Let me be clear: I love Firefly. I think it’s a fantastic television show, and it’s an absolute travesty that it didn’t get the years of success it deserved. That said, Denisa and I finished rewatching it a few days ago, and I’ve been thinking about the reasons why the show didn’t take off an flourish as quickly as it needed to in order to, you know–still be on the air today (or at least make it past season one).
Also note that I’m not concerned with the actual reasons here. What Fox did or didn’t do, how negotiations broke down and all that jazz. Because you know what? I don’t think any of that matters. In the end, a home run is a home run, a single is a single, and three strikes always means you’re out.
What I mean is that if Firefly had had a stronger beginning, the show would have lasted longer than it did. I feel like it took a few too many episodes to get its groove going, and in these days when shows have to fly right off the bat, that just was too long for it to last.
Look at it for a bit. Episode one introduces the characters, but it doesn’t really do a good of being a great episode of Firefly. The humor is there, but not quite up to speed yet. Jayne isn’t at Full Awesome. The banter is missing some of the oomph. The romance between Mal and Inara isn’t sparking. Add to that the fact that there’s no really good overarching mystery or plot element to get viewers hooked, and it’s no surprise that the pilot didn’t hit it out of the park.
Episode 2? Train heist. Cool, but again–the puzzle pieces aren’t quite fitting together. It’s only once episode 3 & 4 roll around that the show starts to shine. By that time, Fox was already looking at cutting the show, because TV executives have all the attention of a cocker spaniel.
If episodes 1 & 2 were up to snuff, things might have gone a whole lot better for the series.
Of course, Joss Whedon has a history of this with television shows. I don’t feel like the first season of Buffy was up to snuff, and in many of the subsequent seasons, it would take a few episodes before the season snapped together and started churning along nicely. Dollhouse was the same.
Some of this has to do with the fact that his shows don’t typically fall into a single genre. Horror/Comedy/Drama. Sci-fi/Western/Comedy. They’re mutts, and it takes an audience a bit to understand how the show’s working, when there aren’t pre-established tropes for them to fall back on. This concerns me quite a bit, because one of the reasons I really like Whedon’s shows is because they’re similar to my writing. I like to bend and break genres myself. I like to step outside of conventions.
Does that mean my books will have a harder time selling?
But I also think that pop culture is developing a way to embrace creators like Whedon. Standard television contracts are on the way out. Shows can spread like wildfire through the web and instant streaming. Fans latch on to a creator, and stick with that creator through the bumps and jostles of contract negotiation. In a few years, I think a show like Firefly would do just fine if it were to come out today. DVD and streaming sales provide a source of income beyond the standard ABC/NBC/CBS/Fox line up.
Now the question is what will happen to the book world. I can’t help but think the same sort of situation will evolve, though I’m not sure what exactly it will look like when it does.
In the meantime, I just write what I like to read. That’s all I really can do, anyway. Hopefully people (and editors!) end up coming along for the ride.