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Cult Television ENGL 6650/7650: Special Topics in Popular Culture Cult Television Spring 2011 Room: PH 308 Day/Time: Tuesday, 600-900 pm.

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Presentation on theme: "Cult Television ENGL 6650/7650: Special Topics in Popular Culture Cult Television Spring 2011 Room: PH 308 Day/Time: Tuesday, 600-900 pm."— Presentation transcript:

1 Cult Television ENGL 6650/7650: Special Topics in Popular Culture Cult Television Spring 2011 Room: PH 308 Day/Time: Tuesday, 600-900 pm

2 Cult Television 3/15/10 | Week 8 Cult TV Series of the Week: Firefly Required Reading: Telotte, ECTVR 111 Recommended Reading: Firefly/Serenity Special Issue of Slayage 7.1 [25], Winter 2008 (RCD). Special Topics/Readings: Television and the Cult Audience: A Primer—Robson (209)

3 Joss Whedon on the Set of Firefly Cult Television

4 2002 Cult Television

5 Firefly It’s the classic thing to have a preacher on board your stagecoach. I don’t mean Stagecoach. I mean original idea of my own. —Joss Whedon (Serenity 11) In a recently published collection of essays on Firefly and Serenity, Rhonda V. Wilcox and Tanya R. Cochran begin an examination of Joss Whedon’s first failed television show and the movie it improbably generated with a look at a moment from “Our Mrs. Reynolds” (1.6)—an episode written by Joss Whedon. In the process of an attempted seduction of Wash, “the trickster” Saffron regales the pilot with a myth, supposedly her own, of “Earth that was”: [W]hen she was born, she had no sky, and she was open, inviting and the stars would rush into her, through the skin of her, making the oceans boil with sensation, and when she could endure no more ecstasy, she puffed up her cheeks and blew out the sky, to womb her and keep them at bay, 'til she had rest some, and that we had to leave 'cause she was strong enough to suck them in once more. “By the time she has finished making a world with words,” Wilcox and Cochran note, “Wash, that most Whedon-like of characters, can only respond, feelingly, ‘Whoah. Good myth’” (15). From David Lavery, Joss (forthcoming from I. B. Tauris, 2011). Cult Television

6 A wonderful moment dramatically, the scene, as the critics brilliantly explain, has even greater import for understanding Whedon as a creator: Whedon has been making worlds for many years now, and in Firefly he takes us to the sky. In his space Western series (coproduced by Tim Minear), characters use the contraction ‘’verse’ for their universe. The pun should make us think of poetry, song; it should remind us that Whedon creates a world with words—as do we all, in a sense. The stories we tell ourselves about our lives, the ways we mentally shape our experiences—these stories construct our worlds for us, at least in part. Whedon wonderfully uses images and music, too, but here the foundation is words—the dialogue and the story. Perhaps this is what makes him pre-eminently successful in the long-term medium of television.... Whedon’s Firefly still spins through the sky of our minds. (15) Firefly would introduce us to a new Whedonverse, one far from present day “Earth that was” in space and in time. It is set 500 years in the future after the human race has relocated to a nearby solar system after abandoning a too-crowded home planet in order to perpetuate civilization on newly terraformed inhabital worlds. It exists now in the “sky of our minds” because it existed only briefly on our television sets. “The Train Job,” Firefly’s unintended pilot, aired on September 20, 2002; on December 2 nd, less than three months later, it would be cancelled; on December 20 th, “Serenity,” the series’ intended pilot, became the last Firefly episode actually broadcast. From David Lavery, Joss (forthcoming from I. B. Tauris, 2011). From David Lavery, Joss (forthcoming from I. B. Tauris, 2011). Cult Television

7 Network interference with Buffy and Angel up to the time Firefly went into production had been minimal (discounting for the moment the WB’s failure to continue Buffy after Season Five). The WB, it is true, had asked for a more attractive Willow, postponed the airing of “Earshot” and “Graduation Day, Part II,” did not want Tara and Willow to kiss, and demanded less seriality on Angel, but FOX micromanaged Firefly. It rejected the planned pilot, demanding something more action-oriented (Whedon and Tim Minear came up with one, “The Train Job,” over a weekend). It asked that Zoe and Wash not be married—not sexy enough they were convinced (Whedon refused and FOX demurred); it demanded that Mal be more of an action hero (without network interference, Whedon acknowledges, Mal would not have kicked Niska’s muscle- bound henchman into the engine in “The Train Job” [Firefly: The Official Companion I 6]); it warned him to scale way back on the Western elements (the genre being no longer popular on big or small screens)—in a series whose opening credits would introduce the name of each actor and its creator with an homage to the classic Western series’ Bonanza’s (NBC, 1959-1973) “branding” graphics and end with an iconic image of the Serenity buzzing over a herd of horses! The budget for Firefly was even smaller than Buffy’s or Angel’s (Firefly: The Official Companion I 8). The handwriting was on the wall from the outset: "It wasn’t like they were saying ’just tweak this’ and ’just tweak that.’ It was over before it began" (Underground Online). From David Lavery, Joss (forthcoming from I. B. Tauris, 2011). From David Lavery, Joss (forthcoming from I. B. Tauris, 2011). Cult Television

8 As a vote of non-confidence, FOX would schedule Firefly on Friday night, American television’s graveyard. The odds against survival were great. As Keith DeCandido reminds, “FOX’s standards for success are considerably higher than they are for the WB or UPN—which are, in turn, higher than they are for cable or syndication. Shows like Stargate SG-1 [1997-2007] and The Dead Zone [2002- ]—not to mention Deadwood [2004-2006] and The Shield [2002-2008]—can afford to attract a smaller viewership because a show needs considerably fewer viewers to be successful on Showtime, Sci-Fi, USA, HBO or FX. These shows can thus afford to appeal to a more limited audience because that’ll be enough to sustain them” (56-57). Nine years before, however, The X-Files had begun its nine year run (1993-2002) on the same network on the same night. For at least two years, one of the great cult science fiction shows of all time would fare poorly in the rating game, but FOX allowed it time to secure a fan base, and it would go on to become a huge hit, a cultural phenomenon, and a cash cow for FOX. Firefly, on the other hand, arrived at a time of “desperate networks,” as Bill Carter would call them in a book that chronicled the turbulent first few years of 21 st century American television, when the sort of long- range thinking and patience that made Chris Carter’s show possible simply no longer existed. From David Lavery, Joss (forthcoming from I. B. Tauris, 2011). From David Lavery, Joss (forthcoming from I. B. Tauris, 2011). Cult Television

9 Firefly’s from-the-outset precariousness did have an upside of sorts, as Whedon would later recall: he and his collaborators—including Tim Minear, stolen from Angel, and Ben Edlund (“a sensibility that’s so left of center” [Firefly: The Official Companion I 9])—“were on our toes every second, because we figured the one thing we had to fall back on was quality. That’s all we had. And quite frankly, the first episodes wouldn’t have been as strong, as frantic about trying to save it....” To be sure, Whedon adds, such a situation is not and was not “the way I’d like to live my creative life” (Firefly: The Official Companion II 10). Firefly’s origin myth involves an often-delayed London vacation in xxx with his wife Kai. Whedon’s plane book was Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels (1974), a fictional account of the pivotal American Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, but he read it against the grain and found a different kind of inspiration—“That's the show I want to make!” the man with two shows already on the air would think (Nussbaum, “Must See”)— hatching an idea that would in a sense combine the influences of both Jeanine Basinger and Richard Slotkin. Basinger, after all, was an authority on war films, having authored The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre (1986), so Whedon must have been familiar with the potential of such a book as Killer Angels, though what really fascinated him about Shaara’s work was “the minutiae of the soldiers' lives.” Whedon had hatched a second, more Slotkinesque goal as well: “I wanted to play with that classic notion of the frontier: not the people who made history, but the people history stepped on—the people for whom every act is the creation of civilization” (Nussbaum, “Must-See”).... From David Lavery, Joss (forthcoming from I. B. Tauris, 2011). From David Lavery, Joss (forthcoming from I. B. Tauris, 2011). Cult Television

10 Visiting the set just before his new series aired, Whedon— described as “bouncing on the tips of his sneakers”—would confess to Felicity Nussbaum that “Every once in a while, I'll just look up and say, 'My spaceship!’” Serenity was not the only aspect of Firefly Whedon was ready to brag about: “And did I mention there's a whore?” (Nussbaum, “Must-See”). (That Inara would be more like a geisha than a Western prostitute was the idea of Whedon’s wife Kai [Serenity 11].) From David Lavery, Joss (forthcoming from I. B. Tauris, 2011). From David Lavery, Joss (forthcoming from I. B. Tauris, 2011). Cult Television

11 The Crew and Passengers of the Serenity Cult Television





16 Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) Captain of Serenity and former Browncoat soldier. May be in love with Inara. Cult Television Mal on Castle

17 Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres) Second-in- command of Serenity; former Browncoat (under Mal Reynolds’ command); married to Wash. Cult Television

18 Hoban “Wash” Washburne (Alan Tudyk) Introduced by B. J. Keeton Cult Television

19 Kaylee Frye (Jewell Staite) The ship's adorable ace mechanic (in love with Simon). Cult Television

20 Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin) An untrustworthy, not very bright mercenary working onboard Serenity. Cult Television


22 Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin) Introduced by Stephanie Graves Cult Television

23 Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) Introduced by Lisa Jass Cult Television

24 River Tam (Summer Glau) Simon’s sister. The Alliance’s experiments, intended to turn River into a super soldier, have left her psychologically unstable and telepathic. Cult Television

25 Derrial “Shepherd” Book (Ron Glass) Introduced by Luke Patton Cult Television


27 Firefly Villains

28 Cult Television

29 2005 Cult Television




33 In the “In Focus” interview Whedon discusses the Writers Guild of America’s decision (despite an early poster, still in his possession, showing Whedon to be the writer) to give sole screenplay credit for Speed to Graham Yost. Whedon recalls Yost once saying to him “You would have done the same thing”—i.e., taken sole credit if it was offered. Then and now, Whedon’s disagrees, citing 1) his willingness (at John Lasseter’s request) to allow the animators writing credits on Toy Story; 2) “entire episodes of Buffy that I have written every word of that my name is not on.” --David Lavery, Joss The lackey with the catalyzer sets it on the cargo bay floor. MAL (to Captain) Take your people and go. CAPTAIN You would have done the same. MAL We can already see I haven't. (then) Now get the hell off my ship. --“Out of Gas” Cult Television


35 Tim Minear (1963- )  Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman "Brutal Youth" (writer) "'Twas the Night Before Mxymas" (writer) "Meet John Doe" (writer) "I've Got You Under My Skin" (writer)  The X-Files "Kitsunegari" (co-writer) "Mind's Eye" (writer)  Strange World "Lullaby" (writer) "Spirit Falls" (co-writer)

36 Tim Minear (1963- )  Angel "Sense & Sensitivity" (writer) "Hero" (co-writer) "Somnambulist" (writer) "The Prodigal" (writer) "Sanctuary" (co-writer) "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been" (writer) "Darla" (writer/director) "The Trial" (co-writer) "Reunion" (co-writer) "Reprise" (writer) "Epiphany" (writer) "Through The Looking Glass" (writer/director) "That Old Gang of Mine" (writer) "Billy" (co-writer) "Lullaby" (writer/director) "Couplet" (co-writer/director) "A New World" (director) "Benediction" (writer/director) "Home" (writer/director)

37 Tim Minear (1963- )  Firefly "The Train Job" (co-writer) "Bushwhacked" (writer/director) "Out of Gas" (writer) "The Message" (co-writer/director)  Wonderfalls "Karma Chameleon" (writer) "Barrel Bear" (unaired) (co-writer)  The Inside "New Girl In Town" (teleplay & story/director) "Thief of Hearts" (co-writer) "Little Girl Lost" (unaired in US, UK Airdate 03/17/2006) (co-writer) "Skin and Bone" (unaired) (story)

38 Tim Minear (1963- )  Drive "Unaired Pilot" (co-writer) "The Starting Line" (co-writer) "Partners" (co-writer)  Dollhouse "True Believer" (writer) "Omega" (writer/director) "Belle Chose" (writer) "Getting Closer" (writer/director)  Terriers "Sins of the Past" (writer) Firefly Writer


40 Ben Edlund (1968- )  The Tick (creator) The Tick vs. Filth That Mustache Feeling Grandpa Wore Tights The Tick vs. the Breadmaster The Tick vs. the Idea Men  Titan A.E.  Firefly Trash Jaynestown Firefly Writer

41 Ben Edlund (1968- )  Angel Time Bomb Smile Time Life of the Party Just Rewards Sacrifice  Point Pleasant Waking the Dead Who's Your Daddy?  The Inside The Perfect Couple Firefly Writer

42 Ben Edlund (1968- )  Supernatural Simon Said Nightshifter Hollywood Babylon Bad Day at Black Rock Malleus Maleficarum Ghostfacers Monster Movie Wishful Thinking On the Head of a Pin The End Abandon All Hope The Devil You Know Two and a Half Men The Third Man Clap Your Hands If You Believe The French Mistake Firefly Writer

43 Jane Espenson (1964- ) Warehouse 13 Torchwood Caprica Dollhouse Battlestar Galactica Eureka Andy Barker, P.I. The Inside Tru Calling Gilmore Girls The O.C. Firefly – Shindig (2002) Angel Buffy the Vampire Slayer Ellen Nowhere Man Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Dinosaurs Firefly Writer

44 Jane Espenson (1964- )  Buffy the Vampire Slayer Anne Dead Man's Party Faith, Hope & Trick Beauty and the Beasts Homecoming Band Candy Gingerbread Earshot Pangs Doomed A New Man Superstar Triangle Checkpoint I Was Made to Love You Intervention After Life Flooded Life Serial Doublemeat Palace First Date Storyteller End of Days Firefly Writer



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