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Simpsons & Futurama

The Simpsons creator Matt Groening says he had written a role for the late Phil Hartman in his new Fox animated series Futurama, which is set to debut in midseason. The cartoonist said the comedian even insisted on auditioning for the part shortly before his death.

In Association with"I said, 'You don't have to come in, you know. You got the part.… We wrote the character for you,'" Groening remembered at a luncheon last week at Pasadena's Television Critics Association press tour. "And he came in. Typical Phil—he did all his other characters. He did "Caveman Lawyer" from Saturday Night Live. He talked about having done the voice of Captain Blasto on this video game "Blasto"—he did it for his kids."

Groening says the voice for Hartman's character on Futurama will be recast, but speculates that the actor's memorable Simpsons characters (Lionel Hutz, Troy McClure) won't return. "My guess is that none of the writers would be inspired to write for those characters without Phil Hartman doing the voice," Groening said. "Everybody who ever worked with Phil Hartman loved him. Loved him as a performer. I'm no exception."

Futurama, Groening's long-awaited follow-up to his groundbreaking series The Simpsons, looks as though it will have much the same comic sensibility as the yellow family from Springfield, but on a much grander scale.

"On The Simpsons, it's just Springfield, this fictional town with the equivalent of Dairy Queen and Denny's, normal beers (e.g. Duff) and stuff like that," Groening said. "On Futurama it's the same thing, except we're doing the whole universe.

"There was so much fun on The Simpsons creating the kinds of details that other TV shows—live action shows—can't do," Groening said. "On The Simpsons, we have TV shows within the show: Krusty the Clown, [newscaster] Kent Brockman, the "Itchy & Scratchy" show. We have all that on Futurama, too. The No. 1 show in the future is The Mass Hypnosis Hour. And no doubt it's on Fox."

In Association with Groening described the three main characters in Futurama, the voices of which have yet to be cast, although he did say producers were in "negotiations with somebody who's really big." "There's Fry, a guy from our time who has a tragic mishap on New Year's Eve 1999 and gets frozen, and wakes up on New Year's Eve 2999," says Groening. "There's an alien woman named Leela; and then there's Bender. He's the standout character right now—he's our robotic Homer Simpson. He's just totally corrupt—lovably corrupt à la Homer. Loves his vices. I think he's the first robot in science fiction who shoplifts."

Groening stressed that although the characters in The Simpsons and Futurama look similar, it's just "the tragedy of my limited drawing skills." And don't expect characters from the two shows to interact. "Futurama is real," says Groening. "The Simpsons are fictional. However, The Simpsons are still on a thousand years from now. With original episodes." Those famous celebrity guest voices may just continue in 2999 as well. "Any celebrity—who's big enough—we will have on Futurama, if they're willing to play themselves as a disembodied head in a jar," Groening said. "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."




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