Despite remaining a fan-favorite animated series of the early 21st century, Futurama went through a number of hardships. It's time as a part of the Fox lineup of animated adult comedy came to an inglorious end, thus prompting the show to make a number of dark jokes at the expense of the Fox Network executives who pulled the plug after its revival, cleverly calling them the "Box Network."
Futurama first aired on the Fox Network, and despite the massive success Groening had with The Simpsons, the show -- which he conceived of alongside Executive Producer David X. Cohen -- was met with reluctance by the network. During the audio commentary for Season 1's "I, Roommate," Groening explained how Fox feared that the darker themes of the show, like suicide booths, would be a poor fit for the network.
Premiering in March of 1999, the series ran for four seasons. However, the series was hindered during its original run by the network frequently changing the air date of the show to different days, with most of the first season airing on Tuesday despite premiering on a Sunday, and then it was moved back to Sunday for Season 2.
Aired at the beginning of the channel's then-Sunday lineup, episodes of Futurama were often preempted by sporting events, making it unlikely for fans to even see entire new episodes in one sitting. Despite the show premiering to impressive numbers and earning the network an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program for Season 3's "Roswell That Ends Well," the network never seemed like the ideal place for the series. Ultimately, Fox canceled the show after the fourth season, and Groening commented on this during an interview with Canada's Calgary Sun.
"The people at Fox didn't ever support the show, and it wasn't to their taste," Groening said, "and, in my opinion, they're out of their minds. But they don't like The Simpsons either. The idea of a TV show that they haven't gotten their greasy fingers all over creatively drives them nuts. That's why almost everything else is so lousy. The groundbreaking shows, the ones that cause the most intense reaction, are not the result of too many cooks. It's a strong, creator-driven vision."
Reruns of the series began airing as a part of the Adult Swim programming block on Cartoon Network, where they gained a more consistent audience. Along with another canceled Fox animated series (Family Guy), it was eventually restored. While Family Guy was fully renewed by Fox and is still on the air to this day, Futurama was given a fifth season of direct-to-video movies.
Notably, Groening and his team's frustrations with Fox were on full display in the opening moments of Season 5's "Bender's Big Score," which featured the Planet Express Crew learning their contract with the delivery company known as the Box Network had been surprisingly canceled. Portraying the executives of the company as self-defeating idiots, Professor Farnsworth is ecstatic when he learns that the Box Network Executives who made that decision were fired for their incompetence. They were also physically beaten to the point of near-death. Some even died and had their remains converted into an all-purpose powder, which was used repeatedly throughout the episode.
The series would later be fully revived by Comedy Central for an additional two seasons before it ended more or less on its own terms with Season 7's "Meanwhile." It's still a notable chapter in the history of Futurama, explaining how the series was able to come back from premature cancellation and cross networks in an era when that was far rarer.
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