It's a conundrum worthy of Professor Farnsworth himself: How did Futurama blossom into a cable and DVD smash after a bumpy five-season run on Fox? Executive producer David X. Cohen credits the show's dedicated fan base, as well as a consistent time slot. As part of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup, Futurama averaged 2.2 million viewers in June, a huge number for cable (the series is scheduled to return on Nov. 2). It's also doing well in afternoon reruns on TBS. Then there are the DVDs. The box set of Futurama's first season was released in March, and it sold so well that Season Two was rushed into stores this week. Cohen spoke with TV Guide Online about the show's newfound success, its future and what fans can look for on upcoming DVD releases.
TVGO: It must be gratifying to see how well Futurama is performing on cable.
Incredibly so. We could not be happier with how it's doing on Cartoon Network and also how well Cartoon Network has treated us. I think they actually had a plan for the show — unlike Fox — and were able to carry it out in terms of promoting it and keeping it on at a regular time slot where people know where it was. Over the summer, I've noticed that Futurama has frequently made it into the top 10 shows for teen viewers. I think we came in ninth place twice in the past few weeks on just a random rerun at 11 pm on Cartoon Network. And this is including broadcast TV. It's astounding what a little promotion and regular airing will do for you. Maybe Fox is feeling a twang of remorse. Hopefully.
TVGO: Do you think the series was always more suited to cable anyway?
Not really. It's a show that doesn't appeal to everybody in the world; it's not everybody's cup of tea. I think the key to success for the show is aiming at the people who do like it and want to see it. That's how the show is written too. We know we have this group of hardcore fans who are really scrutinizing every second of the show and are watching it again on tape and DVD looking for all the background jokes and the foreshadowing we do of future episodes. I think what Cartoon Network has successfully done is say, "Hey, you people who already love Futurama, it's here every night."
TVGO: So scheduling was the biggest problem at Fox?
On Fox, I think a lot of the problem was that the people making the decisions were not personally fans of the show. And that made it harder to know what to do with it. I think the ultimate comment on Fox's view of the show is pretty much summed up by it's own slogan, which was running for years while we were on 7 pm/ET on Sundays. They were using the slogan: "It all begins Sunday at 8." Every week we'd have to see these promos saying that it all began Sunday at 8 and we were on at 7.
TVGO: The show's also proven to be a huge success on DVD.
When we were doing the DVDs for the first season, there was clearly some hesitancy. Fox didn't know if they were going to sell or not. They were shocked when the first DVD went on sale and had huge sales in Europe before it even came out here. And then it had huge sales again here. So as soon as the first one went on sale, we got these calls saying "Get the other seasons in production!" As a result of how well the first season did, we started thinking about how the ultimate long-term life of the show really is on DVD. And we actually started putting more things on the DVD for fans. For example, this past season we have had five different episodes where we put something interesting over the closing credits. Fox never shows those, they always show a promo for another show. But we wanted to give the DVD viewers a bonus since that's our afterlife. We've also started archiving deleted scenes a little better. The show is well suited to DVD because, like The Simpsons, it's extremely detailed and bears repeat viewing. They're up to Season Three in Europe now and I imagine Seasons Three and Four will probably be out in this country next year.
TVGO: Fox aired the last original episode of Futurama this past Sunday. Any chance of the show coming back in the near future?
It's something Matt Groening and I have an interest in doing because we love this world. These people are so real to me at this point; I like to think that they are having adventures in the year 3000 that I don't know about yet. My hope is that someday we will revisit them with more episodes or movies. At the moment it's a longshot but I don't think it's impossible.
TVGO: Would you rather it come back on network or cable television?
That's not too important to me because I feel like the people who love it are going to find it one way or another. As long as it's a place that cares about the show and has an interest in promoting it and seeing it succeed then I would be quite happy. It could show on public access if everyone knew it was on and the public access producers were eager to make it a success. In my dream world, Futurama would become a Star Trek-like phenomenon where it keeps growing over the years and suddenly there are movies and we're signing autographs for $3.