Originally Posted by Thus Spoke Elvis
My knowledge of this is based on my imperfect memory of some of the episodes' audio commentaries, as I didn't watch the show when it originally aired.
Fox thought the pilot was too slow, so they aired a more fast-paced episode first. The problem was that the pilot established a lot of important backstory elements. It set the stage for everything that follows. So while the pilot wasn't the most exciting episode (IMO), it was necessary for the overarching storyline.
Additionally, there were a ton of scheduling conflicts during the show's brief run (i.e., the World Series, a primetime speech by Bush in the build-up to the Iraq War). However, if an episode was preempted one week, it would not be shown the following week. Instead, Fox would air that week's originally-scheduled episode. Oftentimes, the preempted episode wouldn't air until after several later episodes had already aired. This made some of the later episodes' jokes and references confusing.
It all seemed rather stupid. Joss Wheden, the show's creator, repeatedly stated that he'd never work for Fox again because of their handling of Firefly.
Wow, that's very interesting. Thank you for the explanation. And, Joss Wheden, he's cool. He's the Buffy & the Vampire Slayers guy, isn't he? I've heard very good things about that show, too, and have wanted to watch it ever since I heard him interviewed on Fresh Air. One of my pals even bought me season 1 on DVD, which sits unwatched to this day (much to my friend's chagrin).