Recently, I’ve become nearly as enamored with another “failed” TV show. That show is Firefly.
Created by Joss Whedon (of The Avengers film juggernaut), Firefly premiered in 2002 on Fox. Firefly was a space western in which a ragtag crew on an aging transport ship chase after money-making schemes, both legal and not, while harboring fugitive siblings, dodging authorities and evading the occasional insane cannibal. Firefly was a well-written drama with a liberal dose of humor, the right amount of action and deep explorations of character, along with an excellent cast—everything you need for a hit TV show.
Which meant that it was doomed.
Firefly aired 11 times before Fox pulled the plug, leaving three unaired episodes and a bunch of honked-off fans. Self-proclaimed Browncoats (named for rebellion fighters in the series) wrote letters, pushed petitions and even raised money to place Firefly DVDs on 250 U.S. Navy vessels. Such was their devotion that, in 2005, Universal Studios released Serenity, a theatrical film that sought to tie up the loose ends from the original series.
Like Trekkers before them, Browncoats continue to fight for their beloved show. The Science Channel occasionally airs Firefly marathons. The original cast members are frequent fixtures at science-fiction conventions. When those actors appear on other shows, notably Nathan Fillion in Castle, it’s not unusual to see a not-so-subtle reference to Firefly. And interest in a revival continues to percolate, if yet unrealized.
What does all of this have to do with communications?
Once again, the power of story is seen in the loyalty and support of people for whom Star Trek and Firefly were made. Whedon respected his viewers, he knew what they wanted, and he delivered. Likewise, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry understood that his audience was smart, and he built his show and its messages accordingly.
A lot of corporations today want the loyalty of a Browncoat or Trekker, but they don’t invest the time and resources to understand their audience. Indeed, many are quick to cut public relations and communications budgets and staff when times are tough—precisely when the audience needs to be heard and the company’s story told in a meaningful, compelling way.
These days, the theme song to Firefly serves as the Browncoats’ anthem. If organizations want to engender that kind of devotion, they need to listen, learn and engage their audiences. That’s where they’ll “find Serenity.”