Imagine, for a moment, an alternate universe in which Joss Whedon's sci-fi western wasn't cut down after its full-of-promise first season and, instead, ran for as long as its creators wanted it to. I think that universe would suck.
Firstly, let me be clear about something: I love Firefly. No, I lurve it. I lurve every gorram thing about it, from top to bottom, from bow to stern. But if we posit that Whedon and company didn't get the sky taken from them, that Firefly got to run for, say, the same seven seasons that Buffy the Vampire Slayer did, that'd result in a vastly different pop-cultural landscape.
The Whedonverse would be smaller
There'd probably be no Dollhouse if Whedon was still running Firefly. Sure, at one point he had Buffy, Angel and Firefly in production at the same time, but no one would say that was an ideal scenario. While he might have been able to hand Firefly off to a trusted lieutenant—like Tim Minear or Jane Espenson—who knows if he'd have been as receptive to Eliza Dushku's pitch if he already had a job?
He'd also never have had the time to write Marvel's Astonishing X-Men comics, a series the company created just for him and went on to sell like gangbusters and win a plethora of awards.
Would there have been a Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog? Perhaps. Whedon would've still gone on strike with the WGA, but would he have been as disgruntled by television in general to have turned to the Internet as a delivery system? Hard to say.
Nathan Fillion would be just another TV star
Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of Captain Tightpants. Big. Fan. But when Firefly left the air, he became the unwitting recipient of every fan's love for the show. And because of the grace with which he treated an audience that shared his pain at Firefly's loss, he earned what seems to be a never-ending supply of goodwill. Would he still be the totemic geek messiah—one whose name gets bandied about for every genre role from Green Lantern to Hawkeye to Nathan Drake, one who gets the cover of national magazines because he's a "geek god," one whose offhand comments become rallying cries—if Firefly ran its course? I don't think so. He'd be just another wonderfully lucky actor who got to do what he loved for as long as he wanted to.
The Ripple Effect
Summer Glau would not have been free to co-star in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and it would've been a worse show for it. Adam Baldwin could not have livened up Chuck. Jewel Staite never wouldn't have made it to Stargate: Atlantis or Wonderfalls. It would've been a whole 10 days that Mark Sheppard wasn't employed by some brand of genre TV.
Or, at least, not as we know them. The collective sense of offense that Something Awesome Was Taken Away From Us caused a whole community to form and, bound together by their loss, they went on to host screenings, throw conventions and raise tens of thousands of dollars for various charities. If Firefly lasts, none of that happens.
Would I have loved to see the continuing adventures of the ad-hoc family at the heart of Firefly as Whedon and his Sky Bully intended? Absolutely. But what we got in trade was raw potential—the Firefly that exists now is just a starting point for our collective imagination to take it places unburdened by the confines of the screen. The Firefly that we fervently wish would exist is undoubtedly better than whatever Firefly we'd get. Few things are as sad as dry clay.
Sometimes, bad things just need to happen ... and this was one of them.