In the United States, the series aired from March 28, 1999 to August 10, 2003 on Fox before ceasing production. Futurama was then aired on Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, from January 2003 to December 2007, when the network's contract expired. The series was revived in 2007 as four straight-to-DVD films which would then be split into a sixteen-episode fifth season. Comedy Central entered into an agreement with 20th Century Fox Television to syndicate the existing episodes and air the films as new episodes in an episodic format. Comedy Central began airing Futurama on January 2, 2008, with new episodes starting on March 23, 2008.
Futurama is set in New New York at the turn of the 31st century, in a time filled with technological wonders. The city of New New York has been built over the ruins of present-day New York City, referred to as "Old New York". Various devices and architecture are similar to the Populuxe design. Global warming, inflexible bureaucracy and substance abuse are a few of the subjects given a 31st century exaggeration in a world where the problems have become both more extreme and more common.
Numerous technological advances have been made between the present day and the 31st century. The ability to keep heads alive in jars was invented by Ron Popeil (who has a guest cameo in "A Big Piece of Garbage") which has resulted in many historical figures and current celebrities being present; this became the writers' excuse to feature and poke fun at celebrities in the show. Curiously, several of the preserved heads shown are those of people who were already dead well before the advent of this technology; one of the most prominent examples of this anomaly is frequent Earth president Richard Nixon, who died in 1994. The Internet, while being fully immersive and encompassing all senses--even featuring its own digital world (similar to Tron or The Matrix), is slow and largely consists of pornography, pop-up ads, and "filthy" chat rooms. Some of it is edited to include educational material ostensibly for youth. Television is still a primary form of entertainment. Self-aware robots are a common sight, as well as being the main cause of global warming thanks to their alcohol-powered systems. The wheel is obsolete (no one but Fry even seems to recognize the design) having been forgotten and replaced by hover cars and a network of large, clear pneumatic transportation tubes.
Futurama's setting is a backdrop, and the writers are not above committing continuity errors if they serve to further the gags. For example, while the pilot episode implies that the previous Planet Express crew was killed by a space wasp, the later episode "The Sting" is based on the crew having been killed by space bees instead. The "world of tomorrow" setting is used to highlight and lampoon issues of today and to parody the science fiction genre.
Religion is still a prominent part of society, although the dominant religions have evolved. A merger between the major religious groups of the 20th century has resulted in the First Amalgamated Church, while Voodoo is now mainstream. New religions include Oprahism, Robotology, and the banned religion of Star Trek fandom. Religious figures in the series include Father Changstein-El-Gamal, the Robot Devil, Reverend Preacherbot and passing references to The Space Pope. While very few episodes focus exclusively on the religious aspect within the Futurama universe they do cover a wide variety of subjects including predestination, prayer, the nature of salvation, and religious conversion.
Earth has a unified government headed by the President of Earth - Richard Nixon's head (from season 2 onwards). Earth's capital is Washington, D.C., and the flag of Earth is similar in design to the flag of the United States, with the western hemisphere (described as "the best hemisphere" by Dr. Farnsworth) of planet Earth displayed in place of the fifty stars.
The Democratic Order Of Planets (D.O.O.P.) is a fictional organization in the Futurama universe which has been compared to both the United Nations and to the United Federation of Planets of the Star Trek universe. Numerous other galaxies have been colonized or have made contact by the year 3000. Mars has been terraformed and is home to Mars University as well as tribes similar to Native Americans.
There are two alternative alphabets that appear often in the background of episodes, usually in the forms of graffiti, advertisements or warning labels. Nearly all messages using alternative scripts translate directly into English. The first alphabet consists of abstract characters and is referred to as Alienese, a simple substitution cipher from the Latin alphabet. The second alphabet uses a more complex modular addition code, where the "next letter is given by the summation of all previous letters plus the current letter". The codes often provide additional jokes for fans dedicated enough to decode the messages. Aside from these alphabets, most of the displayed wording on the show uses the Latin alphabet.
Several English expressions have evolved since the present day. For example, the word Christmas has been replaced with Xmas (pronounced "EX-mas) and the word ask with aks (pronounced axe). According to David X. Cohen it is a running joke in the series that the French language is extinct in the Futurama universe (though the culture remains alive), much like Latin is in the present. In the French dubbing of the show, German is used as the extinct language instead.
Although the series utilized a wide range of styles of humor including: self-deprecation, black comedy, off-color humor, slapstick, and surreal humour; its primary source of comedy was its satirical depiction of everyday life in the future and its parodical comparisons to the present. Matt Groening notes that, from the show's conception, his goal was to take what was, on the surface, a goofy comedy and show that underneath were "legitimate literary science fiction concepts". The series contrasted "low culture" and "high culture" comedy; for example, Bender's catchphrase is the insult "Bite my shiny metal ass" while his most terrifying nightmare is a vision of a number 2, a joke referencing the binary numeral system.
The series developed a cult following partially due to the large number of in-jokes it contains, most of which are aimed at "nerds". In commentary on the DVD releases, David X. Cohen points out and sometimes explains his "nerdiest joke[s]". These jokes included mathematical jokes--such as "Loew's -plex" (aleph-null-plex) movie theater, as well as various forms of science humor--for example, Professor Farnsworth complains that judges of a quantum finish "changed the outcome by measuring it", a reference to the observer effect in quantum mechanics. Over its run, the series passes references to quantum chromodynamics (the appearance of Strong Force-brand glue), computer science (two separate books in a closet labeled P and NP respectively, referring to the possibility that P and NP-complete problem classes are distinct), electronics and genetics (a mention of Bender's "robo- or R-NA", which could be a reference to RNA). The show often features subtle references to classic science fiction. These are most often Star Trek - many soundbites are used in the series as an homage - but also others, such as the reference to the origin of the word robot made in the existence of a robot-dominated planet named Chapek 9, or the black rectangular monolith labeled "Out of Order" in orbit around Jupiter (a reference to Arthur C. Clarke's 3001: The Final Odyssey). Bender and Fry sometimes watch a television show called The Scary Door, a humorous pastiche of The Twilight Zone. References to Star Trek include the use of "Classic"-series sound effects, for example just about any automatic sliding door (even those that, like the swinging doors in the Slurm factory, don't slide), and some electronic devices.
In most episodes, the ship physically crashes into the screen, destroying the glass and getting stuck in the process. In The Beast with a Billion Backs, the ship passes through the screen's glass and temporarily becomes part of the environment depicted thereon (a Futurama cartoon clip drawn in the style of Disney's Steamboat Willie). The ship and crew eventually escape this environment, crashing through the screen's glass on the way out.
The Futurama theme song was written by Christopher Tyng and is based on the song "Psyché Rock" by Pierre Henry. The theme is played on the tubular bells but is occasionally remixed for use in specific episodes including a version by the Beastie Boys used for the episode "Hell Is Other Robots" in which they guest starred.
Matt Groening began thinking of Futurama in the mid-1990s. In 1997, he enlisted the help of David X. Cohen, then a Simpsons writer and producer, to assist in developing the show. The two then spent time researching science fiction books, television shows, and films of the past. By the time they pitched the series to Fox in April 1998, Groening and Cohen had composed many characters and story lines. During that first meeting, Fox ordered thirteen episodes. Shortly after, however, Groening and Fox executives argued over whether the network would have any creative input into the show. With The Simpsons the network has no input. Groening explains, "When they tried to give me notes on Futurama, I just said: 'No, we're going to do this just the way we did Simpsons.' And they said, 'Well, we don't do business that way anymore.' And I said, 'Oh, well, that's the only way I do business.'" After negotiations, he received the same independence with Futurama.
Each episode began with the writers discussing the story in a group. Then a single staff writer wrote an outline and then a script. Once the first draft was finished, the writers and executive producers got together with the actors to do a table read. After this script reading, the writers rewrote the script as a group before eventually sending it to animation. At this point the voice recording was also started and the script was out of the writers' hands.
The animation in Futurama was done by Rough Draft Studios, which Groening insisted be used. Rough Draft received the completed script of an episode and storyboarded it into over 100 drawings. Then they created a pencil-drawn animatic with 1000 frames. From there, Rough Draft's sister studio in Korea put together the 30,000-frame finished episode. The show was also sometimes animated overseas by Tokyo Movie Shinsha.
In addition to traditional cartoon drawing, Rough Draft Studios often uses CGI for the fast or complex shots, such as during the movement of spaceships, explosions, nebulae, snow scenes, and others. Most of the opening credits are rendered in CGI. The CGI is rendered at 24 fps (opposed to hand-drawn often done at 12 fps) and the lack of artifacts makes the animation appear very smooth and fluid. CGI characters look slightly different due to spatially "cheating" hand-drawn characters by drawing slightly out of proportion or off-perspective features to emphasize traits of the face or body, improving legibility of an expression. PowerAnimator is used to draw the comic-like CGI.
Due to the 7:00 p.m. Sunday timeslot, the show was often pre-empted by sports and usually had a later than average season premiere. It also allowed the writers and animators to get ahead of the broadcast schedule so that episodes intended for one season were not aired until the following season. By the beginning of the fourth broadcast season all the episodes to be aired that season had already been completed and writers were working at least a year in advance.
When Futurama was effectively cancelled in 2003, it had averaged 6.4 million viewers for the first half of its fourth broadcast season.
Fox's decision to stop buying episodes of Futurama led Rough Draft Studios, the animation producers, to fire its animators. Futurama was not included in Fox's fall 2003 lineup.
In the United Kingdom, repeats are broadcast on the digital channels Sky1, Sky2 and Sky3 on weekends which previously aired the continuous run of seasons 1-4. Repeats were also shown on Channel 4 until late 2005.
In Latin America, the show is re-run by the cable channel Fox, during prime time Monday through Friday.
In Malaysia, episodes of the first two seasons were originally aired on TV3, while episodes from the last two seasons were aired on 8TV after a rather long hiatus between TV3's airing of the last episode of season 2 and 8TV's airing of the first episode of Season 3. Both channels aired the show late at night, around 10:30 PM, with the appropriate ratings, as indication that the series was not suitable for minors. Nevertheless, some episodes were not aired for unknown reasons. Additionally, Futurama was also available on the Asia-wide STAR World network.
The first movie, Futurama: Bender's Big Score, is written by Ken Keeler and Cohen, and includes return appearances by the Nibblonians, Seymour, Barbados Slim, Robot Santa, the "God" space entity, Al Gore, and Zapp Brannigan. It was animated in widescreen and was released on standard DVD on November 27, 2007, with a possible Blu-ray Disc release to follow.. A release on HD DVD was rumoured but later officially denied. Futurama: Bender's Big Score was the first DVD release for which 20th Century Fox implemented measures intended to reduce the total carbon footprint of the production, manufacturing and distribution processes. Where it was not possible to completely eliminate carbon output carbon offsets were used. They refer to the changed processes as "carbon neutral".
The second movie, The Beast with a Billion Backs, was released on June 24, 2008.
| Annie Awards:|| Annie Awards:|| Emmy Awards:|
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release dates||Additional Features|
|Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|Volume 1||13||March 25, 2003||January 28, 2002||November 27, 2002||This three disc boxset includes the 13 episodes from production season 1. Bonus features include commentary on every episode, Animatics for "Space Pilot 3000", Deleted scenes, Script/storyboard for "Space Pilot 3000", Featurette, Interactive still gallery (stills & video) and easter eggs.|
|Volume 2||19||August 12, 2003||November 11, 2002||May 13, 2003||This four disc boxset includes the 19 episodes from production season 2. Bonus features include commentary on every episode, deleted scenes, easter eggs, still gallery/concept art, alien alphabet.|
|Volume 3||22||March 9, 2004||June 2, 2003||September 24, 2003||This four disc boxset includes the 22 episodes from production season 3. Bonus features include commentary on every episode, deleted scenes, animatics, still gallery/character art, 3D models from rough draft sequences, easter eggs.|
|Volume 4||18||August 24, 2004||November 24, 2003||November 24, 2003||This four disc boxset includes the 18 episodes from production season 4. Bonus features include commentary on every episode, deleted scenes from 16 episodes, storyboard, character art and "How To Draw" galleries, animatics, 3-D Models, pencil tests, easter eggs.|
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release dates||Additional Features|
|Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|72||March 22, 2005||October 25, 2004||November 22, 2005||A fifteen disc collection containing the first four seasons of Futurama. All bonus features from the first four box sets are included. The Region 4 version of the collection is significantly smaller than the others.|
|4||August 23, 2005||May 30, 2005||August 22, 2005||Contains four episodes, one from each previously released season: "Hell Is Other Robots", "Anthology of Interest I", "Roswell That Ends Well" and "The Sting". New bonus features include an animatic for "Hell Is Other Robots" with commentary, special introductions and an easter egg.|
|DVD Name||Release dates||Additional Features|
|Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|Bender's Big Score||November 27, 2007||April 7, 2008||March 5, 2008||Bonus features include complete commentary, full-length episode of Everybody Loves Hypno-Toad, Futurama math lecture, and promo for An Inconvenient Truth starring Bender and Al Gore.|
|The Beast with a Billion Backs||June 24, 2008||June 30, 2008||August 6, 2008||Bonus features include complete commentary, animatic, deleted scenes, storyboards, blooper reel, "lost episode" taken from the video game, recording sessions, 3D models with audio description, Celebrity featurette: David Cross, Bender or Cast reads credits, new character design sketches and a trailer for Benders Game.|
|Bender's Game||November 4, 2008||November 3, 2008||December 10, 2008||Bonus features include complete commentary, deleted scenes.|
|Into the Wild Green Yonder||April 2009|
Like the TV series, each comic (except US comic #20) has a caption at the top of the cover. For example: "Made In The USA! (Printed in Canada)". Some of the UK and Australian comics have different captions on the top of their comics (for example, the Australian version of #20 says "A 21st Century Comic Book" across the cover, while the US version does not have a caption on that issue). All series contain a letters page, artwork from readers and previews of other Bongo Comics coming up.
I-Men released two packs of high figures: Fry and Calculon; Zoidberg and Morbo; Professor Farnsworth and URL; Robot Devil and Bender; Leela and Roberto. Each figure comes with a corresponding collectable coin that can also double as a figure stand.
The collectible releases include a set of bendable action figures, including Lieutenant Kif Kroker, Turanga Leela, and Bender. There have also been a few figures released by Moore Action Collectibles, including Fry, Turanga Leela, Bender, and the Planet Express Ship. In late 2006, Rocket USA brought out a limited edition 'super' heavyweight die cast Bender. Another special edition Bender figure was released at the San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) in 2006; the figure was called "Glorious Golden Bender".
Toynami is currently producing new Futurama figures. The first series of the Toynami figures is separated into 3 waves; wave one, released in September 2007, featured Fry and Zoidberg, while wave two, released January 2008, consisted of Leela and Zapp (Who comes with Richard Nixon's head-in-a-jar). The third wave was released in June, 2008, and includes Bender and Kif. Each figure comes with build-a-figure piece to assemble the Robot Devil. The second series of Toynami figures will include Captain Yesterday (A Fry variant from "Less Than Hero") and Nudar in the first wave. The second wave includes Clobberella (Leela from "Less Than Hero") and Calculon, and the third includes Lrrr and Super-King (Bender from "Less Than Hero"). Each figure in series 2 includes pieces to build Robot Santa.