CCI: Futurama

NOTE: The following reports on events that took place prior to July 31, 2009, when it was confirmed that the original "Futurama" voice cast will return for the new season.

The huge San Diego crowd was anxious to hear the impending decision on an additional season of "Futurama" at Comic-Convention International. Would the beloved animated series stay? Or would it go?

It's worth noting the panel description presented in the CCI printed schedule:

Futurama: Life or Death?!- Be a part of sci-fi history! Join executive producers Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, and stars Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, and Maurice LaMarche for high-stakes thrills as a top-ranking FOX executive decides live, on stage, whether Futurama will make yet another triumphant return or whether it is gone forever! The very fate of Futurama hangs in the balance! Paramedics will be standing by in case the intense excitement causes any panelists to collapse. Raucous celebration or abject despair to follow the news.

With that description as a backdrop, the audience looked above to the large screens in the room, where appeared an image of Hypno Toad, an animated frog with hypnotically glowing eyes. It seemingly telepathically spoke: "Everything is going smoothly at 'Futurama'...You will not notice that the cast is not here today," which prompted laughter from audience. "I said you will not notice! If you do notice, you will assume they took a nice vacation to Barbados. Yes, everything is going smoothly. All glory to the Hypno Toad. All glory to the Hypno Toad! Also, a small amount of glory to Matt Groening!"

"Futurama" creator Matt Groening then slowly shifted onto the stage, a set of notes in his hands. In a hypnotic voice he said, "Greetings to the universe. I am becoming happier every day. The core of my being is at peace. Each experience is an opportunity for growth. There are no mistakes, only lessons."

Continuing, "I forgive myself for annoying all the telemarketers who call me on a daily basis. I go forth in loving peace, I embrace the universe, I send loving thoughts to all living beings, including the 'Futurama' actors, FOX executives, Fry, Bender, Nibbler, the Professor, Amy, and all the rest. And now, ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce a short clip of how we actually do the show."

The Clip was titled, "Futurama, The Making Of, It."

The video featured the "Futurama" actress Lauren Tom (voice of Amy) working in a room the size of a closet. "What you might not realize is that I am the show's only writer!" she said.

A voice-over to the clip further clarified, "In 'Futurama,' Lauren Tom plays all the parts..." followed by images of Lauren Tom creating tapes on extremely old fashioned equipment, performing all the voices of the series.

"Only now do the animators begin drawing their brutal and monotonous work..." said the commentator, showing Tom drawing on a roll of toilet paper Bender drinking beer, over and over again.

"How are three dimensional objects put into the shot? We start with a model, and tie a specially colored string to it," the voice said, against images of just that: a model ship with a string obviously tied to it. "And lets not forget the music and sound effects." Tom was then seen creating both.

"The DVD is manufactured in an environmentally safe surroundings," said the voice, with images of Lauren Tom operating a waffle maker with melted-down unsold copies of last year's "Futurama" films.

"And that's it. Each of the million copies are then kissed by Lauren Tom, and sent out," said the announcer's voice, which also seemed to belong to Lauren Tom.

The remainder of the panel was then introduced, including Claudia Katz, Patrick Verone, Eric Kaplan, Writer Michael Rowe, David X. Cohen, and Matt Groening. Notably, none of the cast mentioned in the program guide were present, a consequence of their unhappy salary negotiations with FOX. Groening and Cohen addressed the elephant in the room. "There is of course a reason this panel is composed of mostly writers," Cohen said.

"We hope that FOX and the actors come to an agreement very soon," added Groening.

The panel quickly turned into a question-and-answer session with attending fans.

At the end of the last movie, the Planet Express crew ends up in a womhole. How will they arrive back?

Groening: "I was of the opinion that it didn't matter, and David thought, no, we really, really have to address that wormhol."

Cohen: "It's not going to be the main thrust of the [first] episode [of the new season]. We're going to get them back to home base, and rebirth the show in a fairly literal way. Yes, shield your eyes for that part."

Are we going to be seeing a Futurama feature film one day?

Rowe: "We're going to set up some TV screens in a movie theatre."

Groening: "Really, we would love to. We have watched the show on big screens and we think it would work as a feature."

Will Fry and Leela ever get together?

Rowe: "Um, in what way? You know, we were right at the brink at the very last DVD. We are going to address that situation at long last in the first episode."

Groening: "It's their destiny, I would say."

What was the inspiration for the Nibblonians?

Groening: "I designed Nibbler, and believe it or not that was my idea of designing something cute. That was my Ewok."

Will there be any new characters in the new season?

Rowe: "I guess it depends on how the voice actors thing turns out!"

Groening: "We are planning to reveal the secret origin of Scruffy."

Cohen then asked the panel to offer some hints at upcoming episodes, assuming of course there would be upcoming episodes. Verone said, "A script about Twitter in the year 3000, which I am actually working on right now, and we are hoping to involve you viewers at home to actually follow online. But that is up in the air, and legal has not cleared it and it might be written out of the show so who knows?"

Rowe said, "A very unlikely relationship, hot and heavy, Bender and Amy. I mean seriously hot and heavy, and uh, Bender is nude through a lot of it, and it even turns into marriage."

"There's a little controversy about robo-human marriage," Cohen said. "There has yet to be such a marriage."

Cohen revealed, "Zapp Brannigan and Leela get stranded on an isolated planet. [Also], the Professor invents a time machine that only goes forward in time, and Fry does not want to wait 10 minutes for something, so he and the Professor go forward but it instead goes ten years, and so they decide to keep going forward until they can find a time machine that goes backwards, so they keep going forward for thousands of years until the universe collapses, and then they keep going beyond that."

Asked if there's any chance "Futurama" would see more "Tales of Interest" anthology episodes, Cohen said, "There's a 100% chance. We have not started yet, but that is on the agenda."

Will Doctor Zoidberg ever find a friend?

Cohen: "There is an episode we've been meaning to do since season one. There has always been this question as to why the Professor hired Dr. Zoidberg, and we always assumed the Professor owes Dr. Zoidberg one, and the answer to the question is yes, it's the Professor, though he's long ago forgotten that."

There seems to be a change between the episodes on FOX and the movies on Comedy Central. Why is that?

Cohen: "It's just the format, 90 minutes involves a lot more than an episode. There were three huge episodes that happened at 22, 44, and 66 minutes into it. In some ways it felt like a movie, and others felt like a string of episodes."

What was the creative evolution of Zapp Brannigan sleeping with Amy Wong?

Cohen: "Given an infinite period of time, all possible pairings will happen, it just seemed like it would create good tension between our characters -- which it has since Kip and Amy are now on the ropes, which opens the way for Amy and Bender."

Any exciting celebrities coming up in future episodes?

Cohen: "We have written some in, yes, but because we have to wait for them to sign, we can't talk about it."

Cohen concluded the panel with a hopeful message for fans of "Futurama" and its voice cast. "Just keep your fingers crossed. What is going on right now is business, and we are just hoping for the best. Many cast members are around, and just hope for the best and it may come true."

In the days following the "Futurama" panel at Comic-Con, The Toronto Star confirmed the original cast has reached an agreement with FOX to return for 26 new episodes.

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