Neither my boyfriend nor I felt very strongly about any male names. We’d had a middle name picked out since we started talking about the prospect of having kids, but the first name I’d chosen was Audrey, which isn’t much of a boy’s name. So we did what quite a lot of people of our age and interests did—we went through our favourite fandoms. The short version is, my son is named after Simon Tam.
This would doubtless shock the people at Fox. After all, that’s a show cancelled for low ratings and a movie that didn’t do very well in the theatre. The idea that anyone would care enough about it to say one of the names from it over and over for the rest of their lives is probably not something they’d figure on. They aren’t even understanding of the fact that there are no less than three Firefly-themed board games that I want, not to mention the role-playing game. It isn’t just Firefly that the studios are missing out on, either. Speaking as a member of a wide array of fandoms, I can pretty clearly say that the studios don’t really understand fandom as a concept.
The first clear evidence of this is the emphasis on opening weekend. As if that’s all that matters. It seems to me that the money a truly fan-driven franchise such as Firefly or Star Trek earns lasts. If Firefly got a rerelease today, I’d find a babysitter, and that theatre would not be an empty one. For one thing, I have about a dozen friends who’d go with me, not to mention the boyfriend who went along with naming a kid Simon in the first place.
When I was a little girl, I had a Minnie Mouse sundress that my mom made me. It was pale blue eyelet, as I recall, with little Minnies all over it. And then, for about twenty years or so, Disney stopped licensing fabric. Now, you figure the overlap between “people who sew” and “adult Disney fans” or at bare minimum “people who will make their kids Disney clothing” is a pretty large one, and obviously it had worked out for them once, but it’s only been within the last few years that you could start getting Disney fabric again. Also Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Star Trek, and even John Deere. Though not, alas, Firefly; the quilt I’d make my son! At any rate, for all there’s a ton of merchandising out there, it doesn’t seem as though the companies really understand the people they’re merchandising toward.
So okay, making a theatrical film is an expensive proposition. On the face of it, doing so for a small group of die-hards doesn’t make a lot of sense. On the other hand, you have to look at these things in the long term. What it won’t make in the first weekend, it will make over the years.
This is why Firefly got cancelled. I didn’t watch it until after I saw Serenity in the theatre, but to be fair to me, I don’t watch a lot of TV, and I didn’t have a lot of opportunity. Less than a season, and word-of-mouth hadn’t gotten to me yet. Besides, I’m one of those rare people who doesn’t like Buffy, so Joss Whedon’s name didn’t draw me in. The thing is, though, I didn’t get into The X-Files for about a season and a half. A lot of people didn’t. Yes, The X-Files was a huge hit for Fox, lasting a very long time indeed. On the other hand, it got the chance to because they didn’t have a heck of a lot of programming in the early days of the network. It took time to find its audience, but they gave it the time to do so.
Okay, some shows are never going to find an audience. Does anyone remember that one about the Geico cavemen that only lasted as long as it did because of the writers’ strike? On the other hand, it doesn’t take an expert, in these days of the internet, to work out that there are people not merely watching a show but talking about it, making memes of it, and otherwise obsessing. And the obsession, not the momentary thrill, is where I’d stake a claim. After all, there’s still enough interest twenty years on to bring back Twin Peaks.
Maybe it’s that geeks are more interested in creating than in becoming executives. I don’t know. But it doesn’t seem as though the industry is really getting how this works, especially these days. When I was a kid, there were three networks and PBS. The Simpsons debuted when I was in junior high. It seems as though the executives still expect the kind of ratings they got in the days when choices were extremely limited. In those halcyon days, it was okay if your niche cable channel didn’t have terribly high viewership, because no cable channel had terribly high viewership. The Learning Channel, as it was then, was willing to play Connections all Sunday afternoon, and my family was willing to sit there and watch it. Yup, we were probably the only people in my neighbourhood to be doing so; there was probably sports of some sort airing at the same time. But The Learning Channel wasn’t looking to get the same ratings as the sports, just a small and devoted group of people willing to watch six hours of a probably ten-year-old BBC educational miniseries—after having come in a couple of episodes into it. And I don’t remember the commercials, but you figure they reflected that expected viewership.
I admit that I don’t have the expertise in the field to make sure I get the commercials I would need to support my hypothetical actually educational cable channel. You know, the one that never plays anything to do with ghosts or ancient aliens. But was it really so hard to gear commercials toward science fiction fans that Sci-Fi had to start playing wrestling? Because I remember my delight, back in the mid-’90s, to discover that a channel that played science fiction all day existed. The fans are still there; quite possibly, there are more fans than ever. And we buy an awful lot of products; if you don’t believe me, go look at the weird Doctor Who crap available online. (My boyfriend is seriously talking making desktop Weeping Angels.) Yet despite all of that, the people making our favourite stuff are more interested in marketing toward casual fans, and that just doesn’t make sense to me.