Exclusive Interview: 'FUTURAMA' CO-CREATOR DAVID X. COHEN BLOWS OUT THE 100TH EPISODE CANDLE AND TALKS ABOUT THE SEASON SIX FINALE
He also discusses the move to Comedy Central, the forthcoming 'holiday' episode and his thoughts on a FUTURAMA feature film
By CARL CORTEZ, Contributing Editor
Like Fox’s FAMILY GUY, FUTURAMA was an animated series that aired on Fox and was unceremoniously cancelled and then resurrected once DVD sales proved there was an audience for its quirky brand of humor.
In FUTURAMA’s case, after show was cancelled, they produced four direct-to-DVD movies and are now wrapping up the first of a two-season commitment on Comedy Central with Thursday night’s 100th episode.
Executive producer and co-creator David X. Cohen spoke with iF this week about his quirky animated vision of the future (which he co-created with THE SIMPSONS guru Matt Groening), what to expect from the season finale, a tease about the forthcoming “holiday” episode which sees the return of Robot Santa and what to expect when Comedy Central airs Season Seven next year.
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Bender dances away on FUTURAMA's 100th episode "The Mutants Are Revolting"
iF MAGAZINE: So is Season Six thirteen episodes or twenty-six?
DAVID X. COHEN: The length of the season is pretty much a matter of definition. To me, here in the office, I would say the season is twenty-six episodes because we got an order for twenty-six, we produced all twenty-six of them continuously and wrote them continuously. It took a year of writing and many of those are still in the works right now. Comedy Central has decided to divide them up into two broadcast seasons – 13 now, and 13 in 2011. It’s a matter of definition. I like to think of them in terms of our production seasons. Choose your own definition. Somehow iTunes has another definition. Somehow they have us on Season Seven. It’s pretty much in the eye of the beholder. If you want my personal take on how I describe it myself, this is Season Six, with Season Five being the four DVD movies we did.
iF: Has it been different doing FUTURAMA for Comedy Central than for the Fox network?
COHEN: Comedy Central definitely said, “go make the show.” They have not tried to meddle with it and they haven’t asked to change the formula and for new babies to be born. They are a cable network, and Fox was a broadcast network, so we had to make a couple of budget reductions. The main one, from my point of view, is we have a smaller writing staff than we used to have. That made me pretty nervous at the beginning of the process, although ultimately it turned out great. I had to adopt a slightly different way of going about things. Instead of doing almost everything in-house, I farmed off some of the writing, for the most part, to other experienced FUTURAMA writers who were not on our full time staff, but were available now and then to do freelance episodes to take some of the load off the staff.
iF: When you got into this new season, did you come in with some ideas that had been percolating for some time?
COHEN: Most of the stuff was new, but a couple ideas were ideas we never got around to. A couple of them Matt Groening had for awhile and said “If we come back, we have to do this.” Several of those we’ve done, one of them was our best episode of the season, and probably one of our best episodes ever where the Professor builds a time machine that can only go forward in time. And the crew members get on board and start going on that journey with no way back. That was an idea Matt had percolating. Our very, very last episode [is something we’ve wanted to], which will be our finale in 2011 and we will show FUTURAMA in several alternate animated styles. That’s going to be one of those three mini-story surreal specials, like our “Anthology of Interest” [episodes]. It’s our very last episode called “Resurrection” with FUTURAMA resurrected in three different styles. Several episodes, by the way, were inspired by real world events that had happened since we were last on the air on Fox too. Two of the episodes we’ve shown so far this year, one was about iPhones, You Tube and Twitter. None of those existed when we were on the Fox network. At the time, they were the distant future, so just by sitting on the sidelines we got material for an episode. We also did an episode about Bender campaigning to legalize robo-sexual marriage. That was inspired by the Prop 8 debate here in California.
iF: Can you talk about the season finale.
COHEN: It’s the 100th episode as well as our season finale. There was no grand planning in that. Comedy Central said, “here is your schedule” and we went, “hey look, our season finale is the 100th episode.” We wanted to come up with some subject matter for the 100th episode that had roots in the history of the show. We ultimately came up with the story where Leela leads a rebellion of the mutant people, which are her people, which live under the streets of New York. She wants to get equal rights for them with the surface people. It’s one of our several, long running storylines of the story dealing with Leela’s mutant roots and the controversy over whether she’s actually an alien or mutant. So we do a little bit with the fact that she’s been illegally living on the surface. We have a guest star in this one too. We’re going to see the future mutated versions of Devo and Mark Mothersbaugh who are specifically fighting, along with Leela, for the mutant rights.
iF: Did they write a song for the episode?
COHEN: We used their classic “Beautiful World.”
iF: Is there going to be a Christmas episode this year?
COHEN: We have a great “holiday” episode. It’s another one of our three-parters. One is “Resurrection” and the other is our holiday episode which has a tentative airdate of November 21 on Comedy Central. It’s an episode with three mini-stories. It’s a musical, environmental holiday special guest starring Coolio and Al Gore.
iF: Will there be Robot Santa?
COHEN: Yes, there will be Robot Santa – an exciting appearance by him. We’re describing three holidays of the future. X-Mas, which is of course our future version of Christmas. Robonica, which is Bender’s holiday that he makes up every year to get out of work. And Kwanzaa, where we see Kwanzaa-bot, the robotic Kwanzaa mascot of the future played by Coolio.
iF: So that’s it for this year?
COHEN: Yes, that will be thirteen. We don’t know exactly how Comedy Central will air the thirteen next year. I would guess, they will shoot for roughly the same schedule of running them every week continuously over the summer, but there are no guarantees. If I had to bet money, that’s where I would place my three dollars.
iF: Since you do have to plan the show so far ahead, do you ever worry that a storyline may be outdated, particularly with the future tech, when it finally airs?
COHEN: We can’t make wholesale changes, but we can make minor changes. For the most part, we don’t worry about it. What happens, by the time the year passes and we finish writing and the animation is done, the original subject matter either has come around again with the iPhone or it doesn’t. The iPhone 4 came out within one week of airing of that episode. It was really in the news a lot right when that came out, but not due to any clever planning. Where alternatively, people forget about the real life inspiration because it’s been so long, and then we just get credit for being very creative. Usually it seems to work out by some miracle.
iF: You couldn’t have anticipated the iPad.
COHEN: We actually had a couple of uses of the iPad, before the iPad came out. Just because we said, “we don’t want this person to have a clipboard of the future, let’s make it a video clipboard” and then of course the iPad came out.
iF: So the DVD coming out in December is the 13 that just aired?
COHEN: Yes. Just because the way Comedy Central has scheduled airing them, we would have to wait forever basically to release the new ones on DVD, if we waited for all 26 were shown. It makes sense to put out the 13 that were released this year. And the holiday episode will be on there. We’re going to be doing some DVD commentaries on there too.
iF: What will we see in Season Seven next year?
COHEN: We’re going to have another big Robot Mafia episode. Bender witnesses a crime committed by the Robot Mafia and has to go into witness protection. We’re going to fill in a little back story on Dr. Zoidberg. We’ve never talked about how he and The Professor got to know each other, so we’re going to fill in the hysterical details in there. The episode is going to have a lot of flashbacks that show the origin of their relationship. There’s a little more in terms of the long-running arcs.
iF: Is there still the potential of doing a feature film?
COHEN: I’ve probably told you this in the past, that’s always been my secret dream that I tell everybody. I’ve always said FUTURAMA lends itself to a feature film, because it has spectacular visuals and it translates great to a big screen. I think our subject matter would make for a great movie and we could devote ourselves to one epic FUTURAMA movie. I’m totally game, but that is hard to get traction on, but if people write angry letters, we’ll see.
iF: Do you feel comfortable you’ll get another order with Comedy Central or do you still have that continual worry like you had at Fox?
COHEN: On Fox, I definitely worried about it. When you’re on a network like that, there’s a schedule for these things where they tell you if you’re picked up or not. Since we did the DVDs and are back for this strange giant order of 26, or two 13s, however you look at it, it’s been much more random and I’ve come to expect nothing anymore, neither good nor bad. I just tend to roll with whatever develops. There’s no schedule for this kind of order anymore, where “you’re picked up on a certain date or go home.” Comedy Central have 13 in the bank for next year. They may or may not feel the rush, but at least from our point of view, we do need more than a year of lead-time to get our operation up and running. If they do want more, we would like to hear soon. I’m just happy we got to do these, and because it’s so much work, I try to look at it this way, if we don’t do more, I get a nice little break.
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Ken from Wisconsin, USA sez....
It's great to see Futurama back on the air, although it will be a long time until next Summer before the next set of episodes hits the airwaves. What would be cool is, given the success of it's return on Comedy Central, is for Comedy Central to renew it, move up the next 13 episodes for airing, and have the renewal episodes for next fall. Wishful thinking on my part, but it could happen... :)
9/6/2010 4:50:24 PM
Martin from Norway sez....
Futurama is probably my favorite show too, it's so great to have it back! Full-features and 10-20 more seasons would be a good start.
9/6/2010 1:04:18 PM
Fry from Universe A sez....
i agree with anders. the first four episodes were terrible. let's be honest. afterwords, it was the good ol' futurama. from what i have read, they are second best in ratings on cc, behind south park. id love to see another season renewed, as it is my favorite tv show. to me, it's pretty much a simpsons version of star trek, which is awesome.
9/2/2010 6:44:15 PM
Anders from Norway sez....
Well, let's hope it's renewed for another season, at least. The first couple of episodes were a bit slow, but after that it has been back to the good, old Futurama that we all love. The show has been averaging about 2 million viewers on Thursday prime time, which is very good. My guess is that CC will be renewing it, sooner rather than later.
9/2/2010 7:28:12 AM