This will probably sound to some like A) the ramblings of a Joss Whedon apologist or B) crazy conspiracy talk, but, as far as I'm concerned, there is only one reason Firefly didn't succeed, and it isn't the timeslot, the ratings, or even the decision to air the original pilot episode last. The reason Firefly didn't last is greed. The people in charge of FOX at the time were so desperate for a Joss Whedon show that they commissioned on a project that they really didn't 'get', and then used the ratings as an excuse to pull the plug on said project when it didn't immediately succeed the way they wanted it to.
Again, I gotta ask: what makes you think the viewing public ever could
have been large enough to sustain the show?
I mean, I would have loved to see the other four seasons of Carnivale
, but I freely acknowledge that it was a highly obscure show that required very high budgets, and I certainly don't keep railing against the execs that canned it nearly a decade later.
Lots of good TV series are cut off before their time, and everyone has shows and movies they wish had gained wider audiences. But the unceasing howling of many Firefly
fans makes me wonder if they aren't subconsciously compensating for something - say, a nagging feeling that, despite its tremendous stylistic appeal to some, the show really wasn't that good - the writing was glib, the characters thin, and the larger storytelling context practically nonexistent.