Firefly was a great show. In fact, it may not be stretching things to say it was the most beloved show in all of fandom. However, that popularity didn’t happen all at once.
It’s a show whose popularity was a function of word of mouth. New fans come to Firefly year after year by watching it on Netflix or being loaned the Blu-Ray set by their friends. The pattern is always the same: they motor through those fourteen episodes, they watch the Serenity movie, and then they ask: “wait, that’s it? Where’s the rest?”
Unfortunately, Firefly was canceled by Fox after only one season. And Serenity getting made at all was a miracle, and low box office ensured that it wouldn’t get any sequels. Therefore, those new fans that discover the show year after year inevitably join with the old fans and mourn a series that was taken from us before its time and ask why it was taken from us.
However, there are more answers to that question than you might think. And for such a short-lived series, there are quite a few secrets about its cancellation.
Don’t believe us? Keep scrolling to check out 15 Secrets You Never Knew Behind Firefly's Cancellation!
15 Fox promoted it as a comedy
After the show was canceled, many fans liked to speculate about what could have caused a show as great as Firefly to be canceled. Most point the blame directly at the Fox network, and this is more correct than you might think: the show was canceled in part because Fox did not know how to market it.
Part of the charm of the show was that it didn’t fit the mold that most other shows do.
Fox decided to market the show as a kind of genre comedy, calling it “the most twisted new show on television.” The marketing played up the weird archetypes and promise wacky adventures of characters like “a flighty pilot” and a “space hooker” and a “girl in a box.” Even the most ardent Firefly fan would have been turned off by this marketing.
14 Fox aired the episodes out of order
While Firefly came out before our modern mania for serialized storytelling, Joss Whedon did a good job developing these characters and stories from episode to episode. When you watch the show now on streaming or Blu-Ray, it seems powerful and cohesive. However, Fox helped destroy the show by broadcasting episodes out of order!
Part of this had to do with their desire for a “better” pilot (which is why "The Train Job” was broadcast as the pilot and saved the pilot for last— more on that later). Other episodes were also aired out of the intended order, and some recorded episodes were not aired for several months.
The result was that even hardcore fans had trouble keeping up with their favorite show.
13 It was almost picked up by another network
Nowadays, the idea of other networks picking up a show seems very common to us. We see shows like Supergirl jump from CBS to CW and companies like Netflix helping to revive old properties like Gilmore Girls. When Firefly was canceled, it was a different time and place - but that didn’t mean it wasn’t almost saved.
There was some Whedon precedent for this move: Buffy the Vampire Slayer jumped from the WB over to UPN. Whedon and company tried to do the same thing for Firefly, but UPN wasn’t biting.
Basically, despite the best efforts of the creative team and fan campaigns, they couldn’t get any other networks interested, so the show finally ended.
12 The actors had to keep shooting after it was canceled
As fans, we know how upsetting it is when our favorite shows are canceled. However, what we don’t always consider is how rough this might be for the actors as well. It turns out it was especially rough on the Firefly cast because they had to keep shooting the show!
When Whedon found out about the cancellation, he ripped the bandage off quickly and told his cast and crew.
There was just one catch: they still had three days of shooting to do! Looking back, it’s amazing that the show retained high quality in those final scenes. It would have been easy for everyone to give up and phone things in, but the cast used those final days to bond with each other and deliver an amazing final product.
11 It almost ended before it began
Again, all fingers (rightfully) point to Fox when it comes to exploring why the show was canceled. After all, Fox said it was canceled due to ratings, but had seemingly done everything it could to kill the ratings (more on that later). Interestingly, though, the show ended up nearly getting canceled before it really began!
Two of our favorite characters, Zoe and Wash, are very happily married in the show. However, Fox executives insisted that Zoe have a romance with Captain Mal instead. How hard did the network insist? There were threats to not even pick the show up if Whedon continued with this plot.
Obviously, Whedon stuck to his guns and Fox still picked up the show, but there was bad blood in the water before the first scene was ever shot.
10 The original pilot was shown at the end of the season
In hindsight, Firefly did a lot of impressive things. It blended genres, gave us actual original sci-fi, and presented us with fantastic characters that we could still relate to. One of the most impressive things was the pilot episode, as it perfectly introduced us to these characters and their world. However, original fans of the show had to wait a long time to see it!
As mentioned earlier, Fox did not like the pilot episode, “Serenity,” and insisted on using a different episode as the pilot (which is why Whedon had to create “The Train Job”). In an extra-cruel twist, though, the real pilot was the absolute last episode that was originally aired!
Imagine being an original fan and wanting this story to continue, only to find out that Fox was keeping the actual beginning of it from you for months and months.
9 There was a Star Trek style campaign to save the show
On the surface, there may not be a lot of similarity between the world of Firefly and the world of Star Trek. However, when it comes to shows getting canceled, the two of them have one big thing in common: fan campaigns!
Star Trek: The Original Series was famously saved from cancellation (though relatively briefly) by an immense fan campaign petitioning NBC to save the show.
Firefly had several efforts: there was an Immediate Assistance campaign to keep the show on the air and then a concerted campaign to move the series to UPN or SciFi. While they didn’t bring the show back, this level of fan involvement helped bring the Serenity movie to life. To this day, there are still fan campaigns to have networks like Netflix revive the show!
8 The Fox President regrets canceling it
Considering how callous Fox seemed to be regarding this show and its success, many fans have often wondered if the network has any regrets about what they did. While we can’t speak for the entire network, we do know one thing: the Fox president from that time seriously regrets her decision!
She claimed it was one of the most difficult decisions she ever made and that she particularly hated to hurt Joss Whedon, whom she had worked with closely.
Despite her regret, she’s still not sure that things could ever have ended any differently: she said it was “a very expensive show” and “it wasn’t delivering the numbers,” making it hard as a network to continue funding what was basically a gamble on its future success.
7 Fox actually wants to bring the show back
Of course, it’s one thing for a former Fox president to say they regret canceling the show. However, the biggest evidence about Fox regretting this cancellation is the fact that Fox wants to bring the show back to this day. However, don’t get too excited: there are some complications!
The Fox President of Entertainment, David Madden, said in early 2017 that he would like to bring the show back. However, he had one condition that fans can sympathize with: he’d only bring it back if Joss Whedon would run the show once more.
However, Fox likely can’t afford Whedon anymore: he’s busy helping create superhero blockbusters like Avengers and Justice League. It seems unlikely that he would leave that kind of money and opportunity behind to go back to Fox.
6 It led to Whedon’s explosive movie career
One of the hallmarks of the Firefly universe is the idea of hope. As bleak as things got for our heroes, they always fought for another opportunity and a better tomorrow. This optimism has trickled down the the legion of “Browncoats” fans, which is why some of them are actually happy the show got canceled.
Why? The reason is that it effectively launched Whedon’s movie career. He wanted Firefly to last seven years, but its quick cancellation meant he was directing the Serenity movie that much sooner. If he didn’t have any movie experience, he would probably never have directed movies like the mega-successful Avengers.
Therefore, fans of both the MCU and of Whedon himself can take heart that at least one good thing came from the show’s cancellation!
5 Airing on Friday nights probably doomed it
Another factor when it comes to why Firefly was canceled was exactly when it was aired. Specifically, this show was aired on Friday nights. While some Fox shows have managed to succeed in that time slot (early X-Files comes to mind), Friday nights are typically viewed by audiences and networks as a death sentence.
It’s not hard to see why: on Friday nights, prospective audiences are typically hanging with friends, watching local football games, going on dates, and so on. If you were purposefully designing a time that a show was least likely to be watched, then you couldn’t do better than “Friday night.”
By airing the show on that night (and with terrible marketing and with episodes out of order), Fox doomed the show.
4 There were some terrible episode ideas we dodged
Part of what made Firefly so great was that, as Captain Mal might put it, they have done the impossible: they crafted a short first (and only) season where every episode ranged from really good to really great. In doing so, they dodged the common issue of a first season or two being really rough. However, one reason to be grateful for the cancellation is that we dodged some really stupid episode ideas.
For instance, there was an episode idea where a pheromone spill makes all dogs on a planet attracted to Wash, so he runs around until River uses her mind powers to calm them. Another a planned episode included Mal unilaterally abandoning people to their doom on a planet. Worst of all, there was a planned episode where we’d find out Inara’s syringe allows her to kill assaulters— only after we find out she was assaulted by Reavers.
3 Fillion’s glad it got canceled
It’s tough for fans not to look at Nathan Fillion as their leader. This is partly because he was the charismatic Captain Mal on their favorite show and partly because of Fillion’s genuine charm. Of course, he has been the most successful of the cast after the show was canceled. However, fans might be disappointed to learn that Fillion is glad the show was canceled!
In an interview back in 2016, Fillion brought up the idea of people wanting more of the show. He said that while he “loved every minute of it” and thought “it was everything,” that it was also worth asking “How can everything not be enough?”
With these simple words, our favorite Captain reminds us that we got a perfect show and a movie. Maybe we should be happy with what we have instead of sad we don’t have more of it.
2 The cancellation doomed Wash
To this day, one of the saddest moments for Firefly fans is when Wash suddenly perished in the Serenity movie. Narratively, it made sense: as soon as one beloved character perishes, it makes fans much more concerned for everyone else. However, there’s a dark secret behind Wash’s end: you can blame it pretty squarely on Firefly getting canceled!
Joss Whedon has stated on multiple occasions that if Firefly hadn’t been canceled, Wash would still be alive. Which makes a lot of sense: Whedon also claimed that he wanted the show to run for about seven seasons, giving him plenty of time to flesh out everyone’s stories.
Knowing Serenity was his last time with these characters and knowing that there would be no more character development for Wash basically got our favorite pilot the ax much earlier!
1 The actors mourned the show in a funeral
In the episode “The Message”, we get a lot of emotionally impacting moments. The biggest one, though, occurs when Mal and the others return the deceased Private Tracey home to his family. It turns out that scene was sad for the actors for other reasons entirely!
“The Message” was the last episode that was filmed, and the cast and crew knew that the show was canceled while they were still filming. Therefore, while they buried a fictional body, all of them were keenly aware that they were also laying their show to rest, making things very emotional.
Even the composer, Greg Edmonson, got in on the action: he created a special song for that funeral scene as his way of saying goodbye to the entire series!
Got anything we missed about Firefly's cancellation? Let us know in the comments section!