By Joseph Adalian
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) – Locking in a key piece of its 2002-03 development picture, Fox Broadcasting Co. is finalizing a big-bucks deal with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon for a new sci-fi adventure drama.
Tentatively titled “Firefly,” the new ensemble series takes place 500 years in the future and revolves around the crew of a “small, incredibly mobile spaceship whose aft end lights up,” Whedon said — hence the name.
He will write, executive produce and direct what’s expected to be a two-hour pilot for the series, which is being targeted for a fall premiere.
Whedon said he’s been “kicking around the idea for a couple of years,” and that the concept fully came together for him after reading an account of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Reconstruction era. He came up with a concept that’s part Western, part space drama.
“I wanted to make something that’s about a guy who fought for the South, lost and doesn’t like anybody anymore,” Whedon said. “This show isn’t about the people who made history; it’s about the people history stepped on. It’s about their lives and their struggles to keep their ship alive — as well as the search for meaning in a very dark place.”
Whedon said “Firefly” would in some ways be a sort of “anti-‘Star Trek”‘ with no regular aliens or other monstrous creatures.
“There’ll be scary-ass humans,” he said. “I can make people that are scarier than anything you can put in latex.”
Ultimately, Whedon said, the new show will have the same moral center as “Buffy” and its “Angel” spin-off: “Life is hard. People are good when they want to be. And the universe is a big, scary place just like high school.”
Fox has committed to 13 episodes, and will likely end up paying a premium license fee of around $1.3 million per episode when a final deal is signed. The show is the first to be produced by Whedon’s Mutant Enemy Prods. and 20th Century Fox Television under terms of Whedon’s recently inked overall deal with Fox.
It’s possible “Firefly” could end up having a dual window on a cable channel as well. Sci Fi Channel has indicated its interest in running same-week repeats of the show. Fox would need to get affiliates to sign up for such a plan.
And while no decision has been made on whether Fox’s signature sci-fi drama “The X-Files” will return next fall, the Whedon commitment helps ensure the network has another high-profile sci-fi tentpole ready should “X” not come back.
“It’s wicked Joss-like,” Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman said of Whedon’s latest concept. “It’s not like any show set in space that I’ve ever seen.”
In addition to creating “Buffy” and co-creating spin-off “Angel,” Whedon snagged an Oscar nomination for best screenplay on “Toy Story.” He also worked on the screenplays for “Speed” and “Twister.”