From the archives - ‘Fox Trying to Spark ‘Firefly’

This originally appeared at MediaWeek.com on September 2, 2002

Fox’s sci-fi/Western Firefly is scheduled to launch on Sept. 20, and advertisers have yet to see a completed episode. Traditionally, that doesn’t bode well for a new series.

Last May, Firefly was one of the season’s most anticipated projects. Fox was so high on the concept — from Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — it ordered a two-hour pilot.

But when Whedon delivered the tape to Fox, the network balked. “We ultimately felt that there was too much back story for a pilot,” said Gail Berman, Fox’s entertainment president. Sources said that as close as two days prior to Fox’s upfront, the network was ready to renew Dark Angel for a third season — in Firefly’s place. Berman denied those reports.

Shortly after the network’s viewing of the pilot, Whedon delivered a revised one-hour script, which convinced executives to greenlight the series. Berman cautioned that the launch episode is not a pilot, but rather a first episode. “We’re moving forward with the characters. We’ve formed their sense of humor, their wants and desires,” she said, adding that the original pilot will air sometime later in the season.

But with tape on the series still not reaching advertisers, questions have been raised as to how long into the season Firefly may last. “If I had to make a guess, it doesn’t look good,” said Stacey Lynn Koerner, senior vp/director of broadcast research at Initiative Media.

Many buyers, several of whom are die-hard Buffy fans, said if anyone can pull off a series as ambitious as Firefly, it’s Whedon. But Sharianne Brill, vp/director of programming services at Carat USA, suggested that time may by working against Whedon. “He’s not just grinding out 13 episodes, he’s building a whole new universe. Maybe it would have been better if Fox held this back for midseason.”

Despite any perceived rush on Fox’s part, Berman said that she has read scripts up to episode No. 5 and that she remains confident the show is on target. While advertisers said they thought the series might air Sundays, Firefly will launch in the Friday 8 p.m. slot vacated by Dark Angel. And though both shows may seem similar in their sci-fi tonality, Berman believes Firefly will fare better than its male-skewing predecessor. “I think Firefly has a wide appeal both to men and women,” she said. “We feel great about it.”