Network reignites fan passion for cancelled series

“When ‘Firefly’ was cancelled, I thought it would go the way of most all other canceled shows: nowhere,” said Nathan Fillion, who played the lead role of Mal Reynolds on the show. “But it just won’t die.”

In fact, “Firefly” hasn’t just stayed alive in the 10 years after its cancellation — it’s thrived. The story of nine crew members of the Firefly-class ship Serenity in the year 2517 blossomed into a cult phenomenon, with legions of “Browncoats” — a fond nickname for “Firefly” fanatics — packing ballrooms at the San Diego and New York Comic-Cons this summer.

Now Science Channel, which began rerunning the show in March 2011, has unveiled the new hour-long special “Firefly: Browncoats Unite,” which airs Sunday and reunites the entire Serenity crew for a comprehensive discussion of the show and its lingering questions. The special features Fillion, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Adam Baldwin, Morena Baccarin, Alan Tudyk, Gina Torres and Jewel Staite, along with showrunner Joss Whedon, exec producer Tim Minear and exec story editor Jose Molina.

The special is part of an effort by Science Channel to grow “Firefly” as much as possible for new audiences, even packaging episodes with scientific breakdowns from frequent network contributor Dr. Michio Kaku. For Science general manager and exec veep Debbie Myers, “Firefly” gave the net a perfect opportunity to venture into scripted programs without having to risk investing in an unproven series — or shouldering the expense of producing one.

The channel has also given hungry Browncoats the opportunity to relieve a show that many say died far too early.

“Our community feels like it was robbed, and it’s just tragic,” said Nerdist founder Chris Hardwick, a self-professed “huge fan” of “Firefly.”

Fox cancelled the show largely because of low ratings, though the way in which “Firefly” aired — on an irregular schedule and with episodes often released out of chronology — has also been blamed.

“Most shows don’t crush in their first season anyway — ‘Firefly’ really needed time to breathe, to grow and earn its viewership,” he said.

Beyond the often-repeated batch of Fox episodes, lingering fan interest in “Firefly” also birthed a 2005 theatrical feature, “Serenity,” written and directed by Whedon.

“The fact that 10 years later, people are still obsessed with this series is a testament to Joss’ storytelling genius, and for many of us at this studio, a bittersweet reminder of what might have been,” noted Gary Newman, chairman of 20th Century Fox Television.

But Hardwick, Myers, Fillion and others also feel there’s something the outcome that adds to the “Firefly” mythos.

“For one, the show never had a chance to suck,” Fillion quips with a big laugh. “And every episode is a piece of pure gold. It’s perfection.”

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