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Firefly Flies

Creator Joss Whedon talks candidly with CINESCAPE about his latest show on Fox, finding an audience, his prospects for its future and why you must watch... NOW!

By Anthony C. Ferrante     December 13, 2002

It isn't easy being an underdog on a major network, but Joss Whedon handles it with ease. After creating BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER for the WB where it took a couple of seasons for viewers to understand the show was more than just vampires and monsters, the Frog network allowed the series to gain its footing and find an audience despite its somewhat daunting title. Now Whedon finds himself in a similar situation with his upstart series FIREFLY, airing Friday nights at 8:00 p.m. on Fox. This time around, however, he must convince viewers that his show is more than just another space saga a la STAR TREK.

"Our shows

Zoe (Gina Torres), Mal (Nathon Fillion), and Jayne (Adam Baldwin) investigate a mysteriously abandoned ship in the "Bushwacked" episode of FIREFLY

are built for people who don't watch genre," says Whedon. "They're built for people who watch anything. Our characters on FIREFLY are really compelling, our actors really talented and their relationships very interesting. That's something that is very hard to get out message-wise. From the beginning I've asked Fox to please advertise this to women, to older people everyone who doesn't come to shows with spaceships. If Fox was doing a huge campaign, they could do many layers and advertise one way here and one way there. Both people who show up are going to be satisfied. I always say I make women's pictures with fisticuffs. We have drama, action and humor it's all there. However, when you put a spaceship in it, people go, 'It's got to be cheesy,' just like people do on BUFFY."

For FIREFLY, the show is anything but, as it is built around a very intriguing conceit 500 years into the future after a universal civil war, crew members of the small transport ship Serenity try to eke out an existence for themselves on brave new worlds many that look like the Old West, others as high tech as anything on TREK. The difference, of course: Whedon writes about characters strong, ever-evolving characters and he's corralled a very strong ensemble right out of the gate with Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) leading the ragtag group into often renegade adventures.

"The show lends itself to be whatever it needs to be," explains Whedon. "We think the network gets that now, but whether or not we're going to be given a chance to find out, it's up to somebody else. But they're very supportive of where we are creatively we just don't know how many more they're going to let us create."

With tonight's "Objects in Space"

Joss Whedon accepts his statuette and dishes dirt on next season at the Saturn Awards. (Copyright 2002 Sue Schneider)

written and directed by Whedon the series has finally seemed to find its creative footing, mixing the western and space elements in a way that isn't as jarring to viewers. The episode focuses on a vicious bounty hunter out to capture the mysterious and dangerous River (Summer Glau). The Serenity crewmember manages to turn the tables on the bounty hunter, however, resulting in a taut game of cat and mouse.

"River has become lethal and the crew is trying to figure out what to do with her," says Whedon. "Meanwhile, a bounty hunter actually manages to get on the ship in search of her. This episode is definitely a lot stranger and I think compelling and different than other ones we've done."

Next week, the unaired two-hour pilot also written and directed by Whedon will finally see the light of day. This is the holy grail episode fans have been waiting all season for.

"They didn't air the pilot because I don't think they were happy with the product at first, but I think we've reached a creative simpatico," explains Whedon.

In fact, Whedon is very excited the pilot will finally air so that audiences can see the origin story in that way, newcomers can also get a chance to understand the show's back-story. But even more so, the pilot is arguably a solid feature film unto itself and far more entertaining and original than half of this summer's "supposed" blockbuster entertainment.

"I just

FIREFLY's the Serenity

watched the pilot again, and the show really hasn't changed very much," says Whedon. "A show needs to find its footing as part of the first season process, but I looked at that pilot having not watched it since we starting shooting the season, and there have been changes. Some things look a little different, but quite frankly, it's still the show. I'm really proud of the two hours. I think it works really well. It does have more of a western feel to it than the network was comfortable with and we've gone more multicultural than that, which is fine. It has horses; it has a deliberate pace. The two hour takes its time to get to know everybody... putting them into situations where they don't shoot their way out of, before it starts bringing on the tension to me, it's still the show."

By now, it's no surprise that FIREFLY is still on the bubble. While Friday's 9:00 p.m. show, JOHN DOE, has already been renewed despite similar soft ratings, the network hasn't made its decision as to whether it will renew FIREFLY for the full year or whether it will take the series off of Fridays after next week's two-hour pilot, despite three other episodes already in the can ("Trash," about the return of Mrs. Reynolds; "The Message," about the crew transporting the body of an old soldier that corrupt police want back; and "Heart of Gold," where the crew engages in a little Magnificent 7 action as they're hired to protect a whorehouse).

"We don't know what's going to happen, but we're making the show as good as we can," says Whedon.

Though the creator says an announcement regarding the show's fate will likely be made in the coming weeks, he believes that if the series does returns, it will be in a new time slot. But, of course, the performance expectations will likely change as well.

"If they

River (Summer Glau) is taken by natives on the "Safe" episode of FIREFLY

stick us somewhere else, it's going to be with new expectations," says Whedon. "I don't know what slot that will be and I don't know what kind of expectations you can have when you don't really bring people in. We don't have advertisement and the advertisement we do have doesn't really help it. There was an ad that said 'a spaced out crew in space' or something like that. Hell, I wouldn't watch that. It's the same problem BUFFY had to a certain extent."

What's important now, according to Whedon, is educating people beyond its core, loyal following, that the show is still out there and that tonight's episode and next week's two-hour special pilot are great sample shows that will give new viewers a perfect introduction to just how unique and different FIREFLY truly is.

"We're working really hard and we do have the most extraordinary crew and cast imaginable so I feel in my heart, it will go on," says Whedon. "Actually my heart stopped around mid-September, but I feel the show will go on."

For more information on the show, its characters and back-story, check out

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