has spent most of its life being shifted from timeslot to timeslot on FOX
and has suffered more pre-emptions than any other show in recent memory. While initially FOX
had hoped the show would be a companion to Matt Groening
's other animated production, The Simpsons
seemed to have lost interest in the show sometime around Season 2. The network began holding episodes off the schedule and placing them during football
season, allowing the NFL
games to shove the show out of the way. Before the show wrapped production in 2002 the creative team completed 72 episodes.
The first season of the show consisted of thirteen episodes. The pilot episode, "Space Pilot 3000", introduced viewers to Fry, Leela, Bender, and the entire concept of the show. This episode aired on Sunday, March 28, 1999, at 8:30pm ET; before long the show was moved to Tuesday nights at 8:30. FOX aired nine of the thirteen episodes between March and May, where the episode "Hell Is Other Robots" closed out the season. FOX held the remaining 4 episodes over for Season 2.
FOX ordered an additional 19 episodes for Season 2. Adding in the four remaining shows from Season 1 made 23 new episodes available. FOX aired 20 of them between September 26, 1999 and May 21, 2000. It was during this season that the show moved to Sundays at 7:00pm ET; a time slot that was often filled by football. Most weeks the show was preempted by whatever game was going on up until the end of football season. This season closed with "Anthology of Interest I", the Futurama version of The Simpsons's "Treehouse of Horror" episodes. FOX held the remaining 3 unaired episodes for Season 3.
22 episodes of the show were ordered for Season 3, making 25 new episodes available overall. FOX aired 15 of them. This season began on November 5, 2000 (to make way for football, the show was denied a September premiere) and ended early on May 13, 2001. FOX once again held new episodes, this time 10 of them, for the next year. One of these delayed episodes was the Season 3 finale, "Anthology of Interest II", a decision that many fans disagreed with. Another episode held at this time, "The Route Of All Evil", was to introduce a new character: Dwight Conrad, son of Hermes. Finally, the sequel to Season 2's Xmas episode, entitled "A Tale of Two Santas", was also held on grounds that it was too violent for a Christmas episode. It was also around this time that FOX began to air episodes out of production order. While the show does not follow a single episode-to-episode plot arc, often episodes will refer back to a previous event or character. Finally, Season 1's thirteen episodes became available on DVD in Europe. America was denied the set because FOX had yet to sell the syndication rights to the series, and they feared that a DVD release would lower the price they could get for the show's reruns.
FOX ordered 18 new episodes for Season 4, bringing the total of unaired episodes to 28. FOX aired 12 of them (including the "violent" Christmas episode), leaving 16 remaining. The season began late once again (this time on December 9, 2001) and ended on April 21, 2002 with the Star Trek-themed episode "Where No Fan Has Gone Before". The season premiere, "Roswell That Ends Well" won the Emmy for best animated program, beating out both The Simpsons and King of the Hill. In February 2002 FOX announced it would not be ordering any new episodes for the next season and would instead air the remaining unaired shows. Fans were angry, but not altogether shocked; by this time it was quite obvious that the network did not want the show to succeed for whatever reason. FOX insisted that Futurama was not cancelled and that once the backlog of episodes was empty, they might order new episodes. However, the production team was told at this time to shut down, the paychecks stopped coming, and the staff split up to find other jobs. Season 2's episodes also appeared on European DVD during this time.
Season 5 began on September 10, 2002 and ran until April 6, 2003. The show was once again flattened out of the 7pm timeslot by football, and FOX's nearly constant preemption of the show for The Simpsons and King of the Hill reruns shows how little they valued the program. Only 8 episodes aired in this season (including, finally, "The Route of All Evil"), leaving 8 remaining episodes unaired. The season finale, "The Why of Fry", closed up a long-running plot thread from the pilot. However, this finale is not the final episode produced. That dubious honor belongs to "The Devils Hands Are Idle Playthings" which was not included in this season. It was also during this season that Cartoon Network bought the cable syndication rights to the program, and in January 2003 they began running reruns in their original production order at 11pm ET Sunday-Thursday, however the episodes from Season 5 were not included in the initial run-through of the series. Season 1's episodes were also finally released on DVD in the USA. Meanwhile, Europe was preparing for Season 3's release on disc during this time.
FOX chose not to order any new episodes in May 2003 and "burned off" the remaining 8 episodes of the series during June, July, and August before removing the series from the schedule altogether. These last 8, along with the other episodes currently unavailable to Cartoon Network, began airing on Adult Swim in November 2003 as a part of the syndication deal. Cartoon Network also announced in May that Futurama would no longer be shown on Sunday nights, and beginning in July would not longer be shown at all until FOX handed over the remaining episodes that were not part of the original syndication package. However, after one week of being absent from the schedule Futurama returned, as ratings took a nosedive without Fry and company's presence. Many have speculated that Cartoon Network would be interested in purchasing new episodes, but this is unlikely due to the show's large budget. On a related note, Cartoon Network's sister network TBS began airing summer reruns of the series weekdays at 2pm ET due to the success of the show in Adult Swim. Matt Groening has declared in interviews that Futurama is far from dead and that the series will return in some format eventually. The Futurama comic books will continue to be published, a video game based on the series was released for the Sony Playstation 2 and Microsoft Xbox, and the Season 2 DVDs were released in August 2003 in the USA. November 2003 saw the addition of the remaining Season 4 episodes to Adult Swim with fans invited to vote for their favorite episode of the series for airing at the end of the year. Season 4 DVDs have already hit Europe with Season 3 DVDs released in March 2004 in the USA and Season 4 in the August after that. Beyond that, what remains to be seen for Futurama is, well, in the future.