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Summary:

The TV series Firefly has already been brought back from the dead once — could it happen again? A new round of speculation kicked off by an offhand comment by Firefly star Nathan Fillion has fans buzzing — but what everyone’s forgetting is who owns the rights.

help nathan buy firefly

Nathan Fillion, an actor who first rose to nerdy popularity as the star of dearly departed series Firefly and now stars on the ABC series Castle, has become the poster boy (literally — there are posters) for yet another attempt to bring back Firefly from cancelation.

The cause, in this case, is an interview with EW last week where Fillion said:

If I got $300 million from the California Lottery, the first thing I would do is buy the rights to Firefly, make it on my own, and distribute it on the Internet.

This quote, after making the rounds, was seized upon as a call to action by the industrious group now behind Help Nathan Buy Firefly, a fan campaign soliciting pledges from other Firefly aficionados to make the series without the involvement of Fox.

But leaving aside Fillion’s ongoing commitment to the ABC series Castle, and the fact that series creator Joss Whedon is busy directing The Avengers, and the fact that the California lottery is fickle with its winnings — it’s not going to happen.

Help Nathan Buy Firefly links to a post by Henry Jenkins doing math on what it would cost to create a new Firefly series using a direct-to-viewer subscription model based on the show’s original budget. If a million fans agreed to spend $40 for a 16-episode season, that would give Whedon $40 million to work with.

But the question isn’t whether Whedon fans would get behind a web-oriented project (ahem, Dr. Horrible), the question is whether or not the rights to Firefly will ever be for sale. As Entertainment Weekly points out, the rights to Terminator were available for $30 million, not $300 million — but rights holder Halcyon was in bankruptcy and in need of cash. Fox is currently doing just fine; even if Fillion really had $300 million to hand over, there’s no strong incentive to sell on the part of Fox.

TV and social media consultant Annie Stamell, who daily works with studios and individuals, offered her analysis in a phone interview: “It seems so outside of the realm of possibility. With the financing, paperwork and red tape necessary to get a deal like that to close, there are so many logistics to prevent forward momentum from happening.”

Ask CBS right now what it would have thought about an offer to buy the rights to Hawaii 5-O. Sure, ten years ago it was a dead franchise, but today, the reboot is one of television’s most popular shows. As long as success stories like that still exist, studios will always be reluctant to sell off intellectual property.

In fact, the story that got this all started — Firefly has been picked up for syndication on the Science Channel — is proof that there is yet more money Fox can make on Firefly, thus disincentivizing them to consider an offer from another company or individual.

That isn’t to say that things are completely impossible; fans of the show, through the purchase of DVDs, got one movie made, and have also engaged in projects like an unauthorized feature-length sequel to Serenity, Browncoats: Redemption. As Stamell pointed out, “Look at the history of Firefly. If there were any fandom that could make this happen, it would be this one.”

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  1. I welcome the debunking here. But one comment: there’s a great dispute as to the “Firefly DVD sales got Serenity made” mythology. Movie plans were starting to percolate earlier than that.

    One of the reasons fan efforts such a HNBF keep cropping up is because there’s a Browncoat mythology about being mighty and doing the impossible. While we Browncoats have done many awesome things, the mythology is sexier than the reality, and that’s part of why things like HNBF catch on so quickly: many especially newer fans feel like they got left out of being mighty.

    But a lot of what supposedly makes Browncoats so mighty in fact is at least slightly misunderstood.

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    1. Interesting, thanks for commenting!

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      1. Thank you so very much for mention Browncoats: Redemption. Browncoats: Redemption is the first time that an “unauthorized feature-length” has ever been used to raise money for charities created/supported by the original cast of a show.

        I believe if the Firefly community rallied behind a project like this and showed FOX we’re willing to give money to charity, rather than them, for more ‘Verse content that is something that the studio will notice.

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  2. Maybe he can’t buy it back, but at least a strong showing may convince the execs at Fox to swallow their pride and bring back an awesome show.

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  3. You are a dork!

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    1. I consider myself served.

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      1. Likewise.

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  4. Would this be a good place for me to announce my plans to start a campaign to bring back “Manimal”? Werewolf popularity is at an all time high. Imagine the frenzy stirred in tween girl’s hearts over a hero who can turn into a bunch of different animals?

    I am telling you, the time is right. “Manimal” in 2012 we can make it a reality!

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  5. As unlikely as it might be… this fan base has done it before and in the words of a true brown coat “we will rise again”

    –”We’ve Done the impossible, and that makes us mighty”–

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  6. Even if we Browncoats could never actually cause Fox to sell the franchise to Nathan, Fox WOULD notice the fact that a million people want to spend their money on the show. That would be enough to get Fox to reboot the show. And that’s really all we want. More Firefly!

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  7. I don’t care whether we get it away from fox or if the new series lands on Fox itself. What matters is that we get a full series of Firefly. What matters is that we keep fighting until we get it. One of the things that likely turned people away from the fight in the first place was the time that had lapsed between Firefly airing and the fight going on. People have to take other jobs, so the chances of them returning are very slim. But when Nathan Fillion, currently the star of one of the biggest shows in America turns round and says that he would do Firefly again in a heartbeat? All of that falls away, and the browncoats come back in full force. Of course, now we have the fact that Jericho managed to come back after cancellation and the fact that we got the Serenity movie made to spur us on. So if you do enjoy firefly, I welcome your constructive criticism, but not you dismissal that “Nathan Fillion Can’t Bring It Back”. It paints the whole cause with a defeatist attitude, one which I can only condemn.

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    1. Agreed. Too many folks try to be critics nowadays, whatever happened to expressing an opinion as an opinion rather than blanket fact, as though you’ve got some mystical insight into future events?

      I think Browncoats, Fillion, Whedon, everyone attached would move heaven and hell to see this come back.

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  8. It surely would be impossible if we didn’t try…

    So Mr Fillon probably won’t be able to go it alone but one of the remarkable things about Firefly is the passion for the show keeps on increasing, as does the fan base. Think of the two truly enduring franchises of Sci-fi, Star Trek and Dr Who, both resurrected because the fans refused to let them die… and in my opinion the ‘Browncoats’ campaign is both better organised and, if anything, more passionate than both of those campaigns (especially when you consider that this is on the basis of 14 episodes and 1 film).

    The stumbling block is, unfortunately, Fox. TV execs don’t understand Sci-fi because it can’t be pidgeon holed into a set demographic – it makes them nervous… Hopefully Fox will see the light (or, more realistically the dollar signs) and recomission.

    Ideally I’d love to see the project taken over by a different set-up – BBC Wales has shown a fine talent for Sci-fi in recent years (along with Canadian and Australian broadcasters). Quality Science-Fiction does sell – it just needs backers who are willing to leave the creators to do what they do best…

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  9. “Look at the history of Firefly. If there were any fandom that could make this happen, it would be this one.”

    Well this and Star Trek…

    Great article. I think the campaign is a nice dream even if it never happens, I like what it says about the power of fans and the power of the internet and the changing role of the studio.

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  10. So maybe FOX won’t sell the rights. The question then becomes, what would it take to get them to license the rights?

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