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October 30, 2000
Meet the X-man who keeps Futurama's future secure

By Melissa J. Perenson

Little did David X. Cohen know that someday his B.A. in physics at Harvard University would someday be coupled with his experiences on the Harvard Lampoon to steer the stories behind Fox's sci-fi cartoon blast Futurama. The executive producer since its launch three years ago, Cohen was serving as exec producer of The Simpsons when Simpsons creator Matt Groenig tapped Cohen to help develop and produce Futurama. Back for their third season of adventures 1,000 years in the future are Fry the 20th-century pizza boy, Leela the one-eyed alien, Bender the Robot, and the rest of the wacky Futurama gang. The difference: this year the show is airing at 7 p.m. on Sundays, a timeslot that's considered less than prime real estate given that sporting events can often pre-empt the show. No matter, jokes Cohen as he drives to the office in the morning--"The fall season doesn't really start until February or so"--after the football season ends.
At what point did you start plotting what stories would air this fall?

Cohen: That's a good question--let me count backwards [laughs]. The first three episodes we'll be running this year, like we did last year, are actually holdover episodes from the previous year. For our production season, we always make between two and four extra episodes more than we can actually show in the broadcast year, just so we know that we'll have a few ready to go in the fall, in case there are any animation delays or any of those kinds of things, which can hold up an animated show. So the first three episodes we're running this fall we actually started writing last October and November. So it will have been a full year, at least, and over a year for some of the first few episodes, since we started working on them. And after that, it starts to catch up to our normal schedule again.
Is there anything from your experiences in the second season that you've learned from?

Cohen: I think we've basically loosened up steadily as the show has gone along, and we've allowed ourselves to try a few crazier things. For example, the episode with Bender becoming a werecar--I think the first season, at least, we would have been too worried about the scientific possibilities of it. And I think the more we worked and the more we thought about it, we realized that much crazier things than that happened on Star Trek every week. So we've just allowed ourselves a wider range of things to happen.
Is there anything else that you've learned from experience of time and working with these characters?

Cohen: The second big benefit of having been on for a little while now is that we don't have to spend that much time anymore saying what the characters are like. We can actually have them doing things where we can make jokes about their personalities, which are now established, or we can just expand what we know about them--as opposed to spending time saying Leela is an orphan, which, at least, regular viewers know by now. We can just sort of hint at it or remind people of [these details] in the course of [the characters'] actions, instead of doing a lot of exposition. It's helped us pack more into the story, because we don't have to spend as much time explaining stuff.
At what point will we see this evolution on-screen?

Cohen: I think it's already creeping in. To be honest, I felt really good about the last few episodes that aired this year, and I think we were really hitting our stride. And I think that reflects that those are the episodes which, when we started writing them, the show had already had some episodes on the air for a while, and we were seeing finished episodes when we started those. So the long feedback process had finally begun by the time we got to the later shows of last broadcast season. I think it's been a steady evolution, and I think we've been settling into a real groove lately.
What is the tricky thing about developing the relationship and interplay between Leela and Fry?

Cohen: The trickiest thing is that she's much more mature and serious than he is, and we have to find ways to make it believable that something can happen between them. It seems fairly believable that Fry would have a crush on her, because she's a sexy authority figure. But it's a little harder to find why would she be impressed with him. So in some of the episodes this year we've concentrated on Fry trying to do something to impress Leela. There are some very nice romantic moments between them. In the first episode, he's really going out of his way to win her over. He determines that he's going to make a really grand, romantic gesture to impress her, and he realizes that it's going to take something really out of the ordinary to win her over at this point. We've realized that as writers, and Fry has realized that as a person in the show.
Aside from Bender turning into a cross between a robot and a violent car that pursues people at night, and Fry's efforts at romancing Leela, what's another highlight you can point to in the coming season?

Cohen: We have a great Christmas episode, which will have the return of evil Santa Claus Robot [introduced last Christmas]. He needs a little help completing his destructive rounds this year, and he calls upon Bender to help him out. John Goodman did [the voice] last year, but this year, because he was out shooting, the voice was taken over by Joe DiMaggio.