Firefly consists of a two-hour pilot and thirteen one-hour episodes (with commercials). The series originally premiered in the United States on Fox in September 2002. The episodes were aired out of the intended order. Although Whedon had designed the show to run for seven years, low ratings resulted in cancellation by Fox in December 2002 after only 11 of the 14 completed episodes had aired in the United States. The three episodes unaired by Fox eventually debuted in 2003 on the Sci Fi Channel in the United Kingdom. Prior to cancellation, some fans, worried about low ratings, formed the Firefly Immediate Assistance campaign whose goal was to support the production of the show by sending in postcards to Fox. After it was canceled, the campaign worked on getting another network such as UPN to pick up the series. The campaign was unsuccessful in securing the show's continuation.
The A.V. Club cited several actions by the Fox network that contributed to the show's failure, most notably airing the episodes out of sequence, making the plot more difficult to follow. For instance, the double episode "Serenity" was intended as the premiere, and therefore contained most of the character introductions and back-story. However, Fox decided that "Serenity" was unsuitable to open the series, and "The Train Job" was specifically created to act as a new pilot. In addition, Firefly was promoted as an action-comedy rather than the more serious character study it was intended to be, and the showbiz trade paper Variety noted Fox's decision to occasionally preempt the show for sporting events.
Fox remastered the complete series in 1080i high-definition for broadcast on Universal HD, which began in April 2008.
On March 12, 2009, the series was the winner of the first annual Hulu awards in the category "Shows We'd Bring Back".
The Science Channel began airing the series on March 6, 2011. All episodes aired in the intended order, including episodes "Trash", "The Message" and "Heart of Gold", which were not aired in the original Fox series run. Along with each episode, Dr. Michio Kaku provided commentary about the real-life science behind the science fiction of the show.
No., Title, Directed by, Written by, Original air date
1 "Serenity" Joss Whedon? Joss Whedon December 20, 2002
Malcolm Reynolds is a veteran and the captain of Serenity. He and his crew are smuggling goods, but they need to pick up some passengers for extra money. However, not all the passengers are what they seem.
2 "The Train Job" Joss Whedon Joss Whedon & Tim Minear? September 20, 2002
The crew of Serenity takes on a train heist commissioned by a crime lord. They steal the goods, only to find it is medicine that is desperately needed by the town.
3 "Bushwhacked" Tim Minear Tim Minear September 27, 2002
Serenity is pulled in by an Alliance cruiser while investigating a spaceship that was attacked by Reavers. Simon and River must hide to prevent capture, while something is wrong with the lone survivor of the attacked spaceship.
4 "Shindig" Vern Gillum? Jane Espenson? November 1, 2002
Inara attends a formal society dance, only to find Malcolm there as well, attempting to set up a smuggling job. Mal comes to blows with Inara's conceited date and finds himself facing a duel with a renowned swordsman, and only one night to learn how to fence.
5 "Safe" Michael Grossman? Drew Z. Greenberg? November 8, 2002
Mal must choose which crew members to save when one is gravely wounded and two others are kidnapped. Simon finds an uneasy haven in a remote village, but River's uncanny perceptions jeopardize the Tams' temporary safety.
6 "Our Mrs. Reynolds" Vondie Curtis Hall? Joss Whedon October 4, 2002
As an unexpected reward for an unpaid job, Mal finds himself married to a naïve, subservient young woman named Saffron. The crew are amused at his discomfort and Book lectures him on propriety, but things are not as smoothly straightforward as they thought them to be.
7 "Jaynestown" Marita Grabiak? Ben Edlund? October 18, 2002
Returning to a planet where he ran into some serious trouble years ago, Jayne discovers that he has become a local folk legend. Mal decides to use this entertaining distraction to complete a job, but some unfinished business may derail his plans.
8 "Out of Gas" David Solomon? Tim Minear October 25, 2002
After Serenity suffers a catastrophe that leaves her crew with only hours of oxygen, flashbacks show how Mal and Zoe acquired Serenity and assembled their motley crew.
9 "Ariel" Allan Kroeker? Jose Molina? November 15, 2002
Hard up for cash, Serenity takes on a job from Simon: help him get a thorough diagnostic of River in return for the opportunity to loot the vast medical stores of an Alliance hospital on central world Ariel. But River's pursuers are hot on their trail, and they receive some unexpected inside help.
10 "War Stories" James Contner? Cheryl Cain? December 6, 2002
Angered at Zoe's unshakable war connection to Mal, Wash demands a shot at a field assignment. Unfortunately, crime lord Niska chooses this moment to exact a brutal vengeance for Mal's failure to complete an earlier job.
11 "Trash" Vern Gillum Ben Edlund & Jose Molina July 21, 2003
Saffron returns to plague Serenity with a scheme to steal a rare antique weapon from a wealthy landowner. Unfortunately for Mal, she neglects to mention just how she came across the information needed to break into the landowner's home.
12 "The Message" Tim Minear Joss Whedon & Tim Minear July 28, 2003
A former Independence soldier who had served with Mal and Zoe returns in a dramatic manner, with a vicious Alliance officer chasing after him for some unusual smuggled goods.
13 "Heart of Gold" Thomas J. Wright? Brett Matthews? August 4, 2003
A Companion-trained friend of Inara's who runs a brothel on a remote planet calls for help from Serenity when a local bigwig reveals his intentions to take the baby from a girl he impregnated.
14 "Objects in Space" Joss Whedon Joss Whedon December 13, 2002
Serenity encounters a ruthlessly professional bounty hunter, Jubal Early, who will stop at nothing to retrieve River. But River, feeling unwelcome on the ship, takes a novel approach to escaping from the long arm of the Alliance?.