Matt Groening, cast, press and fans converge at YouTube Space Los Angeles to lament yet another cancellation of their beloved cartoon series, this time at the hands of Comedy Central.
I reminded Matt Groening of a quote I read of his – back around 1999 when Futurama was first launched – in which he pointed to lessons learned from producing The Simpsons and how that would improve the process. This brought a chuckle of retrospect from Groening, Futurama‘s Executive Producer David X. Cohen, and Episode Director Peter Avanzino. “We’re always improving the process.” said Groening, “before we came here tonight, we were reviewing an animatic for the next Simpsons episode and looking at better ways that Marge and Homer could kiss”.
(ABOVE: From the left: Patrick Verrone, Peter Avanzino, Phil LaMarr, Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, Lauren Tom and Maurice LaMarche)
However, when it came to Futurama, Groening and Cohen invested a lot more time fleshing out the characters and environment first. “We spent 2 years on it before we even pitched it” Groening said. “During Simpsons meetings, I would be sketching (Futurama) ideas, like a kid in the classroom who’s not paying attention, and sharing ideas with David”. Avanzino spoke to the increased use of digital technology from the very first episode, as another lesson they learned from “way back when”.
The result was an amazingly realized world, set in the 31st century, where people fly through tubes, detached heads can live ad infinitum in jars, and robots have fully realized personalities. For true Futurama geeks, it was a wonderful story of Philip J Fry (voiced by Billy West), a hapless delivery boy who was cryogenically frozen, and awaken a thousand years beyond his time.
But the non-mainstream premise has always plagued the series in viewership. Fox aired the series from 1999 until 2003, allegedly cancelling it because it didn’t pull the same numbers as The Simpsons. Only later did it start to thrive in reruns on Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” segment (presumably as more viewers digested and appreciated the story and characters). Comedy Central revived the series in 2007, releasing 4 direct-to-DVD movies and airing them in 30 minute segments. This was followed by 52 more episodes, 7 seasons in all.
The series seemed to be hitting its stride again recently when the plug was pulled again. Episodes aired this year have all, or more, of the spark and wit found in the original Fox seasons. But Comedy Central did not renew the series, as if the die were already cast (or the coin already flipped, to borrow a plot point).
Still, Matt Groening and the cast seem remarkably upbeat. Maurice LaMarche, who voices Kif Kroker and Morbo, remarked “I’ve always said we’re gonna go 10 seasons, it’s just going to take us to 2024 to do it. This show’s come back from oblivion so many times that I’ve almost counted on it… even if it comes back in the form of a flip-book”.
So into the YouTube Space screening room they went: Groening, Cohen, Phil LaMarr (Hermes Conrad), Lauren Tom (Amy Wong) and fans for a live stream panel discussion led by Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick. During the discussion, Matt Groening confirmed that work was in progress on an episode of The Simpsons with a Futurama tie-in! Fans tweeted questions, some favorite sequences were watched, and the evening ended with a screening of the love and gore-filled final episode. It was a classy way to say farewell… if not good bye.
Photo Credits: Alan Holden