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Groening's Gripe

Is Fox giving their golden boy the runaround?

It seems that no matter how famous you get or how many millions of fans you have, someone's always out to rain on your parade. Even Matt Groening, the man behind The Simpsons and Futurama who has brought nothing but critical success and high ratings to Fox, has to deal with the crappy end of the stick sometimes.

Fox is anything but grateful. Groening may lay the golden eggs, but all they're giving him in return are rotten timeslots. He's convinced that, despite his successes, his rather independent business methods are getting him in a whole heap of trouble. Mmmm, troublicious.

"At Fox," Groening says, "there's an atmosphere of scrambling to repair the failures of their previous decisions. There's no anticipation of success."

Fox's fear of failure is one possible reason that Futurama was moved from the best timeslot in the universe - Sunday night, between The Simpson's and The X-Files - to a much less glamorous 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night slot. This doesn't make much sense to us, of course. It seems a bit like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's one thing to be afraid a show will fail, but what's the point of setting it on the path for certain doom? If anything, find a spot where the show will thrive, especially if it's a show by the man with an enormous built-in fan base. Plus, everyone knows that Tuesday night is laundry night - what other weeknight of TV can you afford to miss?

But the move to Tuesday may have been precipitated by more than just the quivering knees at corporate headquarters. Word on the street has it that what's really getting Groening into trouble is the unconventional manner in which he does business.

"There's an atmosphere now in television of giving notes, of interference," says Groening. These notes, which are possible revisions and critical suggestions given to show producers by network executives (those creative geniuses who would create shows of their own, if they only had the time), are not appreciated by Groening and his team. "We don't do that on Futurama or The Simpsons."

Most fans are more than familiar with Groening's protective nature when it comes to his creations. You'd think the network execs would understand that and give him free reign; after all, the man seems to know what he's doing.

"When they tried to give me notes on Futurama, I just said: 'No, we're going to do this just the way we did Simpsons. And they said, 'Well, we don't do business that way anymore.' And I said, 'Oh, well, that's the only way I do business.'" You go! That's the type of attitude we respect around these parts.

"And I think it shows. I think when you let creators have a vision without compromise - not to say that it works every time, but my two times at bat, it seems to have worked. If anything, I think I should be giving the network notes." And amen to that, brother.

A look at the ratings shows that, if anything, Fox knows how to shoot itself in the foot. On its first Sunday airing, Futurama achieved the impossible. It got better ratings than The Simpsons - something no other show has ever done. Futurama drew 19 million viewers the first week and 14.2 million the second. But when it was moved to Tuesdays, to round out the (compelling) all-cartoon line-up, it dropped to 8.85 million viewers.

The arrival of the new Fox Entertainment President and resident programming brainiac, Doug Herzog, may have given Futurama another cheerleader, but that's not going to do much when the show is stuck in the Tuesday night wasteland. "He's a good guy, a nice guy, and he's new here," Groening says, "but he is the one who put us on Tuesdays."

Groening and his team have finished the 13 episodes of Futurama which will be aired this season, and they've already begun working on next season.

"We haven't even been picked up yet," he says, "but I assume we will be."

So do we. But if it doesn't - hey, Matt, you can always release episodes through daily tv!


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