“Firefly” is a science-fiction show, concerning the space-set adventures of a band of rogues, but it just as much keeps alive the tropes of Westerns. According to “Joss Whedon: The Biography” by Amy Pascale (via Gizmodo), the nugget of what would become “Firefly” came to creator Joss Whedon during a vacation to London. To read on the trip, he brought along Michael Shaara’s 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Killer Angels,” a historical novel about the hardscrabble lives of soldiers fighting in the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. As part of a deal with the Fox network, he had to submit a new show soon, and the book inspired him.
“I wanted to play with that classic notion of the frontier. Not the people who made history, but the people history stepped on,” Whedon said, adding that he wanted to explore “how politics affect people personally” while also pulling from 1970s movie Westerns, “the ones about ‘this is all we have out here, so we might be dead soon.’” But Whedon also wanted to make a show set in space, offering “gritty realism that wasn’t an ‘Alien’ ripoff,” and which didn’t look “cheesy” like so many other made-for-TV sci-fi projects.
Whedon mashed all that together and it became “Firefly,” the final touch coming when he expanded the character list from just a handful to a full cast of nine — just like in John Ford’s classic 1939 Western “Stagecoach,” which followed seven strangers as they traversed the American frontier.