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FireflyReborn : Serenity, the silver screen spin-off of Firefly
Saturday 22 October 2005, by Webmaster
What would you do if your favourite TV show was cancelled? Most of us would sigh, lament we never did discover who impregnated Vanessa with the turkey baster - and then go down the pub. Some may be really angry - and write to Points Of View.
But increasingly, there are others. People who are standing up. Who’ll fight. They demand to know - God damn it! - what happens in Roswell after the aliens invade (and if Michael and Maria could sort out their issues, that’d be good too). The TV protest that began with fans running disparate letter-writing campaigns with limited success (Cagney & Lacey and the original Star Trek being notable exceptions), has since evolved. Now internet-organised terror groups send nappies, baby food, bananas, spoons and bottles of Tabasco sauce (the spicy kind) to TV executives. Others have funded TV and press ads, attempted to fund future series themselves, and created a Live Aid-style protest record. At the proactive savethatshow.com you can even protest before your favoured show has been cancelled. Perhaps even more bizarrely, these campaigns appear to be working. The sci-fi spinoff Serenity, a UK box office No 1 this month, was the product of fevered campaigning that involved fans raising thousands of dollars for ads in the trade press after the original series, Firefly, was cancelled, while Family Guy (campaign ammo: nappies and baby food) has been recommissioned for a fourth series after being axed twice. Arrested Development (bananas) had been on the verge of the axe before the fans said it with fruit, while spoils of other campaigns include two extra seasons of Roswell and a Farscape mini-series.
Article continues "Renewing a show is human judgment," admits Brad Turrell, a spokesman at Warner Brothers. "And that’s influenced by fan campaigns." Family Guy (best described as The Simpsons with Tourette’s) had already been cancelled and saved once when Fox axed it for a second time. Not letting poor ratings bother them (or that Fox wanted rid of a controversial show) fans campaigned for its DVD release, to have it moved to the Cartoon Network, and, after a three-year absence, forced Fox to commission a new and unprecedented 22-episode run.
Protests involved over 100,000 signing a petition promising to boycott all Fox TV and every product they advertised (surely tricky if you don’t know what products you’re boycotting?), nearly bankrupting a business by sending (unloaded) nappies, and some less-than-subtle letters. "There were threats of murder, burning of buildings, harming of pets..." remembers organiser Joe. "One or two were even for the show’s cancellation."
The Family Guy writers were also involved, suggesting rival networks the fans could target who might take it up. One of which - the Cartoon Network - did. "It was the largest fan campaign anyone had ever seen," says Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane. "With the DVD market becoming so important, the network executives are really starting to pay attention to them."
When rumours began circulating that Roswell would not return for a second run, the fans waged condiment war. Thousands of Tabasco sauce bottles (the aliens’ tipple in the teen drama) were sent to Warner Brothers from across the US. "It blew them away," says 35-year-old housewife Jodi Moore, who is now campaigning for a Roswell film (campaign ammo: mocked-up cinema tickets). "No fans had done anything like it. Everyone can start a petition but no one takes any notice of those."
The show was bought back - and at a better time slot - for another two series. So why did she feel so strongly? "At the end of the first season, they got a message saying they needed to return to their home planet," she says. "That never got resolved. With sci-fi, that makes the fans nuts. We wanted closure!" But doesn’t she have closure now? "No. One movie could do it ... I’d be perfectly happy with a mini-series too."
But if sci-fi shows are more likely to attract fans with too much time and not enough social skills, more surprising are those not wanting closure or validation, but fighting for (whisper it) quality TV. The critically-acclaimed, multi-award-winning comedy Arrested Development was on the verge of cancellation after just two series, but that was before 31-year-old IT consultant Katherine McKee (first-time campaigner, long-time watcher) got involved, turning a "disorganised" fanbase at Saveourbluths.com into a mean, lean, banana-sending machine. "I was drawing a line in the sand," she says. "Most television makes me want to poke my eyes out with knitting needles rather than watch it." As well as sending thousands of bananas to Fox - referencing the frozen banana stand in the show - they focused on the thing every network exec would sell their youngest daughter as an al-Qaida go-go dancer for. Cold, hard, cash. "I wanted to show that those six million viewers would buy the DVDs and not evaporate as soon as some I Married My Own Grandpa reality show came along," she says. A third series was soon agreed.
Others, it must be said, have been less successful. The super-organised fans of Star Trek franchise show Enterprise - led by SaveEnterprise.com founder Tim Brazeal, the only civilian apart from William Shatner to receive an honourary captain rank from Starfleet - raised $3m to fund a new series themselves, but forgot it would have cost $30m ("It sucked!" says Brazeal). The not-organised-at-all fans of superhero show The Tick (battle cry: "Spooooon!") took up the baton in spoon form, forgot to check how many were sent ("I envisaged the head of Fox with a giant mound of spoons on his desk," says Rob Worley, owner of fansite Comics2film.com. "Didn’t happen"), dabbled in alternative forms of protest ("I tried holding my breath and binge drinking") and found the spoons had an alternative kind of impact ("they doubled their efforts to cancel it").
Yet it’s not just the fans who’ve protested. Sometimes, it’s the crew. Former Take That producer Ian Levine was asked by Dr Who insiders to create a protest record after internal wrangles left it on the verge of the cancellation back in 1985. The result - Who Cares?, featuring the then lead actors Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant and several Bucks Fizz members - was not, however, an overwhelming success. Or, as Levine puts it: "It was an absolute balls-up fiasco. It was pathetic and bad and stupid. It tried to tell the Dr Who history in an awful high-energy song. It almost ruined me."
But even this couldn’t touch the time Sony were deluged with hundreds of emails urging them to bring back 1980s series Werewolf, only to discover they were coming from four people - three fans in North Carolina and Chuck Connors, the star. And it’s not just the fans and the staff who’ll protest. It’s also the channels. American soap Sunset Beach - famed for mannequin acting and for a woman who became impregnated with a turkey baster - was dying in the US ratings in 1999 but thriving on Five, thanks to "so-bad-it’s-good" chic. Hoping to imitate Baywatch, which survived under the auspices of foreign masturbators long after Americans suffered RSI, a campaign started by the fans got a hand from Five.
Sadly, though, it was not to be. As a gauge of DVD buying power and future ratings, fan campaigns have now come full circle. Fox’s own site for Arrested Development - Getarrested.com - looks more like a campaign site, asking viewers to sign loyalty oaths saying they’ll watch every episode. As Bryant Liu from Saveourbluths.com puts it: "Were they unsatisfied with the job that we did?"
· Family Guy, Sat, 10.05pm, BBC2
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