"Futurama" has new future on Comedy Central

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It’s back to “Futurama” for fans of the animated series.

Matt Groening attends the unveiling of the new "The Simpsons" U.S. postage stamps in Los Angeles May 7, 2009. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

Taking a page from the “Family Guy” resurrection guidebook, the canceled Fox animated comedy is returning with an order from Comedy Central for 26 new episodes to run over two seasons.

“Futurama” creators Matt Groening and David X. Cohen already are working on stories for the new batch of episodes of the sci-fi cartoon, slated to premiere on Comedy Central in mid-2010.

Just as with “Family Guy,” whose improbable return was triggered by big DVD sales and solid ratings for the show’s reruns on Cartoon Network, the performance of “Futurama’s” repeats on Comedy Central and on DVD was key to its resurrection.

The 26-episode order from Comedy Central was preceded by four feature-length original “Futurama” specials: “Bender’s Big Score,” “The Beast With a Billion Backs,” “Bender’s Game” and “Into the Wild Green Yonder,” which have done well on DVD and on Comedy Central. (The most recent special, “Yonder,” premieres on Comedy Central in September.)

Comedy Central was happy with the specials and with the 72 produced episodes of “Futurama” it acquired from 20th Century Fox TV in 2006.

“Yet there is nothing like new, self-contained episodes week to week,” said Comedy Central’s senior vice president programing David Bernath. “This is all about reinvigorating the franchise, giving it a new burst of energy.”

“Futurama,” which aired on Fox for five seasons (from 1999 to 2003) centers on Philip Fry (Billy West), a 25-year-old pizza delivery boy who accidentally freezes himself on December 31, 1999, and wakes up 1,000 years later with a fresh start at life and a “diverse” new group of friends including Leela (Katey Sagal), a tough but lovely one-eyed alien, and Bender (John DiMaggio), a robot who possesses human characteristics and flaws.

When the series returns with original episodes in 2010, it will be seven years after the show’s last original episode aired on Fox. That’s a much longer hiatus than the three years “Family Guy” spent on the bench before being summoned back by Fox.

The four “Futurama” specials, produced in the past two and a half years, helped bridged the gap, said Groening, who also created the Fox/20th TV long-running animated comedy “The Simpsons.”

“It was a great way of keeping the show alive, and one of the great things was that everyone enjoyed doing them, so it’s been relatively easy trying to get everyone who was originally on the show to come back,” he said.

All key voice cast members are expected to return for the new original episodes of “Futurama,” along with the series’ core writing team.

Storyline-wise, the new episodes will pick up where the most recent DVD special, “Yonder,” took off -- with the main characters fleeing death and flying into the unknown.

But after four epic-in-scope feature-length films, “what we will try to do is go a little bit back to pure comedy, characters and sci-fi,” Cohen said.