Why Joss Whedon Felt He 'Lied' To The Cast Of Firefly

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" may be rightfully hailed as Joss Whedon's magnum opus, but it's "Firefly" that seems to come up most frequently when there's talk of resurrecting one of his shows. Sure, there's ostensibly a "Buffy" reboot in the works, but not much has been heard about it for quite some time. Whether that's because of the allegations of abusive behavior that have been leveled against Whedon or the realization that perhaps fans don't really want a new version of the beloved show — it's my favorite series, but personally, I hope it remains buried — is unclear.

Of course, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" had seven seasons to tell its story, while its spin-off "Angel" lasted five. Even "Dollhouse," the least of Whedon's shows, survived for two seasons. But "Firefly" only managed to air 11 of its 14 episodes before Fox gave it the axe back in 2002. Still, the sci-fi/western mash-up about a ragtag group of smugglers traveling the 'verse in the spaceship Serenity has endured, even spawning a feature film to wrap things up after its untimely cancellation.

The story of "Firefly" may have ended with the critical triumph of "Serenity," but it's still hard not to imagine what could have been. Perhaps if Fox had done a halfway decent job promoting the series or even understood why it was so fantastic in the first place, rather than making every effort to alter it, there would be more "Firefly" than a mere 14 episodes. Bringing this show to the small screen was an arduous journey, and Whedon felt that he lied to the cast in the process.

An 'unendurable' experience

During a Q&A at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Joss Whedon discussed the cancellation of "Firefly" and how "Serenity" rose from the ashes of the failed TV show. He said that for him, "Firefly" was "unendurable" and that his success with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" had made him think the process would go differently. He also talked about how "Buffy" and "Angel" both had to find their way, which is very true – season 1 of either show isn't indicative of what they would become. "Firefly," on the other hand, he said, "sprung fully-armored from Zeus' head." Whedon continued:

"It was exactly the show I wanted it to be the moment I started. And so to have it ripped untimely from the womb was not acceptable to me. I felt not only this incredible loss, but that I had lied to the actors, that I had let them down, that I had told them, 'if it's good, and you're good, then everything will be fine.'"

Whedon also mentioned that he had always accepted what came his way and hadn't ever "bucked the system," and that he would "take orders" in the hopes that he could one day be the one to give them. However, with "Firefly," the writer/director/producer says he "snapped." He had gotten everyone involved in this and felt that his life could not go on until he found a way to continue the story for everyone's sake. Thankfully, Universal Pictures was receptive to the idea and Whedon was able to give "Firefly" a satisfying conclusion with "Serenity" in 2005.

Saved by DVDs?

Whedon does have a history of bucking the odds, being responsible for not only a movie continuation of a canceled TV show with "Serenity," but also an incredibly successful television series after a failed movie with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." "Firefly" really did hit the ground running with an amazing pilot — too bad Fox aired the episodes completely out of order and didn't even start with it. There were plenty of battles to be fought on behalf of "Firefly" and Whedon was so focused on the fledgling series that his other shows on the air at the time, namely "Angel," suffered.

"Firefly" fell quickly thanks to Fox's itchy trigger finger and even a rabid fan campaign couldn't save the show. The fan outcry did convince Fox to release the complete series on DVD and, according to SF Gate, the set quickly sold over 200,000 copies. It included all the episodes, even the three Fox had chosen not to air. The high DVD sales are ultimately what convinced Universal that Whedon's canceled series was worth the gamble.

"Serenity" may not have lived up to expectations at the box office, but Whedon's feature film directorial debut was a hit amongst fans and critics. It provided the closure we all needed, even if its scant two-hour runtime couldn't give everyone in the show's large cast of characters enough of a chance to shine. I'll always wish we'd gotten more years of "Firefly," or even one complete season, but I think we can all agree the time for that has passed. We'll never know what could've been, but at least we've got 14 excellent episodes and an awesome movie. Browncoats unite!