Future set for ‘Futurama’

Animation reboot back on track

The “Futurama” reboot is now on track.

The recent 20th Century Fox TV-“Futurama” voice actor standoff won’t have an effect on the show’s timetable, insiders said over the weekend. The show’s new round of episodes is still set to bow on Comedy Central in 2010.

Here’s what won’t be happening this week, however: auditions to replace the five “Futurama” cast members.

Casting execs were set to begin meeting with replacement thesps this week. But the five stars — John DiMaggio, Billy West, Katey Sagal, Maurice LaMarche and Tress MacNeille — finally sealed pacts late Friday with 20th Century Fox TV to return to the show.

Both the actors and 20th are believed to have found a compromise. Move comes after 20th put out a casting call in July to find replacement voice actors for the show.

“We are thrilled to have our incredible cast back,” creators Matt Groening and David X. Cohen said in a statement. “The call has already gone out to the animators to put the mouths back on the characters.”

The studio announced in June that it would revive the long-canceled “Futurama,” and Comedy Central was on board to begin airing the new episodes in mid-2010. As part of the announcement, the show’s producers said stars including West, Sagal and DiMaggio had all signed on to return.

Turns out they hadn’t — and talks broke down as the studio and actors wound up wildly apart on salaries per episode.

It wasn’t the first time 20th threatened to cast new vocal stars on one of its animated shows. The studio once made a similar move on “The Simpsons” when it couldn’t come to a deal with that show’s stars; although casting feelers were sent out, a deal was eventually made, just as in this case.

Twentieth and Comedy Central have been kicking around ways to make “Futurama,” originally produced for a broadcast network (Fox), make financial sense for a cable run.

It’s believed that the “Futurama” cast initially asked for around $75,000 per episode (a number disputed by at least one thesp), and later brought their request down to $40,000. The final number wound up below that, but above what 20th was offering. (It’s not clear what 20th’s initial offer was.)

Created by Groening and Cohen, “Futurama” originally aired on Fox from 1999 to 2003. The success of the show’s repeats on DVD and cable, as well as a series of first-run DVD releases, led to the decision to revive “Futurama.”

Other costs that were slashed in the process led to a smaller writing staff and a shorter delivery schedule.

Despite 20th’s move to start recasting “Futurama,” it was widely assumed that both sides would eventually figure out a way to stay in business together. In a positive sign, some of the “Futurama” cast even attended the recent San Diego Comic-Con — although they didn’t appear during the show’s official panel discussion.

Still up in the air: Whether a broadcast network will ultimately air “Futurama” before Comedy Central. Twentieth’s pact with the cabler allows for a broadcast window before the Comedy Central airing, but so far Fox — the most likely home, given “Futurama’s” earlier stint there — hasn’t expressed an interest. There’s still a year before “Futurama’s” return, however, allowing plenty of time for a deal to be made.

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