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David X. Cohen Interview by Jon

First off, I just wanted to thank you for doing this interview. I am sure that many CGEF visitors and Futurama fans alike will enjoy learning more about their favorite TV show.

Q: I know you’re asked this all the time, but for the people that don’t know, could you please tell us who you are, what you do on Futurama, and what you did before working on Futurama.

A: I go by the slightly phonied-up name of David X. Cohen. I used to be David S. Cohen, but the Writers Guild (the union for TV and movie writers) doesn't allow two people to use the same onscreen credit. And of course, some other guy had the nerve to have my name before me! So when the prime-time animated shows unionized in 1998, I changed my credit to David X. Cohen. That coincided with the creation of Futurama, conveniently

As for what I do, I'm currently Executive Producer of Futurama, which in my case means, most importantly, that I'm the head writer. I also do a lot of production work such as editing, voice directing, and general slaving to make sure that the episodes get completed in a timely fashion while still being as good as possible.

I've been working full-time on Futurama for about three and a half years. Before that, I worked as a writer on the Simpsons for almost five years. Going still further backwards in our travels through time, I wrote a couple early episodes of Beavis & Butthead. I also spent a lot of time getting academic degrees that I admit I make little use of, professionally at least -- a B.S. in computer science from U.C. Berkeley, and a B.A. in physics from Harvard. (Sorry about all that tuition money, Mom and Dad...)


Q: Season 4 of Futurama starts in less than two weeks in the US, what should we expect new this season?

A: Well, first off, there are several buried treasures that the FOX network didn't get around to showing last season. The first is our controversial "Xmas" special, featuring evil robot Santa Claus. The other is our second 3-parter, "Anthology of Interest II".

As far as the evolution of the series, we will deal more intensely with Leela's search for her parents (probably in February, 2002), and up the ante as Fry goes all out to win Leela's heart. Some of that ongoing story will probably end up in the hoped-for season 5, since we don't have a huge number of airdates available this year. Oh, and there are some more shocking surprises in store regarding Nibbler... again, though, maybe not 'til season 5.

Back on the subject of romance (Futurama is a pretty romantic show, if you ask me!), Kif and Amy will cross paths a couple of times this year, culminating with a very sci-fi pregnancy toward the end of the season, probably in April, 2002.

And, of course, Bender is very busy Bendering it up.

Overall, I'd say we're going a little more often into the relationships of the characters, still set against a furious barrage of sci-fi hyper-drama, of course.


Q: Have you gotten any new writers or producers for this season? And if so, do they have any backgrounds on other shows?

A: Yes, there are a few new writers. Among them are David Goodman, who has written for several sitcoms, plus "Family Guy" and some dramas as well. He's now our resident Star Trek expert, and wrote our (probable) season finale, featuring the voices of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols (in her 2nd Futurama appearance). It's a great one. We also now have Mike Rowe, another excellent writer who has written for several shows, including, most recently, "The PJ's".


Q: Anything new or funny happening to our favorite characters like Bender, Amy, Fry, Leela, Hermes, and Farnsworth this season?

A: Well, I accidentally covered some of this earlier. But, in addition, Bender will fall in love with the Planet Express ship's new personality software (played by Sigourney Weaver, and set to air just before Valentine's Day, on Feb. 10, 2002)... we'll meet Hermes' son, Dwight... oh, and Bender will also meet God, sort of. And what about Dr. Zoidberg? You don't even inquire about him? His people will invade Earth, though that may not air until season 5, depending on how the schedule works out.


Q: Are you planning on introducing any new characters in the near future, or is the current cast pretty much complete?

A: We're at the point now where I don't expect any major roles to be added. However, sometimes a side character appears and we take a liking to him or her, bringing them back whenever possible. Some side characters who will be reappearing here and there are Bubblegum Tate (Commander of the Harlem Globetrotters), Scruffy (the janitor), Cubert (the Professor's clone) and Hedonismbot (oh, wait, you've never seen him yet. Better prepare yourselves.).


Q: And what about Cubert? Is he going to be a regular again now that Hermes’ son Dwight is going to be added to the cast?

A: Oops, another one I sort of just talked about. That's what I get for not carefully reading ahead. Cubert will be back, yes. How did you know about Dwight, by the way? I sincerely doubt FOX issued a press release on the subject. Cubert and Dwight have an adventure in March or thereabout... sort of our outer-space version of a small-town paper-route story. Cubert also pops up in smaller roles in one or two other episodes. And he and Dwight have larger roles in another episode that will probably air in season 5. (Nerd note: Dwight actually appears in a cameo in 3.18, which will air before his "official" introduction in 3.10).


Q: "Anthology Of Interest 2" was not shown because Fox didn’t air it before season 3 ended. Does that mean we will only get to see AOI2 this season, but not AOI3 until next season?

A: "Anthology of Interest II" was originally meant to be our season finale last year, but is now tentatively set for January 6, 2002. AOI3 (nice abbreviation, by the way -- it would've saved me some typing, if I hadn't added this unnecessary parenthetical) has not yet been written, since we knew we had AOI2 waiting in the wings. But, assuming a pickup, I suspect there will be an AOI3 way down the road. Season 6, anyone?

If I may offer up some hints, one segment of AOI2 has Bender asking "What if I were human", and another, which I wrote, pays homage to the classic videogames that I wasted my youth and quarters on ("What if life were more like a videogame?"). The final segment is a Futurama take-off on a certain musical featuring a certain Wizard of a certain Oz.


Q: I am very happy to see that Futurama will get an hour-long block at 9PM on Sunday showing the unaired Xmas episode from last year and rerunning "Xmas story" from the year before. Do you think this might get Futurama some well deserved attention?

A: Let's hope. We're talking about it now, right? There's some attention right there. As you know, FOX, out of its very deep concern for the morality of our nation, deemed it "inappropriate" for broadcast at 7 PM last year. At long last, they've rescheduled it for December 23rd, 2001 (9:30 PM East/West; 8:30 PM Central/Mountain), in the X-Files' usual slot. It will follow a rebroadcast of the first Xmas special. The old one features John Goodman and Conan O'Brien. The new one, Coolio, as "Kwanzabot".


Q: Seeing that there are 28 episodes that have been produced but not shown yet and that Fox aired only 15 episodes last season due to sports, how many episodes do you expect Fox to order for production run 5 if at all? (question asked by [-mArc-])

A: A good and difficult question. We are optimistic, but not certain, of a season 5 pickup somewhere around the end of 2001. Whether it's 13, 18, 22, or some other random number of episodes is anyone's guess. One thing to bear in mind is that we're nearing a syndicatable number of episodes, so if they want to achieve that goal, they still need at least 18 or maybe 28 more, depending on who you ask.


Q: Have you started brainstorming Season 5 ideas yet, or is it too early to start working on Season 5 since Fox hasn’t yet renewed it? *crosses fingers they will*

A: Not really. We have a lot of scribbly, indecipherable index cards taped to a wall which may or may not bear fruit.


Q: Do you read fan made scripts on the net, or is that something you can’t do because of rights?

A: Alas, no, for the reason you surmise.


Q: What is a normal day of your work life? For example, what do you do on a daily basis where Futurama is made?

A: The most common activity that we (the writers) are engaged in on any given day is rewriting a script, as a group. (Or, often, rewriting two scripts at once, as two groups!) We follow pretty much the same system as the Simpsons... we discuss the story in a small group, one person writes an outline and then a script, and then we rewrite it in a group. It's very much a group effort overall. We sit around a big table with the part of the script we're working on showing on a big computer screen. It's long, grueling work (seriously), though certainly fun when we get into a good groove.

Roughly once a week, we convene with the animators and view a show in progress, either at the black-and-white "animatic" stage, or at the almost-completed "color" stage. Then we rewrite more based on what we see.

I also spend time almost every day working on editing the audio or video of the show.

Aside from that, we mainly drink a lot of soda and coffee and cram junk food down our throats, until the periodic "healthy snacks" movement sweeps the office. Then the cycle repeats.


Q: How is the Futurama video game coming along? Is it still scheduled to be released late 2002?

A: I think that's still the estimated ETA. It's pretty far outside of my responsibilities, but I have seen some test footage of Fry running around a 3D city. Pretty cool, even in its early stage. I offered up a few suggestions which they may take or ignore as they like. One good sign is that Stewart Burns, one of the original writers on the series, is helping out with the videogame "story".


Q: Now that UK and Germany are going to have Season box sets of DVDs with extra features like cut scenes and commentary, when will the US get their hands on it? I know there are syndication rights involved, but it just seems silly that everyone besides the US is getting Futurama DVD sets.

A: I couldn't agree with you more, but it's another thing that I have little control over. I would release them tomorrow, if it were up to me. We've been recording audio commentaries regularly for the DVD sets, and are almost done with the first two seasons. It's fun. Usually it's me, Matt Groening, the writer and director of the episode, and an actor or two. Matt Groening likes it best when we ramble on, so the commentaries are pretty goofy. Honestly, though, I have no idea when the DVDs will be available here in the U.S.


Q: Are there going to be any new cool and hip Futurama toys or products made any time soon? I was thinking along the lines of maybe a tie set, or a soundtrack like ‘Songs in the key of Springfield’ or ‘the yellow album’.

A: I've heard rumors of trading cards, but nothing definite yet. I think we are nearing enough music for an album, as you suggest, but I haven't heard too much discussion of this. A shame, since our composer (Christopher Tyng) is really outstanding, not to mention the fact that we've had several songs now (some not yet aired) written by Ken Keeler, one of our senior writers who won two Emmys for songs he wrote for the Simpsons.

One crazy collectible I've seen that may or may not be out yet is a translucent "Horrible Gelatinous Blob" figure (from episodes 1.02, 3.13, and the upcoming 3.12, 3.21, and 4.17), that has a floating Fry trapped inside his gooey interior.


Q: Just to get a little off topic: Besides Futurama and the Simpsons, what are your favorite TV shows at the moment?

A: Hmm. I'm pretty far behind on my TV watching, due to working through prime time every day. But I've been a big fan of "The Sopranos" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" on HBO, to name a couple. Also I like "South Park" and "TV Funhouse" on Comedy Central. And Fox's own "King of the Hill".


Q: Seen any good movies lately?

A: Yes... just tonight, I saw the French movie "Amelie", which was great. Probably not showing in too many places, unfortunately. I also liked Harry Potter, for the most part, though there's disagreement on that subject at our office. Oh... and to back up a few months, I want to take a controversial stand and come out in favor of "A.I.".


Q: What was the last good book you read (if any)?

A: I've finally been able to read a few things the past few weeks, since we're between seasons. A rare treat with my usual schedule. I just finished one I liked called "The New New Thing", by Michael Lewis, about Jim Clark, the billionaire founder of Silicon Graphics, Netscape, and Healtheon. It talks about the whole Internet/stock boom. Very enjoyable.


Q: Got any pets? (asked by Bovinatron)

A: No, but I hope to soon. I grew up with almost every imaginable kind of house pet (both of my parents are biologists). But I haven't had time to care for a pet recently. I briefly adopted a wild kitten that a co-worker found, but it was so eager to play that it would scratch my face and back at night while I was sleeping, so I finally had to give it to someone else who had other adult cats that could teach it some manners. But I may try again soon with a more relaxed, full-grown cat.

Speaking of pets, Fry will find his petrified pet dog in the natural History museum in an upcoming episode. Maybe season 5, again, though.


Q: And finally, what was the last good album you listened to?

A: I'll rephrase that as the "last good album that I listened to like crazy", so I can make it the Beastie Boys' "Hello Nasty" from a couple years back. And no, I am not just saying this because they appeared on the show!



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