February 22nd, 1999
PETER ROTH, president of Fox Entertainment:
I was delighted a couple of months ago, when Matt told me that he
had finally -- after three years of begging -- that he would finally
do another series for our network. And so it gives me great pleasure
to introduce to you the man responsible for "The Simpsons,"
the man who is responsible for one of our most exciting new prospects
for the future of "Futurama." Mr. Matt Groening.
GROENING: I just want to say -- the three years of begging
were begging by Peter Roth. Not me begging him. Do I stand here
or I sit? I sit, okay. Am I talking or -- I'm just answering questions?
Or, or what?
QUESTION: What is "Futurama?"
GROENING: What is "Futurama?" The first question.
"Futurama" is the TV series that my team and I are working
on right now. It is a -- it comes from having grown up reading science
fiction and -- even before I read science fiction, my older brother
Mark [sp] had a huge collection of science fiction books and magazines.
And I would -- I loved those covers.
You know that thing at the end of "Planet of the Apes"
with the Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand? Well that was
done as a science fiction magazine cover about fifteen times. And
I loved that. And I want to do that kind of thing on a TV show.
All these great visuals. I thought it would be really neat to take
some of the conventions of science fiction and, and have fun with
them in a "Simpsons"-style way. And, that's it.
The poster here (hanging over Groening's head at the news
conference) is actually pretty indicative of the visual style of
the show. If you look closely you see -- you'll see the characters
have the big eyeballs and the overbites a la "The Simpsons."
However, it is not a spin-off of "The Simpsons." Their
skin is not yellow.
I also was going to -- at one point -- give the characters five
fingers instead of four. And, we designed the characters with that
in mind. The animators complained about a term they have in animation
called pencil mileage. And, over the long life of a TV series, the
pencil mileage of having to draw that extra finger adds up. [laughter]
So we have gone back to the four fingers. However, (the robot) --
that one in the middle -- has only three fingers, so -- that's pretty
much a good beginning. Next question?
QUESTION: So, who are the characters?
GROENING: The three main characters in "Futurama"
are Fry -- who is a guy from our time who has a tragic mishap on
New Year's Eve 1999. He gets frozen. He gets frozen -- and I'm not
going to give you the details. But he ends up waking up a thousand
years in the future on New Year's Eve 2999. And he ends up meeting
up with this alien woman named Leela -- with the one eye there.
She wears her hair down a little, too. Sort of to disguise that.
[laughter] And -- I thought it would be really cool if we could
design this sexy woman that had one eye, you know. Make -- anyway.
And then there's Bender. And Bender's like -- he's the standout
character right now on this show. He's our robotic Homer Simpson.
He's just totally corrupt -- lovably corrupt -- a la Homer. Loves
his vices. I think he's the first robot in science fiction who shoplifts.
He's got a little door in his abdomen that he's able to put things
in. And also take out whatever props we need. A la Bugs Bunny. You
know how Bugs Bunny always pulls out the -- I'm losing my ... those
are the three main characters. And, like "The Simpsons,"
"Futurama" will have dozens and dozens of other characters
in every episode.
We took such a long time developing this thing. With "The Simpsons"
it's just -- it's Springfield. It's this fictional town and there's
the equivalent of Dairy Queen and Denny's and, you know, normal
beers and stuff like that are all fictional versions of them. On
"Futurama" it's the same thing, except we're doing the
whole universe. And, so, it requires a little bit more planning.
And that's why it took three years to put this thing together.
We have -- again, there was so much fun on "The Simpsons,"
creating the kinds of details that other TV shows -- live action
shows can't do. On "The Simpsons" we have TV shows within
the show. We have "Krusty the Clown," and we have Kent
Brockman, the newscaster and we have the "Itchy and Scratchy"
cartoon. So, a cartoon within a cartoon. We have all that on "Futurama,"
too. The number one show -- in the future -- is "The Mass Hypnosis
Hour." [laughter] And, no doubt it's on FOX. [laughter] And
we have - you know - highly addictive soft drinks and all sorts
of other futuristic things.
QUESTION: What are your sci-fi inspirations? And can you
give us an idea -- you always do a good job with the voices matching
these crazy characters -- any voice names that you can give us?
GROENING: We're in the middle of negotiations with somebody
who's really big and -- I can't do, I can't leap and say that my
big -- give my big announcement today. But, we've got lots of --
we got good voices. Nobody from "The Simpsons" -- wait,
I take that back. Tress MacNeille who does voices on "The Simpsons"
is one of our cast members, but none of the other -- is that true?
Is that right? Nobody else? Yeah. I wish I could make the announcement
now, but I can't. Maybe in a couple of days.
QUESTION: Your sci-fi inspiration?
GROENING: Oh, yeah -- sci-fi. ... well, literarily -- I grew
up reading -- again, my older brother has a science fiction collection.
So I read Asimov and Heinlein and Phillip K. Dick and Robert Sheckley
and Clifford Simak and Alfred Bester and Cordwainer Smith and, you
know, on and on. So I read it all.
And, I threw away or got rid of most of those books. And, I spent
-- starting five or six years ago -- I started assembling my collection
again. And -- what's amazing about all these science fiction books,
by the way, is you can still find them in used bookstores. They're
just, they're all -- you can find them. And, a lot of them don't
hold up in that a lot of them take place in the early `80s, you
know. And, things turned out a little differently than most of the
books depict. But, they're still really fun.
So anyway -- yeah -- so, the inspiration is partly all these things
in literary science fiction. When I was a kid, I would read these
books and I was so excited by some of the adventurous ideas. Particularly
Phillip K. Dick and I really thought Robert Sheckley's work was
very funny. And, I thought, boy, it's really going
to be great when I'm grown up and special effects get so much better.
And, they'll be able to do all the things that are depicted in these
books. And, I grew up and I 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. Have
fun with them.
QUESTION: Mr. Groening -- back here. A question about --
GROENING: [overlapping] I'm sorry, this person was next and
QUESTION: When will we see this good show?
GROENING: It's mid-season. No particular time, yet.
QUESTION: You mentioned before that, you know, that obviously
these characters resemble "The Simpsons" characters. Are
you concerned that -- even though you're saying it's not a spin-off
-- the viewers might think that it's some sort of spin-off? Or is
this an intentional thing that -- people obviously love "The
Simpsons" characters so this is going to help build an audience
for the show?
GROENING: Well, this is -- no, this is the tragedy of my
limited drawing skills. All -- I've been drawing this way since
I was a kid. If you read my "Life in Hell" comic strip
it's -- they all look the same too, you know.
QUESTION: Did you try to come up with a different style or
work with people who could --
GROENING: You know, we once -- we had Jay Leno on "The
Simpsons" and -- do you know how impossible it is to draw Jay
Leno with that chin in "The Simpsons" style? [laughter]
It can't be done -- you know?
QUESTION: Are you guaranteed the post-"Simpsons"
GROENING: No. No -- I don't know what they're going to do
with the show.
QUESTION: Matt, you note that "The Simpsons" --
GROENING: [overlap] I think it would make sense, but -- [laughter]
QUESTION: You note that "The Simpsons" are still
on a thousand years in the future. But what about -- in this reality
-- how long do you see "The Simpsons" actually continuing?
Do you hope that "Futurama" ultimately can one day sort
of bridge the gap, that once you have that established that "The
Simpsons" would go away? Or do you think "The Simpsons"
can go on for another ten years? And what is the current status
of your deal with FOX? Is it up this year?
GROENING: I don't know how long "The Simpsons"
is going to run. It's surprised me that it's gone on this long.
But -- the surprise isn't so much -- I mean, I love the show. And,
I was just saying during lunch that -- this coming season on "The
Simpsons" is as good as any we've ever done or better. The
writers -- led by Mike Scully, executive producer, are fantastic.
They get the characters. And they're writing to the characters.
And they're creating original stories that not only don't repeat
what we've done on "The Simpsons" -- they also don't repeat
anything else I've seen on television. This coming season has some
really great, surprising stories. I can't remember the next part
of your question.
QUESTION: How long would you like it to go on?
GROENING: You know -- I want it to go on. I mean if we --
I want us to go out on top. I want us to go out, you know, doing
great shows. I hope we don't run it into the ground. But like I
said, this coming season on "The Simpsons" is fantastic.
So, you know, no end in sight.
QUESTION: Matt -- last year in this room there was a FOX
pitch about winning "The Simpsons" house and we got a
whole lunch on that. I don't know whatever happened, quite frankly.
But, did that come with your blessing? Or did you frown upon it?
Or were you happy?
GROENING: I thought it was great. You know, everybody --
it seems like everybody at FOX got on "The Simpsons" jet
and flew to Las Vegas. If that jet had gone down -- man. [laughter)
Yeah. It was great. It was really fun. I did pitch the idea that
-- at the end of the time that the house was being publicized --
that FOX actually blow it up. You know -- live on TV. But --
QUESTION: Did they do that?
GROENING: No. But, you know -- hey, they could still do it.
QUESTION: Matt, back here --
GROENING: [overlapping] You know what? Actually there is
-- we don't know, I don't know -- what is the status of the house?
Somebody said it was going to be -- it's going on the lot? It's
not my office.
QUESTION: Matt, one of the things about "The Simpsons"
that makes it so fun -- among a lot of things -- is, are the celebrity
voices you bring in. And while you're not saying who the lead voices
will be for "Futurama," do you have any idea of -- will
you be bringing celebrity voices in for "Futurama?" And,
do you have any idea of who they may be?
GROENING: Well, I will -- this is an open casting call. 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.
[laughter] We've put the call out. We've got some good response.
I'm taking the first leap. 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." [laughter and applause]
QUESTION: May I? Matt, FOX has taken -- I guess the only
show that's ever worked, really -- in the ratings at least -- after
"The Simpsons" -- "King of the Hill," and taking
it to Tuesdays. I think the creators have said in the past that
"King of the Hill" kind of helped draw maybe more viewers
to "The Simpsons" because it was an environment -- kind
of an animated environment. Do you have any feelings about whether
it might hurt the show when they take that and put it elsewhere?
GROENING: You know, I -- I don't know. Again, as I was saying
earlier today at lunch. I said, "Is there a network that doesn't
change its schedule around?" I mean, you can't count on any
of that stuff ."The Simpsons," we used to be on Sunday
night -- back in the beginning. Then it was moved to Thursday. Now
it's back on Sunday. Things move around. I do not understand the
mysteries of TV scheduling.
QUESTION: Over here. Thanks. What are some of the conventions
of science fiction that you skewer?
GROENING: Well, most TV science fiction is about people traveling
through outer space and looking out of a porthole. Right? And there's
a lot of starfield around. Because they can't afford to go to earth
and show the sets. On our show, we are able to actually go to earth
and deal with some of the problems and -- well, some of the problems
of the future and some of the problems that we deal with right now.
And, I'm sorry -- I've lost the question. What is it? What am I
QUESTION: You talked about some of these sci-fi conventions
that you hated when you got older and started reading stuff. I wondered
what some of the conventions were that you might be skewering on
the show -- or paying homage to.
GROENING: Well I -- you know, I love "Star Wars"
and "Star Trek" and all the variations on them. 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.
It's not a knock on the optimism of those shows. I just have a slightly
-- I'm going to get fired -- a slightly more subversive take, I
QUESTION: Matt, from the production of an animated perspective,
how much more difficult will "Futurama" be than "The
GROENING: I'm sorry.
QUESTION: For both the animation and the production end of
it, how much more difficult will "Futurama" be compared
to "The Simpsons"?
GROENING: Work manages to expand to fill the time available
to do it. And there's certain things on this show that we are --
that are going to gain us some time. We're doing some computer animation,
which is also going to make the show look flashier. And then --
but because of those ambitions, we're really pushing ourselves and
it's going to take about the same as "The Simpsons," which
is a lot of really, long hard work.
One of the nice things about this show is that this comes after
-- you know, I've been doing "The Simpsons" since 1987
on "The Tracey Ullman Show," and I've learned pretty much
what works comedically, and this is -- the whole phenomenon of "The
Simpsons" in 1990 was based on 13 episodes that we did without
knowing how they were going to turn out. All of those first 13 episodes
were in the works before we got the results of first episode.
On "Futurama," we've got the luxury of looking
back at the whole history of "The Simpsons" and picking
out what worked on "The Simpsons" and trying some of that
and trying some new stuff. And one of the things I'm really excited
about is I'm working with an animation house called Rough Draft,
which is run by Greg Vanzo [sp) and head animator Rich Moore, who
are original "Simpsons" animators. And it's just -- back
in the beginning of "The Simpsons," these animators --
there had never been a show like "The Simpsons." And it
took quite some training in order to make the animation clunky enough
to fit these clunky characters.
We had a scene in the first episode of "The Simpsons"
in which Marge and Homer go out dancing. And the animators animated
it absolutely beautifully. It was Marge and Homer. They were dancing
like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. And I said, "No. They're
middle-aged creaky people and the whole -- even as beautiful as
it is, it's extremely disturbing to watch. [laughter) Anyway, so
we've learned a lot in the past 11 years and we're going to try
to build on that.
QUESTION: Matt, this morning we had a panel here with a lot of the
top producers in the business. And they were asked what their favorite
show was, and most of them named "The Simpsons." Do you
have any idea, as the creator of that show, what is the creative
success of it? Is it the writing? Is it the -- what do you think
it is that makes so many levels of people out there like that show?
GROENING: It's really funny, you know. I think because it's
a really -- it really delivers the goods just on that level. It's
a really funny show. I think the characters are surprisingly likable,
given how ugly they are. [laughter] And when it came around, there
really was nothing else like it on TV.
I mean, again, it's hard to imagine this, but when "The Simpsons"
was first -- when FOX first took the plunge with "The Simpsons,"
it was considered controversial to put animation on in prime time.
That was like a big deal. You know, obviously with all of these
animated shows now, it's not a big deal. But it's just amazing that
-- to me -- that that was considered an absolutely unbelievably
QUESTION: Well, after 11 years, how hard is it to hold that
-- up the quality of it?
GROENING: Well, we got -- a lot of writers moved on to other
things. Conan (O'Brien), you know, went on to his thing. We got
a bunch of new writers. We have writers now who tell me they grew
up watching "The Simpsons." [laughter] It's bizarre. They're
writing some really funny stuff. Let me just -- we got a -- I don't
know, I'm just telling you these little plot lines. I don't know
if it's going to mean that much, but -- [reading] "keeping
a secret proves difficult for Homer when he lands a personal assistant
job working for Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. [laughter] It's a
"Homer becomes obsessed" -- he wants to be like Thomas
Edison in an episode. He wants to -- and he figures he's never going
to catch up with Thomas Edison. It's a whole show about trying to
beat Edison. That's a bizarre one. We have our obligatory Jerry
Springer appearance on "The Simpsons." We have an "Ally
McBeal" crossover coming up. [laughter] [Fox publicists later
told critics there will not be an "Ally McBeal" crossover]
We finally find out Homer's middle name. All these years, it's been
Homer J. Simpson. And we find out what the "J" stands
for. [Several critics urge Groening to spill the secret, but he
refuses with a grin.] Come on. [laughter]
"Homer raises a lobster." [laughter] You know, he goes
to the store and he wants to get lobster. It's too expensive, so
he gets a baby lobster to raise it. [laughter] There's a good one.
You know, I don't want to reveal too much, but -- wait, wait, wait
-- this is one I'm really happy with. "Ned Flanders has a mid-life
crisis." You know, Ned Flanders? Hi-diddly-o! So Homer takes
him to Las Vegas where they take a walk on the wild side: waking
up having married two cocktail waitresses the night before. [laughter]
That's a good one. Anyway, that's enough of that.
QUESTION: Matt, I've enjoyed the book "The Simpsons"
episode guide that you did with Ray Richmond.
QUESTION: And I just wanted to ask, it's a different book
for most episode guides, and I wanted to ask you about putting that
book together and what your thought is on it's completion?
GROENING: You know, it was an incredible team effort. If
you don't know this book it's -- what's the actual title of it?
"The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family."
On the Internet, Our Favorite Family. O.F.F. is the acronym for
"The Simpsons." And it really is an encyclopedic guide
to the show. I mean, there's certain shows that I'm a big fan of,
and I've gone to look at their episode guides, and they're pretty
On "The Simpsons," we decided to do one that would
blow all of the rest of them out of the water. So the type is really
tiny, you know. And we're going to do either -- I think biannual
updates of the book.
QUESTION: Matt, you said how there's a tremendous growth
in animation and so forth. I don't think there's too much prime-time
animation on NBC, ABC, or CBS. Why do you think it's so hard for
those networks to take in different format of a half hour show?
GROENING: I don't think that "The Simpsons" could
have been done on any other network than FOX. You know, FOX takes
chances in a way that the other networks don't.
QUESTION: But now the most successful, longest running entertainment
show on television is a cartoon. Why don't the big networks try
to have a cartoon or --?
GROENING: I think, again, I think FOX takes risks. You know,
one of the ways I pitched "Futurama" to Peter Roth was
to say, you know, "Hey, I gave you this other hit show. Let
me try it again." But the show, "Futurama," is not
an obvious choice. There's -- there's going to be nothing else like
"Futurama" when it's on the air.
And you know, I'm eternally in Peter Roth's debt for taking that
risk of trying something that's going to be pretty wild, but really
ambitious. Again, I think it's unique to FOX. I think FOX does shows
that you won't see on other networks. I can't imagine "The
Simpsons" on another network.
In fact, some of "The Simpsons" writers have gone on to
do shows on other networks, and they tried things that we've done
on "The Simpsons," and the people at the other networks
say, "No, you can't do that." And they say, "Well,
we did it on `The Simpsons."' And they were told, we would
never have "The Simpsons" on our network.
QUESTION: Matt, other than "The Simpsons," what
are your favorite shows?
GROENING: I am really partial to a Japanese cooking show
called "Iron Chef" Any of you familiar with that? Really?
Good. "Iron Chef" is a cross between "American Gladiators"
and Julia Child. It's fantastic.
The chef challenger comes out, and he gets to pick between one of
three Iron Chefs to have a cooking contest with, and with big, dramatic,
bombastic music, they present the chefs with a mystery ingredient
and -- in one of my favorite episodes it was a giant spider crab
with legs about ten feet -- it's a wild show. I don't think it's
in every market. [laughter]
I like "King of the Hill." I like "Ally McBeal."
I like "Dr. Katz." You know.
QUESTION: How about "South Park"?
GROENING: You know, I haven't seen "South Park"
that much. I got two little kids, so I switch the channel.
QUESTION: Matt, what about all the merchandising that you
do on "The Simpsons"?
QUESTION: Will there be a lot of merchandising on "Futurama,"
GROENING: Let's see -- a show that has ray guns, and robots,
and space ships -- yeah, I think they'll be some merchandising.
We draw the line, though. No Pogs. [laughter] No Pogs.
Yeah, we'll do it. I mean, that's part of -- look, I can't
imagine doing a cartoon show ... without thinking about the merchandising.
And not for the crass reasons. I mean I like that it -- I like the
money, but to me, it's fun. I like the toys. I like doing that stuff,
you know. To me, it's part of the whole experience. The show is
the most important part, but the peripheral stuff -- like the episode
guide that was mentioned earlier. To me that's not as much fun,
but almost as much fun as the show.
QUESTION: Matt, can you talk about the premise for the "Ally
McBeal" cross-over and will you use all the characters --
GROENING: It's a Halloween episode. It's on our - it's one
of our "Treehouse of Horror" segments. It's part of it.
QUESTION: And you use the --
GROENING: -- Bart and Lisa get sucked into the TV.
QUESTION: -- And the cast members will be doing their voices,
I take it?
GROENING: You know, I don't want to give too much away. But
it wasn't a joke. I mean, it's going to happen. [Publicist's note:
There will be no "Ally McBeal" crossover.]
QUESTION: Matt, you say, let's take risks. Would it be more
than your life is worth to make jokes about Rupert Murdoch's divorce?
GROENING: Yeah, right. [laughter] We're in negotiations with
Rupert Murdoch to play himself on "The Simpsons." It will
be the smallest paycheck he will ever have received. [laughter]
QUESTION: Is Danny Elfman scoring "Futurama"'s
GROENING: I've talked to Danny, and he's interested. He's
real busy, but if he can, he says he's interested.
QUESTION: How many episodes has FOX committed to "Futurama"?
QUESTION: Matt, "The Simpsons" succeeded with what
you called really a clunky animation style. And all through the
`90s, we've seen future attempts or future efforts with animation
seemingly getting clunkier and clunkier. And some of the stuff that
we've seen this year, including "Family Guy," is the clunkiest
of all. What do you think when you see this stuff yourself? What
are you thinking?
GROENING: You know, I don't think everything has to be up
the heights of Disney and Warner Bros. Classic animation. "The
Simpsons" certainly got it's own limited level that -- where
we can meet our budgets and meet our schedule. You do what's appropriate
to the cartoon. I'm a huge fan of "Rocky & Bullwinkle."
What was great about that show was not the animation, which was
terrible. It had great writing, great music, and great voices. And
I think if you have that combination, the animation can be clunky.
QUESTION: Were you serious about Murdoch episode?
GROENING: Yes. Yes. He -- you know, if Rupert Murdoch will
do it, then he'll say the lines that have been written for him.
It will happen.
QUESTION: He's playing himself?
GROENING: Yes. If it happens. It hasn't been recorded yet,
so we'll see.
ROTH: Last question.
QUESTION: I'm not sure how this question is going to come
out so, bear with me. How much difference does it make, do you think,
in the show's longevity that you're dealing with characters that
are animated? They're not real people who are changing, getting
older. Does that help keep the show fresher than if you were --
if this had been the same show with real actors?
GROENING: It's just a conceptual decision that you are able
to make in animation. I mean it's a great thing. You don't have
the sad -- you don't have to do those sad reunion shows, you know,
25 years later. It's still Bart. He's ten. Bart's turned ten, you
know, ten time now.
QUESTION: I mean a lot of sitcoms die after five years, and
I don't know how much of it is just that we've become bored with
it. If it's the actors we just get tired of looking at. Or it's
the writers that get tired of it. And this show just seems to be
able to maintain some freshness. I don't know if it's because it's
animated that you're able to maintain it because they always look
GROENING: I think with "The Simpsons," we've got
such a huge cast of characters that it's -- we can move around.
And over the last few seasons, we've explored some of the secondary
characters' personal lives a little bit more. And again, same thing
with "Futurama," what I always thought was something that
most TV shows didn't do, and don't do, is reward you for paying
attention. I mean, if you just let most shows go by, it's okay.
But on "The Simpsons," if you really pay attention, there's
stuff hidden in the backgrounds. And we have even what we call freeze-frame
gags which you can't get unless you videotape the show, go back,
and freeze-frame it. And I love that. I love the idea that we put
in jokes that kids don't get. And that later, when they grow up,
and they read a few books, and go to college, and watch the show
again, they can get the show on a completely different level. And
we're doing the same thing on "Futurama."
JOE EARLEY, FOX publicist: All right. Thank you all very