Tuned In: 'Firefly' revisits cult 2002 sci-fi show

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When "Firefly" debuted in 2002 on Fox, my initial impression was: Meh.

Blame Fox.

Network executives forced creator Joss Whedon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and his team to ditch the two-hour pilot in favor of a new first episode amped up with action and humor but lacking in the character development that makes viewers care about the outcome of a fight-filled action scene.

When I went back and watched "Firefly" episodes on DVD arranged in the order its creators intended, my reaction flipped: This was a fantastic, imaginative, smart show that offered what at the time was a unique take on the future. "Firefly" blended sci-fi tropes (spaceships!) with Western archetypes (horses!) and wound up with a fanbase (they call themselves "Browncoats") that's been growing every year since the show's demise after just 14 episodes.

In the years since we've also seen movies such as "Cowboys & Aliens" and the revival of the Western genre on TV ("Justified," "Longmire"), proving, perhaps, that "Firefly" was simply ahead of its time.

Discovery-owned Science began airing "Firefly" reruns a while back and this weekend debuts a one-hour, 10-year anniversary special, "Firefly: Browncoats Unite" (10 p.m. Sunday).

The bulk of the hour is devoted to a roundtable discussion of the show's stars, including lead actor Nathan Fillion (the star of "Castle," which spoofed sci-fi fans and included "Firefly" references in Monday's episode), and writers, including executive producer Tim Minear.

In a sort of oral history style, a moderator leads them through the show's tumultuous birth, its low ratings, demise and resurrection as the 2005 motion picture "Serenity."

But what's most interesting about "Browncoats Unite" is learning how what was going on behind the camera impacted what viewers saw on TV.

Mr. Minear tells of how furious actor Alan Tudyk was to receive the script for a scene only minutes before it had to be shot. The actor used the anger in his performance in what turned out to be one of the most memorably funny sequences in the series.

The cast and producers also recount plot ideas for episodes that were never filmed and the end of the hour includes footage from July's San Diego Comic Con panel that ends with Mr. Fillion, Mr. Whedon (and perhaps even this TV critic) getting a bit misty-eyed over the hard work and love put into a creative expression that died too soon but has been lifted up in the fervor of fandom in the 10 years since.

'BSG' prequel online

"Firefly" isn't the only canceled sci-fi show getting new attention. Today Syfy will make the "Battlestar Galactica" prequel movie "Blood & Chrome" available online.

Announced several years ago as a pilot for a potential new "BSG" series set during the Cylon war, Syfy executives acknowledged during the summer that they would not move forward with a series but would make the pilot movie available for fans to see.

"Blood & Chrome" will stream online in 10 weekly episodes, each lasting 7-12 minutes, at YouTube.com/MachinimaPrime through February. After that it will air as a two-hour movie on Syfy (no air date announced) and will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on Feb. 19.

Written by "BSG" vet Michael Taylor, "Blood and Chrome" stars Luke Pasqualino ("Skin," "The Borgias") as young fighter pilot William Adama during his first tour of duty aboard Galactica.

National reach, local connections

Three programs airing nationally in the next few days have local connections that might be of interest to Western Pennsylvania viewers.

On Thursday Investigation Discovery debuted an episode of "The Will" about the fight over the estate of Andy Warhol. It re-airs at noon Sunday.

ID series use dramatic re-enactments mixed with the real-life people involved. So the quality of the drama is a bit low.

In one scene, the actor playing Warhol has his crazy-hair wig on so poorly that you can see the guy's real hair protruding from beneath.

The episode offers a mix of Warhol biography with a fight over the value of Warhol's estate, which is sort of dull. For viewers who have no stake in the outcome, there's just not much drama in a fight over whether Warhol's estate is worth $95 million or $300 million.

MSNBC debuts "Maximum Drama" (9 p.m. Sunday), a new nonfiction series about real-life events that play like movies. It kicks off with "Shoot to Kill: The Ohio Animal Massacre" about last year's Zanesville, Ohio, exotic animal escape.

Like ID shows, "Maximum Drama" uses a mix of re-creations and interviews with real-life witnesses to the escape of bears, lions, tigers and other animals that were kept by Terry Thompson on his Ohio farm.

Next week PBS's "NOVA ScienceNow" (10 p.m. Wednesday, WQED-TV) explores "What Will the Future Be Like?" with the help of several Carnegie Mellon University scientists.

CMU's Marcel Just, a psychologist, and Tom Mitchell, a computer scientist, scan host David Pogue's brain to demonstrate their thought identification research.

Later in the same episode CMU computer scientist Adrien Treuille discusses using video games as a form of crowd sourcing to solve scientific mysteries.

'Dancing,' 'Castle' pre-empted

WTAE will air the Steelers game against Kansas City Monday at 8 p.m. preceded by a "Black & Gold Primetime" special. The game will pre-empt "Dancing With the Stars," which will instead air at 9 a.m. Tuesday, and "Castle," which will air late-night at 1 a.m. in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

Channel surfing

Former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward will play a zombie in an upcoming episode of AMC's "The Walking Dead." The episode is expected to air in the back half of the show's season, likely in mid-February. ... BroadcastingCable.com reports 66.8 million viewers watched TV news coverage during prime time on election night, a decrease of 6 percent from 2008 which drew 71.5 million viewers. ... USA has canceled light legal drama "Fairly Legal" after two seasons and opted not to continue its limited series "Political Animals." ... TLC has renewed "Long Island Medium" for a fourth season to begin airing in March. ... USA has renewed "Burn Notice" for a 13-episode seventh season. ... The CW will move "Nikita" back to 8 p.m. (from 9 p.m.) on Friday nights beginning Nov. 30. ... The producers of the shot-in-Pittsburgh pilot "Locke & Key," which Fox opted not to pick up to series, are now talking publicly about redeveloping the title as a movie trilogy. ... The Franchina Family of Bethel Park -- Diann, Nicole, Angelo, Natalie and Jackie -- will compete next week on "Family Feud" (7 p.m. Tuesday, WPCW). ... Early 1990s TGIF sitcom "Boy Meets World" is being redeveloped as a Disney Channel sitcom sequel with the working title "Girl Meets World." ... ReelzChannel has renewed 1940s period drama "Bomb Girls," a Canadian import, for a 12-episode second season to debut in January. ... CBS and Hulu announced plans this week to make 2,600 episodes from its library of programs ("Star Trek," "I Love Lucy," "Twin Peaks," "CSI: Miami") available on the Hulu Plus subscription service beginning in January. ... CBS freshman crime drama "Elementary" has landed the plum post-Super Bowl time slot: 10 p.m. Feb. 3. ... Former ABC series "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" returns for a four-week run Mondays at 8 p.m. starting Nov. 26.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Smash," "Harry's Law" and "The Howard Hanna Showcase of Homes." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Family Guy," election coverage, "American Horror Story" and "Start-ups: Silicon Valley." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about "Malibu Country," character deaths in prime time and the roll-out plan for "Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome." Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.


TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.


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