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What to expect?

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 this fall.

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.


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