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‘Futurama’ Lives on in Syndication, Streaming 20 Years Later

Fans keep going back to “Futurama,” as Matt Groening’s animated series enjoys a healthy life in syndication, 20 years after it began. The day after it debuted on March 28, 1999, Variety carried a story quoting Groening, who spoke of the series as a celebration of science-fiction absurdity: “We’ve taken bits and pieces of all the conceptions of the future in the past 50 years and put them together in one wild show. We’ve loaded it with the kinds of secret jokes and details that fans will spend hours on the Internet debating.” Actually, they’ve been debating it for decades. The 72 episodes aired on Fox through August 2003, followed by reruns on Cartoon Network; from 2007-09, there were four direct-to-video films, later divided into 16 half-hour episodes that ran on Comedy Central; from 2010-13 Comedy Central ran 52 more new episodes, the last new segments of the series — so far. But like the head of Richard Nixon in the series, “Futurama,” now running on Hulu, seems to just keep going and going.

Variety had first reported on March 6, 1998, that Fox Network was about to give a 13-episode order to “Futurama,” described as both nostalgic and futuristic. Fox and every other network had been chasing a new series from Groening ever since “The Simpsons” had become a mega-hit. (Variety said the idea of a “Simpsons” spinoff of Krusty the Clown never got past early discussions.) In less than a decade, Variety reported, the “Simpsons” series “has generated more than $500 million for News Corp. over its lifespan. Clearly Fox is hoping Groening can hit the jackpot again with ‘Futurama.’”

In a story on April 24, 1998, Jason Grode, an exec at Groening’s Curiosity Co., described the upcoming “Futurama” as “artistically difficult but writer-friendly.” The first script was completed and drawings of the lead characters were hanging on office walls, but the show was still in development; it would not debut for awhile because of the “six to nine months of painstaking production required for each episode.”

“Futurama” lives on in syndication. But it can’t match the phenomenal “Simpsons,” which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. When “Simpsons” hit the 10-year mark, Variety included an interview with Groening on Jan. 14, 2000. The story said, “In the early ’80s, the down-to-earth cartoonist lived in a roach-infested Hollywood apartment and had to search under chair cushions for enough loose change to buy a hamburger.” Variety quoted Groening as saying, “My friends and I would ask each other, ‘If or when we make our big mark in the world, are we going to live the way millionaires do on “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous,” or are we going to live the way we do now — except with a lot more comic books, magazines and records lying around?’ ”

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