LOS ANGELES — The "Firefly" saga consists of 14 TV episodes, one big-screen movie and the undiminished passion of the space Western's fans, stars and producers.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the Fox show's abbreviated 2002-03 run, the Science Channel is airing the hourlong "Firefly 10th Anniversary: Browncoats Unite" at 10 p.m. EST Sunday.
The special will be preceded by a marathon showing of all the "Firefly" episodes starting at 7 a.m. EST.
For "Firefly" devotees, only one word can describe the prospect of seeing star Nathan Fillion, other cast members and creator Joss Whedon talk about making and missing their baby: "shiny," which is "Firefly"-speak for cool or good.
Fillion, who came down to Earth successfully in ABC's detective series "Castle," is happy to wallow in nostalgia and fan fervor. This summer, he took part in a packed San Diego Comic-Con tribute to "Firefly."
"The sheer volume of people is just the first part of it," Fillion said recently of the event. "Then you have to get down to how excited these people are. It's incredible energy. It's a very visceral feeling."
"The way I see it is there are people who love 'Firefly' as much as I do. 'Firefly' has a very special meaning to me, so I share in that excitement. It's easy for me to understand it," the 41-year-old actor said.
The series, a 26th-century adventure leavened with droll humor, followed the misfit crew of the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity. (The 2005 movie that rose, improbably, from the ashes of the low-rated "Firefly" was titled "Serenity." Comic books are among the other spinoffs.)
The ship's captain, Fillion's dashing but discontented Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds, fought with the losing, good-guy Browncoats in a civil war and now lives and works on the fringes of a repressive society.
For Fillion, the drama was the start of a leading-man career that he makes plain he owes to Whedon, whose cult-inducing credits range from online sensation "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" to TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" to blockbuster "The Avengers."
Fillion savored the experience.
"I remember the first time I put on my costume, walked onto the ship for the first day of work ... and the director of photography, David Boyd, saw me and hollered out, 'Captain on deck!' and everyone stopped and clapped."
"That's a moment I'll never forget," the Canadian-born actor said. Add the chance to be a classic Western hero and he was in heaven.
"Nothing makes you feel tougher than putting a gun on your hip in the desert and getting on the back of an animal and riding. There's something very manly about that," he said.
Fillion shares this tidbit: No matter what planet he ended up on while in the saddle, he always rode the same horse, Fred.
The special includes clips from the drama, a round-table conversation with cast members including Fillion, Jewel Staite (who played Kaylee), Sean Maher (Simon) and Summer Glau (River), along with snippets from the Comic-Con panel headed by Whedon.
"I just wanted to make something that felt real, like a piece of history," Whedon told the convention. "I wanted to tell an American immigrant story. I wanted to tell a Western story. But I need spaceships or I get cranky."
The writer-director-producer grew emotional, telling the crowd at one point that "the story is alive" because of them.
The enduring popularity of a show that couldn't get ratings traction in its first time around is something Fillion has pondered.
"There's certainly more fans now than there's ever been. It's interesting that the show, being this brief moment in time, it didn't have an opportunity to suck, to get bad," he said. "So it's this wonderful contained unit of what I like to think of as quality storytelling."
The show has left its mark on a new and unsuspecting generation.
"'Firefly' fans are out there and they're breeding," Fillion said. "I'll be scanning Twitter and someone will show a baby and say, 'This is Kaylee.'
"So I'm going to be out one day and someone will walk up and say, 'I am Kaylee.'"
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber(at)ap.org.
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