Every year, some good shows are undeservedly canceled. This time, the list was topped by two strong Fox dramas ("Human Target" and the superb "Chicago Code") and two fun comedies, ABC's "Better With You" and CBS' "Mad Love."
And every few years, a show springs back to life. The latest is "Futurama," which has new episodes -- erratic, but funny -- Thursday (July 23). There are plenty of reruns to go with it, including a "Futurama" movie before the new episodes and the original series at 4:30 p.m. weekdays -- starting with the pilot Friday. Here's the story I sent to reporters; the specifics are in the bullets that follow the story:
By MIKE HUGHES
“Futurama” is back, for a summer
filled with twisted tomorrows.
This is the cartoon show that died and
was reborn. Now it's 12 years old and in its sixth season.
That's a minor detail, of course. “Our
characters never get any older,” said co-creator David X. Cohen.
Besides, this is set in the year 3000.
It will be a while before it seems dated.
“Futurama” had a pizza guy fall
into a machine and emerge 1,000 years later, meeting a hard-drinking
robot, a sexy alien and more. “I thought the characters were so
cool,” recalls actor Billy West.
He would soon play many of them. West
is the central character (Phillip Fry), plus Prof. Herbert
Farnsworth, Dr. John Zoidberg and more – including Bill Clinton's
head in a jar.
The series began with Matt Groening,
whose “The Simpsons” was already almost a decade old. He talked
to Cohen, who says he was “the nerd of the staff – something
there was a lot of competition for.”
Like many “Simpsons” writers, Cohen
was a Harvard grad and a former Harvard Lampoon editor. Unlike most,
he also had a master's degree in theoretical computer science from
So Groening started talking to him
about stories with weird, sci-fi twists. “Pretty soon, we had 10
stories ready to go and 10 or 20 characters,” Cohen said.
The possibilities were endless, he
said. “It's almost too much; you have to rein yourself in …. We
want it to be about human behavior – even when the characters
That requires voice actors who can find
both the humor and the humanity. “They are fabulous,” Cohen said.
“They've even yanked a tear or two.”
West comes from the opposite of a
Berkeley background. A cruel father, he says, dominated his
childhood. “It was horrific growing up in that home …. I had a
tendency to vaporize.”
He would ignore the commotion and
obsess on TV – from science fiction to the Sid Caesar shows, with
their emphasis on accents. When he was 11, his mom decided they would
escape to Boston; soon, he had his own escape, playing rock 'n' roll.
“I wanted to get out of school; I didn't fit in.”
His band did fairly well; his odd
voices when he talked to the audience did better. Soon, West was
doing comic voices for radio shows – first in Boston, then Howard
Stern in New York. That led to cartoons – new characters (Stimpy,
Doug), revived ones (Elmer Fudd, Woody Woodpecker) and “Futurama”
oddities. “Billy absolutely runs with that,” Cohen says. “He
can do anything.”
After five seasons and 72 episodes, Fox
canceled “Futurama” in 2003. It was a temporary death.
With its reruns thriving on cable, the
show made direct-to-video movies were split into four TV episodes.
Ratings prospered and Comedy Central ordered a new season.
Technically, this summer is the second
half of the 26-episode sixth season. Still, it feels more like the
seventh or (counting those movies) eighth. When you span millennia,
numbers get odd.
The show's stars rarely get recognized,
but there are moments. John DiMaggio – the voice of Bender the
robot, was getting a tattoo, Cohen said; “there was a guy there
right then getting a Bender tattoo.”
Think of it as a permanent tribute to a
show that never stays dead.
– “Futurama,” Comedy Central; new
episodes at 10 and 10:30 p.m. Thursday (June 23), preceded by the
“Into the Wild Green Yonder” movie at 8.
– Those new episodes rerun at
midnight and 12:30 a.m.; then 9-10 p.m. Saturday, 10:30-11:30 p.m.
Sunday, 9-10 p.m. June 30.
– Then new episodes at 10 p.m.
Thursdays; beginning Friday (June 24), the series reruns from the
beginning, at 4:30 p.m. weekdays