Groening launches new ideas into 'Futurama'
April 15, 1999
From Dennis Michael
HOLLYWOOD (CNN) -- When they first came out in 1989, they were renegades, the family that did everything wrong. Parents fretted that "The Simpsons" were setting a bad example for their children.
Matt Groening's first prime-time creation, "The Simpsons," has since become almost respectable, its Emmy-winning characters almost a part of the family. Not your family, of course.
But after a decade, Groening decided that it was time to look ahead. "'The Simpsons' has been so much fun for the last decade that I forgot that I was supposed to be a Hollywood-type guy and go, 'Mmm, let's do something new,'" he says.
So he did come up with something new, really new -- "Futurama," a look into the year 3000.
"What we tried to do with 'The Simpsons' was to celebrate the American family at its wildest. 'Futurama' is a celebration of the future at its wildest," he says. "Anyway, that's how I conned the Fox executives into giving us another shot at it."
Pizza guy delivers new viewpoint
The future is shown from the viewpoint of Fry, a pizza man from the 20th century accidentally frozen, then thawed out in the 30th century. Things, he finds out, have changed.
Interplanetary rocket trips we only dream today of are commonplace in Fry's new world. A voyage on one takes less time than a space-shuttle countdown does today. Aliens abound. And the media outlet Groening now works for has changed its name to 30th Century Fox.
The network appears to be happy with the new product: Fox this week picked up 22 episodes of "Futurama" for next season after "Futurama" won its Tuesday night timeslot.
In fact, the network's all-animation Tuesday lineup ("The Simpsons," followed by "Family Guy" then "Futurama") came in a solid second in the ratings behind ABC's Tuesday night lineup.
Escaping reality in cartooning world
"There is a bottomless well of science fiction ideas to rip off. And then we come up with some original ideas from time to time, and throw them in too," Groening says.
And he points out that his medium, animation, makes it possible for him to do far more than live-action sci-fi show writers ever could. Live-action science fiction, he says, is "mainly guys traveling out in space, looking out of portholes and when they meet aliens, they're basically other guys with a lot of makeup on.
"With animation, we can do anything we want. We have a sexy female heroine with one eye -- you can't do that in live action, the eye would fall off!"
Futuristic technology is integral to the production of "Futurama." Unlike "The Simpsons," which is produced using traditional animation techniques, "Futurama" mixes pencil animation with newer, computer-generated images.
The animation is designed in Los Angeles; the in-between ink-and-paint work is produced in Asia; and then, the cel animation and the digital work is electronically composited and edited in Hollywood.
And with that process propelling so many new comedy ideas into his "Futurama," Matt Groening says he can afford to rest for a while.
What's up next? "Ask me again in 10 years. Maybe I'll have another series."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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