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If you search through the internets to find reasons why the television show Firefly was cancelled, you often find disparaging remarks about Fox and the Executives behind the cancellation. These can range from "Oh how stupid" to "Ulterior motives were behind the cancellation."

One of the more thorough examples (emphasis original):

They wanted to kill this show. I believe that, as surely as I do that the sun rises in the east. Had they really been behind the series, and wanted it to "go" somewhere, they would have first of all given it a decent time-slot, one in which it would have had a chance to find an audience—the nine-o'clock (Eastern) slot on Sunday nights, vacated by that overwrought piece of dreck The X-Files, would have been perfect. It is—was—not an eight o'clock primetime "kiddie" show. It was a serious drama with a fantastic setting. And it was simply without question the best show of its type ever made for television.

So why did Fox kill Firefly so deliberately? Did they want to punish creator Joss Whedon for his "unexpected" successes with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel? Demonstrate to him conclusively that it is not the few genuinely creative people in Hollywood who hold the real power in the industry, but the men and women who hold the purse strings?

Typical excuses I have heard:

  • Someone had a problem with strong female characters
  • The powers that be just didn't like Joss Whedon
  • The cultural themes were too "out there"
  • Executive backstabbing sabotaged the show for the purposes of making someone else look bad

But the question at heart is this: Did something or someone specific target Firefly for cancellation aside from the reasons that typically get shows cancelled? Or, more bluntly, did an executive actively sabotage the show (or Joss Whedon) in such a way that resulted in Firefly getting cancelled?

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Best show of its type: a sci-fi pirate western? I love Firefly and it had lots of potential. I think it was canceled just before it blossomed into something really good, but I find it hard to believe that teaching Joss Whedon a lesson was the real motivation. I look forward to seeing what other folks can dig up, though. –  KitFox Jun 1 '11 at 19:09
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"Never attribute to malice that which can be accounted for by bad ratings", anon. And stupidity may have a lot to do with the bad ratings: 1. Putting it into a bad time slot 1. Not airing the pilot as the first episode because you think it's too difficult for the audience (not properly introducing the characters turns out to have been more difficult) –  John Saunders Jun 2 '11 at 11:06
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Oh yes. Hardheaded TV execs got so personally involved in a feud that they deliberately picked up a show and then cancelled it, costing their company millions of dollars and hurting its reputation (and theirs), purely for the purpose of punishing Whedon. Rather than say, the obvious way of demonstrating that someone is not a creative genius - not picking up the show in the first place. –  DJClayworth Jun 2 '11 at 14:08
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2 Answers

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Gail Berman, who served as the Fox Entertainment president at the time, was the one who pulled the plug.

She served as executive producer on "Buffy" and "Angel".

In her own words:

"Canceling Firefly was as difficult as anything I'd ever been involved in because Joss and I had been creative partners at one time. I worked with him very closely on this particular show and when it didn't perform [in the ratings], having to cancel it was very difficult."

[Source]


From Whedon.info:

Scifi author Keith R.A. DeCandido recently noted that Fox canceled "Firefly" for the same reason why any network cancels any TV show : it was not making enough money to justify its existence.

"Firefly was an extremely expensive show to make. It was over $2 million an episode, which is a ridiculous amount of money. It needed to draw in more viewers than it got in order for them to make it back on the advertising."

(Keith R.A. DeCandido wrote the novelization of the movie "Serenity")

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As I recall the show was also in a bad time slot before the advent of the DVR. Combine that with fox's tendency at the time to rerun the shows to death meant there was not sense of urgency to watch the show when you could see it again saturday midday. –  Chad Jun 1 '11 at 18:12
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I think they also marketed it poorly, since the show was different from anything else they'd seen. Joss Whedon also mentions in the episode commentary how mad he got over Fox's promos for the original 2-hour pilot. He spends the first half of the show building up the tension to "What was in the box" brought on-board by Simon so that when it was revealed, it would be a shock. Fox's promos went something like "See cowboys!!! Spaceships!!! Hookers!!! A girl in a box!!" and had a clip of River popping out naked, destroying all the dramatic tension he was working to build. –  fred Jun 1 '11 at 20:37
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Gail Berman is not a trusted source. Do you really think she'd come out now and say, "I hated the show!". –  Django Reinhardt Nov 15 '12 at 3:56
    
@DjangoReinhardt - Are you implying that Gail Berman canceled the series because she personally hated it, and not because of low ratings? –  Oliver_C Nov 15 '12 at 9:26
    
@Oliver_C Of course not. Berman, and the other heads of Fox, weren't in love with the show (this is well documented, if you care to look). As a result they didn't think it was going to be a hit, so they didn't waste more money giving it solid marketing or a good time slot. They also didn't give it a lead in. From their point of view, it would be just throwing good money after bad. –  Django Reinhardt Nov 15 '12 at 15:48
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While it's technically true that Firefly was cancelled due to low ratings, it's also true that FOX were not behind the show, or as Joss Whedon put it:

"They hated it. They killed it." (link @ 5:20)

As a result, it wasn't marketed well, was placed in the infamous Friday Night Death Slot, and wasn't given any sort of lead in.

Before this they had refused to air the feature-length pilot they'd ordered, and told Whedon and Tim Minear (co-executive producer) they had to have a new pilot script ready in two days or the show wouldn't be picked up. (Yes, that's right. Fox gave them two days to write the most important episode of any TV show.)

Fox also set the schedule so that the show was taken off the air for baseball, and pulled it from November sweeps, if you can believe that.

The results of Gail Berman's decisions even made the news, being one of the worst Novembers Fox had ever seen. It even prompted then Fox Entertainment Television Chairman, Sandy Grushow, to admit they'd goofed: "To put new shows on for two weeks and then take them off for four weeks for baseball is not a particularly effective launch strategy."

So yes, the show was cancelled because it was expensive and the ratings weren't great, but the show also very poorly handled by a network who had little faith in it.

What's worse is that Berman knew that Whedon was a master at growing a fanbase. He'd never had an immediate TV hit before, but he'd grown a loyal group of followers for both Buffy and Angel. Given time, it's likely he would have done the same for Firefly.

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I agree that FOX marketed it badly, but FOX has/had kind of a reputation for canceling shows early. "Drive" was pulled off the air after just 4 episodes. "Wonderfalls" also got just 4 episodes before it was canceled. "Firefly" at least got 11 episodes. So while FOX might not have been very supportive of the show, I don't have the impression that it wanted it to fail (i.e. deliberate sabotage) –  Oliver_C Nov 15 '12 at 17:09
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@Oliver_C Yes, I agree. I'm not convinced there was any vindictiveness involved. I personally think they lost faith in what the show was, and so didn't try very hard to ensure its success. They only have limited resources, and something has to go into the Friday Night Death Slot. It makes sense they'd put a show there that they didn't have faith in. –  Django Reinhardt Nov 15 '12 at 17:21
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Earlier this year FOX cancelled the much touted and heavily promoted Terra Nova (after 13 episodes), so even shows FOX wants to succeed are not safe from being axed quickly when they underperform. –  Oliver_C Nov 15 '12 at 17:31
    
@Oliver_C Did anyone ever suggest otherwise...? –  Django Reinhardt Nov 15 '12 at 17:34
    
The quote in the OP says: They wanted to kill this show. –  Oliver_C Nov 16 '12 at 16:28
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