The future has rarely been this bright for the animated comedy series "Futurama."
After being canceled seven years ago, languishing in rerun purgatory and the occasional feature-length, straight-to-DVD releases since then, "Futurama" is back - this time on Comedy Central with 26 new episodes.
"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 and is befriended by a cyclops alien woman, a smart-aleck robot and an old bald scientist.
With its smart but juvenile humor, "Futurama" was a modest hit for Fox, which tossed the show into various time periods throughout its four-year run. By the time "Futurama" wound up at 7 p.m. Sundays, interrupted often by late-running afternoon football games, the audience had dwindled significantly.
Cartoon Network began running the 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. Like "Family Guy," another time-slot throw around on Fox, the sales were enough to make TV executive sit up and notice.
And they did.
In 2009, Cohen got a call from a very interested Comedy Central. Executives noted the very faithful fan base 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 their mother's basement. This season, professed "Futurama" fan Al Gore will be making his fourth appearance. Rapper Coolio and sci-fi vixen Katie Sackhoff also will be featured.
Since making an animated show can be a time-consuming process - an episode can take up to a year to complete because of the detailed technical aspects of the animation - 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, actress Katey Sagal and John Di Maggio, negotiated 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 now contributing as freelancers.
Will the future of "Futurama" be altered because of its new channel home?
"Comedy Central has slightly looser content standards so it's become more of our duty to censor ourselves," he says. "We try not to go over the edge but nothing super radical."
What: Return of the animated series with 26 new episodes spread over two seasons
When: 10 p.m. Thursdays
© 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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