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Whedon’s ’Firefly’ Lights Up a Holiday DVD

Thursday 4 December 2003

LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) - If cancellation is hard on TV fans, imagine what it’s like for the show’s creator. After successfully launching both "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and its spin-off "Angel," Joss Whedon poured his heart and soul into his first entirely original idea for television (he first wrote "Buffy" as a movie), FOX’s "Firefly."

Nathan Fillion starred as war veteran Malcolm Reynolds, the conflicted captain of a space freighter full of misfits, struggling to survive by both legal and illegal means in a future universe that blended SF and Western elements.

Despite the enthusiasm of FOX programming chief Gail Berman at her initial announcement of the series, by the time the pilot was in production in early 2002, problems began to surface. The two-hour pilot was shelved in favor of a one-hour episode written over a weekend just before the deadline for announcing the new fall schedule in May 2002. The series launched in Sept. 2002, but was on hiatus by late November, and off the air after the eventual airing of the pilot on Dec. 20. But, all this info and more is contained in Whedon’s commentary for the pilot, which is part of a DVD boxed set of the entire run of "Firefly" — including three unaired hours — available Dec. 9 from 20th Century Fox Home Video.

It’s a bittersweet moment, but, says Whedon, "There’s a lot of sweet in there. The moment I held that little thing in my arms, I was so excited. It does look pretty — then it has that TV show that I love so much in it.

"Seeing them all there, knowing that it was really happening, was a very big deal for me, because I felt strongly about the show. I loved it so well, and I wanted people to be able to see it. I didn’t want it to disappear."

Asked if "Firefly" is his favorite creation, Whedon says, "Well, in some ways it was. I love all my children for different reasons, but I never had more fun in my life — except for that episode with the ballet on ’Angel.’ That was pretty fun.

"It just felt like it gelled right away. It wasn’t a show that was waiting to happen, it was a show that was already happening. So to have that out there, and for people to be able to see what we did, really makes me excited."

Along with the episodes, the DVD includes commentaries — not just by Whedon, but by other writers, cast members and crew — featurettes, a set tour by Whedon, Alan Tudyk’s audition for the role of pilot Wash, a gag reel, deleted scenes, Whedon crooning the title song (which he wrote), and another musical performance, by cast member Adam Baldwin.

Also, the episodes are presented in widescreen, as they were originally filmed, and are arranged in order. "That was the most important thing to me," Whedon says. "Everything else is gravy, but there does seem to be quite a bit of gravy."

Over the course of the show, FOX did request certain changes. "What they wanted to change didn’t hurt the show at all," Whedon says. "It was just when they didn’t want to make it anymore ... I disagreed with that note. ’Stop filming’ was a note that, I said, ’I don’t really get where you’re going here.’"

While some criticized "Firefly" for being too dark or not having enough of that characteristic Whedon-esque witty banter, it may just have been ahead of its time. HBO’s "Carnivale" is on the verge of earning a second season, even though it is one of the darkest dramas of the last few years.

Although he hasn’t seen "Carnivale," Whedon isn’t sure that’s the show he would have made anyway.

"I’m very much of the ’make it dark, make it grim, make it tough,’" he says, "but then, for the love of God, tell a joke. Show some love. I can get by on that stuff. I like a hard world, but I like a hard world that molds good people and people with a sense of humor about the world they’re in.

"Otherwise, it’s unrelenting. People don’t live like that. Maybe I’m just a dumb softie — or a subtly brilliant softie. So subtle, in fact, that it cannot be picked up by human beings or any machines."

Rumors continue to fly about a "Firefly" movie, including talk that production would begin this month.

"That is delightful rumor," Whedon says. "That would be terrific except that that simply can’t happen. I’m a little busy, but I have hope. I am working on a script, and that’s all there is yet."

Asked what he learned from his "Firefly" experience, Whedon says, "Don’t tell your actors you’re going to run for seven years when you’re not. Make sure that the people buying your show actually want it. That was a big one.

"Apart from that, hire people in all walks — crew, cast, staff — that inspire you and get along and realize that the process of making this show is going to take up as much of their lives as the product. Every single day on ’Firefly,’ it was a damn good time, and I believe that shows up on screen."

For those who still resist the idea of putting Western conventions in outer space, Whedon says, "It’s all ’Stagecoach.’ At the end of the day, whether or not there are horses — which, in my case, there were — it’s all ’Stagecoach.’

"You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they really are. If there’s any kind of fiction better than that, I don’t know what it is."