It's been a tough season for Joss Whedon when it comes to his new sci-fi series Firefly. While the series is blooming creatively, the enemy has been the anemic ratings that have threatened the show since it premiered. Firefly has battled baseball and the Death Slot, that nasty timeslot that some series have to try to survive in on Fridays at 8 p.m.
Despite it all, Firefly has held on, building a small but loyal audience of true believers. Luckily for fans, Fox hasn't canceled the series. Instead they've ordered two additional episodes, bringing the episode order up to 15 and giving the show a little more time to find its audience.
While it's anybody's guess how long Fox will hang in there or if Firefly fans can expect a full-season pickup, those involved can't help but be excited by Whedon's latest brainchild.
Executive producer Tim Minear (Angel, The X-Files), along with actors Adam Baldwin (Independence Day, The X-Files), who plays Jayne, Ron Glass (Barney Miller, Teen Angel), who plays Book, and Morena Baccarin (Way Off Broadway, Perfume), who plays Inara, chatted with Science Fiction Weekly about their characters, how Firefly is doing and the challenges ahead.
Firefly hasn't done well in the ratings so far this season. Are you worried about the future of the series?
Minear: I'm hoping that they [Fox] allow the show a chance to develop, is what I'm hoping. I mean, I believe even at Friday at 8:00, people would eventually hear about the show, and I believe it has tremendous growth potential, and I think our audience can build if we're aired consistently.
Baldwin: The biggest challenge right now is making sure that we get to do several seasons. Let's hope they pick us up for the rest of the season, and hopefully people will tune in. I think Friday nights at 8:00 might be a tough timeslot for this particular genre, but that's not my department. I mean, I'm a guy with three kids. I'm home usually Friday nights, but I know most people who aren't like me aren't. Young people are out Friday nights.
Isn't that what VCRs are for?
Baldwin: Sure, but we want their butts in front of the TV when it's airing.
Glass: I really, really thought that it was a no-brainer in terms of being a hit. And so it does surprise that that hasn't been the manifested reception of it so far.
The X-Files found Fridays to work very well for them eventually.
Minear: "Eventually" is the key there. Now, of course, that was in a different time. An hour later and it was at a time when Fox was a much younger network. So who knows if X-Files premiered today if it would do as well right out of the gate? It might. It was damn good right from the beginning, but they had the luxury of building an audience. You think about it now and everybody understands The X-Files, but at the time it was actually something quite new.
Despite the ratings troubles, how do you feel about Firefly?
Baldwin: It's my favorite TV show. It's the only show that I can think of going now that I can watch more than once and you pick up new stuff. There may be some comedies out there, like Curb Your Enthusiasm, if you want to go back and live some comedic moments. But Firefly is such a complex show and the dialogue is so unique that you miss things the first time round. And it's just not formula. It has some formulaic equations buried in there, but doesn't everything steal from Shakespeare? And didn't he steal it from somebody back in ancient Greece, too? Not that we're stealing anything. "Good actors observe others, while great actors steal." You might as well steal from the best.
Baccarin: It's very unique, the new-frontier kind of thing. It makes it real. There's room for a lot of imagination, and a lot on Joss' part to create this new world for us. I'd have to say the whole idea of it, the newness of it, [surprises me]. Just how creative the whole process has been with creating this new world and the people that I'm working with. There's a huge collaboration, and that's what makes it so great.
Glass: I wanted to do an hour-long show, and I wanted to something that was dramatic and sometimes funny and humorous, as well. I'm just delighted to have this opportunity to be a part of this project.
Baldwin: It has all those layers for people who choose to delve deeply, but it's also quick and entertaining for those who aren't. What I love are the historical references. Hopefully, young people will read more books, and it will cause them to think a little longer, than just react to pretty pictures. They're actually going to have to pay attention to what we're talking about and what the allegory may be to some Civil War battle. It's fabulously complicated, with wonderfully diverse characters, and the dialogue is historical allegories. It's hysterically funny at times.
It's the most fun job I've ever had. I've had lots of fun on other jobs, but this by far has the potential for the longest run, and the character [of Jayne] sure is full. We have great sets. We have terrific words and a fun cast, and a great dedicated crew. My heroes are the camera crew and the electricians. They work such long hours. The main camera guy—a lot of it is hand-held camera work—has that 55-pound camera on his shoulder 12 hours a day. Allen Easton, my hero.
Minear: I think it's interesting, and I really hope that we're success a in keeping all those balls in the air. I think so far we have been. And that's very exciting.
Has Firefly turned out the way you thought it might when you first heard about the project?
Glass: No [laughs]. No. I think we have a lot more humor, for example, than I thought we might have initially, and I think it's wonderful. I think it fits, and I think it's generic, given the situations that we have and the people who were involved in it. Because it's just like the rest of life. It's all about perspective and perception.
Baccarin: I didn't really get it, initially. I was trying to sort of figure it out, because we didn't really get scripts. We got treatments at first. I couldn't understand it. I couldn't conceptualize it, because obviously it wasn't my creation. But once you start working on it and you read the script and you get into that world, it's really intoxicating because it's something new.
Baldwin: This sci-fi in the future show has no aliens, and I wasn't sure how that was going to play. Going in, I was saying, "Well, maybe the audience will want that. I don't know." The vision is it's only 500 years in the future. That's not that long. And we really wouldn't spread out that far, just when you consider the distances you have to cover in a galaxy or the universe. So chances are we probably wouldn't run into tentacly goopy-faced aliens with lasers and things, which are expensive to use. So I just love the nuts-and-bolts aspects of the show, because these guys are trying to fly under the radar as working-class grunts.
Mr. Minear, from a writing standpoint, what have your biggest challenges been?
Minear: It's been pretty fertile, actually. Certainly there is the question of there being nine characters, and we've even done an episode where one of the characters, we just didn't have him in there at all. We explain why he's not there at the beginning of the show, but you didn't need him that episode. I haven't really found it necessary to completely service every character in every episode. But the biggest challenge on any series is coming up with stories. Coming up with new situations. The biggest challenge and the biggest strength of this show is, of course, coming up with stories and coming up with stories that resonate with the core characters, as opposed to something that's just a bunch of moves. What you want to try and find is the emotional center of every story and how it resonates from one or more of the key characters, as opposed to "there's a serial killer on the loose and we must stop him," which is more of an outside type story.
And I'm guessing you may have those as well.
Minear: Sure, but again, it's probably not a story we would tell unless it gave us some new understanding about one of our characters. I think all the characters [are complex], and if you haven't seen those more complicated sides of them, it's because we've only aired a few episodes. There are nine principals. I've worked on shows that had six characters, and it seems it was harder to find something for them to do. I think one of the reasons it's easier on this show, for me, is that some of the other shows I've worked on they were teens who all had the same agenda. "We're going to save the world this week." Whereas on Firefly, perhaps not everybody has the same agenda. So it's really a lot easier to have a conversation with nine people in the room if they all have something different that they want to accomplish or see a different point of view in the situation.
All the characters are so rich on Firefly. What are some of the acting challenges?
Baldwin: We were doing the pilot. When we had our first get-together dinner with Joss and the cast, we sat down before we were going to start shooting. I turned to Ron [Glass] and I said, "What's your advice on how we can keep everybody happy and caring about the show and make sure that everything drives forward?" I kind of said this as a benefit to the younger cast members, but I wanted his opinion, too. And he said, "Just keep it about the work." And that's really what I know he does all the time, and I try to do as much as I can. And I am older and more experienced, and that luxury helps on a long-running series. So I think the goal is to keep it about the work and make sure that you bring the behavior to the words. That's the key to making characters enjoyable to watch for the long run.
Baccarin: My biggest challenge is to make [Inara] accessible and human, and she's got some downfalls, too. Everybody's got a quirk or something that they're not proud of, and that's what makes the character interesting. It's finding those human moments.
Glass: In terms of the character itself, I can't really say that I find anything really difficult. I enjoy the character [of Book] so much I don't perceive difficulty in trying to be him. It's just a matter of how do we get there. Difficulty often comes from a certain kind of resistance, and I don't feel any resistance in terms of this character. I'm fascinated by him, and I look forward to stepping into his world every opportunity I get. [Laughs.] I sound like this person who just got off the boat or something, as far as acting and so forth is concerned. But that's just the way. Look, I got lucky, OK? [Laughs.] I shouldn't have to apologize [laughs].
There's a show that's coming up where [the crew is] getting ready to go out and do some of their stuff, go out on one of their raids. One of the characters says, "Anybody who wants to go can come along, and those who don't, we understand. You don't have to come." So I say, "I'm going to go." And the person says, "Well, Preacher, aren't there some really definite things about killing in the Bible?" And I say, "Yes, quite definite. It is however, somewhat fussier on the subject of kneecaps." [Laughs.] It's fascinating from one week to another. It's great.
Baldwin: I'm always looking, as an actor, for activities. I think it's far more interesting to watch what people do than what they say. You always want to watch behavior, because the dialogue as written by our illustrious leaders is great. Eminently playable. So then my responsibility is to bring behavior to the words, so that's what I'm always looking for. That's why I have a very intimate relationship with my prop people. The prop master, his assistants and I are constantly getting together and saying, "What's Jayne doing? What's he going to here? Can we find more stuff? Which guns is he playing with? What knives is he sharpening? Is he cleaning his teeth?" You know, gross stuff. I just go in and get to play at being Jayne. He has some deep, dark secrets we haven't really delved into yet, but we'll get there. It's great.
The pilot will finally air on December 20. What's it about?
Minear: The two-hour pilot "Serenity" covers how Simon, Book and River got on Serenity.
Baldwin: I've delved into the message board world just to see what people are saying. They're very devoted, but a lot of people have downloaded the pilot because there's a copy running around out there. But I would recommend you don't do that because it is just a rough cut. It's not the finished version. There's still more footage that will be added to the final pilot, so if I were you, I'd wait.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell the fans?
Glass: It is my really sincere desire that we get an opportunity to play long enough for people to really grab on and become fans, because I think it's a great project.
Baldwin: Like I say, it's the kind of show you can rewind and watch again and you'll catch new stuff, stuff you missed. We start out slowly and will hopefully build that loyal audience, and become the cool show to watch.
We're not dead yet.