A brighter future for 'Futurama,' now on Comedy Central - East Valley Tribune: Television

A brighter future for 'Futurama,' now on Comedy Central

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Posted: Thursday, June 24, 2010 10:11 am

The future has rarely been this bright for the animated comedy series "Futurama."

After being canceled seven years ago, and languishing in reruns and the occasional feature-length straight-to-DVD release ever since, "Futurama" is back -- this time on Comedy Central, with 26 new episodes. The first airs 10 p.m. EDT Thursday.

"I like to think we have been canceled twice," says David X. Cohen, who co-created the series with "Simpsons" mastermind Matt Groening. "It makes for a more exciting story that way.

"The first was from Fox and the second was from the DVDs, since we had finished (making them) and didn't know the series was coming back. That pretty much describes the roller-coaster ride this has been."

Launched in 1999, the series centers on a pizza-delivery guy who wakes up 1,000 years later, when he is befriended by an alien female Cyclops, a smart-aleck robot and a scientist.

With its smart but juvenile humor, "Futurama" was a modest hit for Fox, which tossed the show into various time slots over its four-year run. By the time "Futurama" wound up at 7 p.m. on Sundays, interrupted often by late-running afternoon football games, the audience had dwindled significantly.

Cartoon Network began running repeats from 2003 to 2007, with stronger-than-normal ratings coming in the middle of the night.

In 2007, "Futurama" was revived again in new DVD releases. Sales were enough to make TV executives take notice.

In 2009, Cohen got a call from a very interested Comedy Central. Executives noted the fan base is very faithful for "Futurama."

" I like to think we have a little tilt toward the math and science and animation nerds," Cohen says with a laugh. "Our episodes are not written so that you have to be a big nerd, but we try to put in little jokes and little rewards in the background for those people."

Those so-called nerds aren't just confined to mothers' basements. This season, professed "Futurama" fan Al Gore will be making his fourth appearance. Rapper Coolio and sci-fi vixen Katie Sackhoff will also be featured.

Since making an animated show can be time-consuming -- an episode can take up to a year to complete because of detailed technical work -- Cohen jumped into working on new episodes immediately after Comedy Central expressed interest.

He had hurdles to jump. The cast, which includes veteran animation vocal star Billy West, Katey Sagal and John Di Maggio, were negotiating for a month before agreeing to return. He also had to gather up his old writing staff.

Moving to Comedy Central, a basic cable channel, has meant some belt-tightening. Those free-flowing Fox dollars aren't around anymore for "Futurama."

A live orchestra will no longer be used, and the writing staff is smaller. However, Cohen says writers from the original run who aren't on staff are contributing as freelancers.

Will the future of "Futurama" be altered because of its new home?

"Comedy Central has slightly looser content standards, so it's become more of our duty to censor ourselves," he says.

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