Goodbye Backwords Press: A Personal Note from Matty; Or, What the 'Firefly' Cancellation Has
My favorite TV show, possibly ever, is the short-lived sci-fi/western masterpiece, Firefly.
Not many people watched Firefly when it aired in 2002, heralded (as it was) by a perfect storm of insurmountable obstacles: interference over the show’s characters, a network “deathslot” (right in the middle of Friday night baseball), low ratings, and incomprehensible decision-making by Fox executives about how to market and air its planned 14 episodes. The show’s creator, Joss Whedon, was fresh from the dual-successes of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel; and Fox was keen to share the profits from another Whedonverse idea, what Whedon himself called “nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things.” But Fox executives didn’t play nice. Many said, and have said, that Firefly was doomed from the start.
Of course, I wasn’t there for any of this. I was still on my LDS mission in 2002. I didn’t return until August of 2003, months after Firefly had been cancelled by Fox—11 episodes into its 1st season. The show’s original pilot episode, a two-hour world-building and expository welcome to Firefly’s cast and story, aired December 20th, the 11th aired by Fox and last of all.
Me? Friends introduced Firefly to me on DVD. These friends had been introduced to Firefly on DVD. I was to learn, as I’ve grown to love the show more and more over the years, that much of Firefly’s enduring popularity and fanbase are due to its DVD and BluRay sales: it was enough in 2005 to launch a feature film (by Universal Pictures) to finish out the show’s primary hanging threads, but never enough to have saved the show originally. What a 2014 Business Insider article called “a sci-fi ensemble show with a Western feel and ‘a gritty realism that wasn't an 'Alien' ripoff,’” critics and fans alike have called “one of the greatest tragedies in science-fiction TV.” I’m still sad about it, wondering what might have been.
And so we come to it: why I’m talking about Firefly when our little press, Backwords, is the one closing down…
My co-founders and friends, Jenny, Phillip, are likely lovingly rolling their eyes at this point. Jenny never really saw the appeal with Firefly, try as I might; and Phillip greatly prefers “Buffy” (with arguments I’d bow to wholeheartedly, as I love “Buffy” too, if not for my own nostalgia). Moreover, Firefly’s apparent relevancy has long-since burned out. And while it’s unheard of for a cancelled TV show to get its own feature film, or frankly to have news outlets still writing about it 12 years later, Firefly fell from the sky before I even knew it existed.
Why are we here? This isn’t about the press, not really—certainly not as an enterprise. Nor is it about saving the ‘Verse (read = Whedon slang for “universe”) of poetry via conversations about how the written word is commodified/valued in our culture, despite it being one of the Backwords Press goals. Those are good things (practicality, a certain ethos) but they’re not why we’re here...