It looks like SIMPSONS creator Matt
Groening is returning to prime time just in time to save Fox from
it’s disastrous KING OF THE HILL power play. Hoping to move KING
to Tuesdays in hopes of grabbing high ratings on that night, Fox’s
freshman stand out from last season turned into a sophomore disappointment
Fox, and fans of THE SIMPSONS, are
hoping FUTURAMA, Groening’s sophomore TV effort arriving a full
10 years after his SIMPSONS premiered, will not suffer a KING’s
fate. Look for it as a mid-season replacement early in 1999.
Animated in the same style and written
with a similar satiric eye as its decade old sister show, FUTURAMA
centers on Fry, a guy accidentally frozen alive on New Years Eve
1999 and not rescued until New Years Eve 2999. There he meets Leela,
a cycloped beauty who soon develops a crush on her ancient new friend,
and electric lazy-ass Bender.
"Bender is the standout character
right now," enthuses Groening. "He’s our robotic Homer Simpson.
He’s the first robot in science fiction who shoplifts." As smart-assed
and irreverent as Groening usually is about, well, everything, when
asked what his genre influences helping to shape FUTURAMA, Groening
gets serious. Kind of. "I grew up reading, well, my older brother
has a science fiction collection," Groening says. "So I read Asimov
and Heinlein and Phillip K. Dick and Robert Sheckley, Clifford Simak
and Alfred Bester and Cordwinder Smith and so on. I read it all.
I grew up and found a lot of science fiction concepts really annoying.
And, so, this show is an opportunity to both honor some of the conventions
of science fiction and satirize them."
While Groening shied away from creating
a new series even when the rush of the SIMPSONS craze hit in the
early 1990s, he’s been flagging that show’s biggest strengths and
feeding them into FUTURAMA.
"Like THE SIMPSONS, FUTURAMA will
have dozens and dozens and dozens of other characters in every episode,"
he promises. "There was so much fun on THE SIMPSONS creating the
kinds of details that other TV shows can’t do. On THE SIMPSONS,
we have TV shows within the show. ‘KRUSTY THE KLOWN,’ we have Kent
Brockman, the newscaster and we have ‘ITCHY AND SCRATCHY.’ "The
number one show in the future is ‘THE MASS HYPNOSIS HOUR’ and no
doubt it’s on Fox." Like THE SIMPSONS, Groening is expecting plenty
of guest stars on FUTURAMA. "Any celebrity who’s big enough we will
have on FUTURAMA -- if you’re willing to play yourself as a disembodied
head in a jar," says Groening with a laugh. " I am a head in a jar
on the first episode. And we also have Leonard Nimoy and Dick Clark
doing ‘DICK CLARK’S ROCKIN’ NEW YEAR’S EVE 3000.’"
And what are some of the cherished
sci-fi conventions Groening and company hope to hack into? "Well,
you know I love STAR WARS and STAR TREK and all the variations on
them," says Groening. "However, I wanted to do a TV show in which
the problems of the universe are not solved by militarism guided
by New Age spirituality. I just thought, let’s try something different,
you know. It’s not a knock on the optimism of those shows. I just
have a slightly... I’m going to get fired... slightly more subversive
take, I think."
Well, the likelihood of Groening
getting fired before Fox airs the 13 episodes of FUTURAMA it’s already
committed to is not great, to say nothing of the tenth and eleventh
seasons of THE SIMPSONS. With THE SIMPSONS as his prototype, it’s
not inconceivable FUTURAMA could run until Fry is thawed out in
time to party like it’s 2999.