Firefly is an awesome TV series, so much so that even after its cancellation it spawned a theatrical movie release. What was the ultimate cause of the cancellation of the TV series?
Several factors led to the demise of Firefly, but ultimately it was a colossal mistake by Fox executives.
The series was played at an unfavorable time slot, and to compound this, Fox decided to play the episodes out of order, insisting that the 'better' episodes play first. Naturally, this meant there was some confusion on the audience's part.
Former Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman gives a little insight into the decision in this interview she gave to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
At the end of the day though, it was a short-sighted decision that should haunt the Fox executives to this day. It's not the first time they've done this though - look at Family Guy.
In short, low ratings. Factors that contributed to said low ratings:
- It aired on Friday nights, a traditionally low-viewership time.
- Episodes had some continuity, but were aired out of order, which confused viewers.
- It was mis-marketed as an action-comedy, when it contains more dramatic elements.
From Nobby's link, the then-President of Fox says:
[W]hen it didn't perform [in the ratings], having to cancel it was very difficult.
It was a numbers things. It was a wonderful show and I loved it and I loved working with him on it but that was a big show, a very expensive show and it wasn't delivering the numbers.
even after it's cancellation it spawned a theatrical movie release
That was due to strong DVD sales:
As an afterthought, Fox released the 14 episodes on DVD and something surprising happened: The expensive boxed set sold somewhere north of 200,000 copies. On the strength of the DVD sales, Universal green-lit a small-budget movie, to be written and directed by Whedon.
So the decision to cancel was not really in conflict with the decision to make a movie.