it was on TV and there’s fewer of them and they’re more passionate every year. Whereas with Arrested Development we’re going to be serving a multiple of the original audience


The fans aren't there for Firefly. That's what he's saying.
quotergal- you actually raise the crux of the problems when you say that you "couldn't tell you numbers." Where is actual evidence? Not what we think, not what we see when we look at our own experience and that of our friends, not what DVD sales indicate, but where are real actual measures showing the size of the Firefly audience, in hard numbers? Not sure that exists anywhere.
Here's the thing. Whether or not the overall Firefly fandom has grown, and at what rate, is only tangentially related to whether or not it would make sense for Netlix to fund a reboot.

Netflix is a subscription business. The number of people who watch any given show doesn't matter as much as the number of people who subscribe to Netflix. In order for a Netflix-funded show to be worth the investment, the show would need to bring in enough *new* subscribers (over and above the natural growth rate) to cover the cost. And more, to make it a profitable venture.

Take House of Cards, as the prime example. Netflix spent $100 million on producing 13 episodes for the first season. In order for that investment to off, they would need to see an increase of roughly 1.05 million users *above* their expected growth rate, with all of those users keeping their account for one full year ($100M/($8*12)) (of course, this number would go up or down based on what Netflix data shows as the average retention rate for new users).

The problem with the Firefly fanbase is that one could easily assume that the vast majority of them are already Netflix subscribers. So even if the fanbase has increased somewhat, what really matters is the number of the non-subscriber portion of the fanbase (or curious non-subscriber non-fans) there are who would be convinced to subscribe just to get access to a new season of Firefly.

Complicating the matter further is the fact that a science fiction show like Firefly would likely cost quite a bit more to produce than a show like House of Cards. And they would still have to buy the rights from Fox, who probably wouldn't be too keen on helping a competing content producer profit off of their work without significant compensation. Thus, the number of new subscribers needed to turn a profit would be significantly higher than House of Cards. So they would have to be *really* confident that there's a huge potential fanbase among current non-subscribers in order to make this a reasonable investment.

Even if Netflix tried to change the math by using a Kickstarter-type campaign to raise most of the production/acquisition costs, they would have to out-perform the most successful film fundraising campaign to date (Veronica Mars, at $6M) by about 50 to 100 times. If any show could do that, it might be Firefly. But it would still be pretty long odds.

You also have to take into account the opportunity costs. If we assume Firefly would cost only four times what House of Cards did (after rights acquisition and production costs), that would mean Netflix *wouldn't* be using that same money to fund four separate shows, the math for each of which would probably be much more attractive than Firefly's long odds.

Don't get me wrong. I would LOVE to see another season of Firefly some day. But it just doesn't make any sense for Netflix to take that big a gamble with the ROI potential as low as it is.

Not to mention the obvious fact that Joss is very, very busy for the next 3+ years anyway.

[ edited by RayHill on 2013-05-04 00:16 ]
Nice analysis, RayHill. With added opportunity cost even! I'm impressed. :)
The fans aren't there for Firefly. That's what he's saying.

The fan numbers are constrained for "these recovery shows" is what he is saying. He discusses Firefly solely as a representative member of a group. And he is not suggesting that, as a group, none of them are worth thinking about reviving. Again, there are other reasons (and RayHill sums them up very well) why Firefly would be a problematic property for them to develop, but it is a simple misreading of his comment to suggest that he singles it out as a particularly problematic show because of its small fanbase. The show he is singling out is Arrested Development, not Firefly.
I don't think he's wrong about Arrested Development or Firefly. Speaking as someone who came to love both through DVD long after they'd been canceled.
Interestingly enough, the QMx people on their FB post said that he's also wrong because their "sales numbers say otherwise."
I saw they posted the link, but I didn't see anything like you mentioned. Well, that's a bit of a different beast anyway. Hypothetically, if Netflix made this season, would they profit from merchandising sales also? Like RayHill said, it's expensive to produce a science fiction television show. Even though, if I recall correctly, Firefly had a small budget to begin with (reading what they had to do to manage that is really interesting actually), it was still a lot of money as far as shows in general go. As was stated, they'd probably have to make up the money in new subscribers. I would definitely start subscribing, but then it seems a lot of the fans already are. Honestly, the odds are never in our favor. Whedon's busy, the cast's busy, and I still have no idea what these episodes would even cover.
What QMx said, FWIW (not much in this context) is, "I hope you accept my invitation to visit QMx. I have some sales numbers I'd like to show you."
Netflix's updated business model is, "provide today what people are buying today." They just dropped a bunch of programming that people haven't watched yet (in large numbers.) So, they're actually headed in the direction of providing The Top Seller of The Day-and nothing else.
(It will be more fun if no one brings up the flaw in this tactic...wait and see if they figure it out.)
I don't claim to know a whit about business, but that doesn't make much sense to me.
One of the reasons why I haven't watched Firefly, Serenity, or been to a CSTS event in years is really because it's been a lot of the same. I admit that while I love Firefly and still quote it regularly and love it dearly, I have moved onto watching a ton of other incredible programming and it's exciting for me to see the actors from Firefly and Serenity move onto bigger and better things. I enjoy Firefly for what it is and don't want more of it for risk it'll just be retouching on nostalgia.

Yes, fans are vocal and enthusiastic bunch. Most of the time, that's a good thing. Sometimes, it doesn't seem so much. I am sure Joss is genuine in his love for Firefly but I bet occasionally he'd like to talk about his current projects or upcoming projects without it being mentioned again and again. I would like for the actors and producers and writers to move on if they want to, you know?

BarryC, I'm not sure what you mean. Isn't that a gamble all TV networks make? How is Netflix any different? You pay for an idea hoping it'll work and that it'll gain viewership. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. Netflix investing in programming large numbers haven't seen yet isn't really that different from NBC ordering a 13-episode run of Hannibal before premiering it. Or the BBC announcing a 3-episode run of Sherlock which will be totally produced then aired, guaranteeing its run for that season. It's riskier but much better for the writers, actors, and producers.

[ edited by the ninja report on 2013-05-04 23:03 ]
At this point, the only revival I'll take is a Battlestar Galactica-style reimagined where we get a lot less flaws and more representation and all that jazz. I'll stop adding useless comments to this discussion

[ edited by TenTonParasol on 2013-05-05 00:23 ]
I think one of the best examples of why a Firefly revival wouldn't work is Babylon 5: The Lost Tales. The budget JMS was given to do those was paltry, the stories interesting but unessential to the greater saga, and no one was really happy with the long-anticipated result. No one wants to tack on a sub-par afterthought to a well-regarded show--it's in no one's interest.
Mhmm. I was actually just agreeing with that elsewhere. The more you think about it, the more impossible it becomes. If it's going to work, it needs to be perfect, which is nigh impossible. The blacklash if it isn't will be a scary thing, and I imagine that's enough to put anyone, even Whedon, off the idea. Like you said, I can't imagine there's any essential stories worth telling at this point, except maybe Inara and her terminal illness but that's depressing. And I'd imagine it would succumb to the Firefly effect anyway--people don't watch because they're afraid it'd be cancelled and they won't get a payoff. That'd be ironic.
TenTonParasol, that actually wouldnt be a problem with Netflix. It commissions a set of episodes. Fans would know they were getting 5 episodes or 8 or 10 and it wouldn't be cancelled.
Oh. I was talking in more general terms of a reboot (in the time frame of ten to twenty years from now where the whole damn thing is done over and it's pretty much the samr framework but not exactly the same, like the 70s Battlestar Galactica and the 2004 Battlestar.) But hrm. I totally forgot about that bit. Five to ten episodes would be enough to cover the little things I always wished we got. Still, I might prefer a Battlestar reimagining over a small Netflix addition because, if in the right hands and done smart, it gives a chance to iron out all the flaws in a way that might not be possible with a short continuation if sorts. But there's the disadvantage of losing the cast, which is what made the whole thing anyway.
I didn't watch Firefly or Serenity until the DVD's. I watched Serenity and enjoyed it but didn't seek out Firefly immediately. Not until a couple (possibly more like 4) years later when I decided I needed to see everything Joss. I bought the blu ray set and just watched from start to finish. So I think there are some new fans and I would absolutely pay for Netflix to see Firefly again. Something I have yet to do. Though Arrested Development is tempting me.
New Firefly wouldn't be an afterthought, though. They never really got to explore the full potential of that universe. They were just getting started!

I think that the audience for Firefly is larger than most execs think, and yes I'm aware that the fanbase is small but vocal. I still think we have the numbers (and the enthusiasm) to successfully support a streaming continuation. Just witness the fact that the Firefly dvds, a dvd set of a series cancelled before even one season aired are still on sale everywhere, ten years after they were released! I see them at your Targets and Walmarts all the time. They wouldn't keep them in stock if they didn't sell.

And the fanbase is most definitely larger than when it aired. Nobody knew about it back then. I remember going to a convention after it aired, and being one of a small handful of people that even knew what Firefly was (and since I posted on the OB, I was the only one that really knew what I was talking about). Witness now how much of a fan draw Firefly is - browncoats rival the numbers and enthusiasm of any other fanbase at conventions. And maybe we may not match the numbers online, but we are definitely enthusiastic (sometimes overly so.)

We're still here. We're still buying dvds and comics and merchandise. That's impressive for 14 episodes and 1 movie. I think there is a franchise here, even if it is something else set in the same universe and not a continuation of Firefly. Someone just needs to take (another) chance on the property. Joss is a much bigger name now, post-Avengers. After Avengers 2, perhaps the world will be ready for more Firefly/Serenity/verse.

[ edited by AnotherFireflyfan on 2013-05-07 15:56 ]
Surely Firefly is too expensive for them. They cut a LOT of corners on AD.

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