Animated Shorts - David X. Cohen on the Future of Futurama

With the release of Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder, the book is now shut on the venerable animated science fiction series. At least for now.

Last February, key voice actor Billy West (Fry, the Professor, Zoidberg, and many more), openly stated he expect more Futurama eventually. He even expressed the possibility that the series would again come back as a regular TV show, at least on cable. He shortly had to retract that statement, but it did cause a flash of Internet fire for a week or so.

Series co-creator David X. Cohen certainly knew about it. At first he refused direct inquiries about West’s statement. As he would explain, that was from instructions from producer Fox Entertainment’s legal department. Then they relented.

So here is what he had to say. In all, one has to admit he did sound very optimistic. There’s solid reason as to why. Quite frankly, “Into the Wild Green Yonder” is the best of the bunch of DVDs that are now being lumped as the show’s “fifth season.” It’s action-packed, full of fun easter eggs for hardcore fans and loaded with enough of its trademark satire of the world around us to keep even the most casual fan hitting the repeat button.

It also leads to another question. Is this really the end of the show Cohen and Matt Groening openly admit they have plenty of stories yet to tell? Considering the history of the series, and other such venerable SF shows such as Star Trek and Doctor Who , one really can’t tell.

No matter what, here’s what Cohen had to say about “Green Yonder” and the future of Futurama.

Newsarama: So let’s cut to the quick here, what’s the future of Futurama?

David X Cohen: Dammit! I don’t know. [laughs] The news is not all bad. That’s one thing I can say at the moment.

The good news is there seems to be a genuine fact that the powers that be at Fox are discussing more Futurama. The bad news is they’re not discussing it with us. They are only talking among themselves, and I don’t know what they’re thinking. I place the odds at 50/50.

NRAMA: So Billy West’s comments about Futurama coming back, oddly enough said down here at a recent Florida Supercon, were a tad premature.

DXC: I’d say they were a tad premature. Then I’ve also seen about 87 Internet comments on it and I think he really said there was only a high possibility or something like that. I think what happened is he delivered it with such Billy West-like enthusiasm that it implied it was happening.

I see it as a sign of just what a great cast we have that there’s some wishful thinking in his comments. You can hear his enthusiasm when he does the Professor, Fry, Zoidberg or any of his other characters. We put Billy through a Herculean workout when we do Futurama, and it’s always startling the things that man can come up with. There are whole scenes where it’s just him. It can include all the characters we mentioned and then ten minor ones as well. There are times where we go ‘OK. Everyone take a break…except Billy. No break for you.’ People just have no idea the inhuman strength it takes to do something like that.

I have an idea of it now because there are times when I’m put in the booth to put in patch recordings because one actor or another can’t make it, and the animators need someone to do the lines. I would get a sore throat because everyone says their lines with such force, it just blows your vocal chords out.

NRAMA: One thing I enjoyed was the promotion of Leo Wong to major villain here.

DXC: Very good. What’s interesting about that is when we were thinking up the show we writers had a choice; do we want to introduce a new villain or why not take the opportunity to promote one of the characters everyone knows. We decided to do the latter. It was a little more challenging, because a character like Leo already has baggage they bring with them, and you don’t want to step all over that. You have to work those kinds of things into the story. It turned out to be fun to work out that kind of thing.

NRAMA: Well, in a way you also promoted Amy, who usually played second banana to Leela.

DXC: Yeah. We got to see some of her back story, too. We learned a lot about the things that gave her mental anguish in her life. She definitely suffered some psychological scars in her life.

This was the challenge. Because he is a family member of one of our main characters, we’ve seen him before. In the past he was kind of grouchy, but loveable. We never wanted to make him the most evil person in the world, ultimately. We wanted him to have some justification for his actions. Ultimately, we decided he’s more interested in his checking account than in being really evil. He doesn’t intentionally go out and destroy things. He just doesn’t think about things like that. All he thinks about is money, money, money. We still try to give him a little humanity in the end. Just a little. Not much.

NRAMA: Normally, you usually end an episode with a bang. This time you started with one.

DXC: That’s the rule of movie writing. You are supposed to have a gun go off in the first five minutes or the audience will go home.

It also ends with a pretty good sequence. As I said in the commentary, in the grand finale we had all the characters that ever were on Futurama gathered in one shot. That’s actually what it said in the script. In fact, all the animators from Rough Draft called us and asked us if we really meant that. That’s when we said ‘you read it right!’ In return, the animators in Rough Draft’s Korean’s branch then turned around and actually levied a monetary fine for all the extra labor that caused. They had to draw over 200 different faces.

NRAMA: Was there any flash back you couldn’t throw in?

DXC: In that group scene we could have a few kids but couldn’t include them. That was because of one joke made. We’re now talking about making a poster, and that one will have all the characters ever made for the show.

NRAMA: Overall, I think one thing you now proved is there is a fan base for Futurama.

DXC: It’s amazing! We’ve been pleasantly shocked by the fan following of the show. It all started when we left Fox. Yes, when we were on Adult Swim we finally had a regular slot, but that was often at 2:00 a.m. Now with the show being on Comedy Central, it’s on at a more popular hour, and we thought it would be too much of a good thing. As it happened the audience actually grew. Now, it seems the show is coming back to life. It’s really heartening.

NRAMA: It seems, more than anything, your show is following the path of Star Trek. Remember, the original series didn’t really take off until NBC cancelled it and it went into syndication.

DXC: That is my favorite thing, at least in my fantasies, to compare Futurama to. Whenever I worry about the show coming back on the air or not, I remember that after the original show went into syndication we also had the animated Star Trek in 1972 and the first movie in 1977. We haven’t done Futurama: The Next Generation or Deep Futurama 9, but I’m open to it.

NRAMA: But the nice thing is you left ‘Green Yonder’ in a way that it is possible to bring Fry and company back. Would you agree on that?

DXC: Yes I would. We certainly left ourselves in a corner, but we also left a tiny bit of a window if it happens. Also, this being science fiction, there’s always some way, a twist of the rules of physics or gizmo that can bring everything back. We’re certainly ready to go.

NRAMA: Finally, about yourself. Any plans at the moment?

DXC: No, honestly. I have a two year-old now. I think I’ll just be a dad. That can definitely keep me busy for a long time.

NEXT COLUMN: The legendary Fleischer Brothers film ,I>Gulliver’s Travels is being reissued, magnificently restored and with lots and lots of cool new extra features. We talk to those who bring this long lost animated masterpiece back into circulation.


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