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The real reason Futurama was canceled

The second show from the creator of The Simpsons was never given a real shot to shine.

Matt Groening became a true force in television animation after creating The Simpsons, which has aired an astonishing 600-plus episodes on Fox since premiering 30 years ago in 1989. With The Simpsons being a cultural phenomenon in every sense of the word, Fox began to express interest in a new show from Groening during the 1990s. Groening came back to Fox with the show that would eventually become Futurama, and while the series garnered a cult following over time, Fox didn't give it a fair shake on the small screen.

According to Groening, Fox seemingly never really wanted Futurama to succeed. The network moved the show around from time slot to time slot, then let it die a quiet death in 2003 before it was eventually revived by Comedy Central a few years later. Futurama was canceled at Fox because the network spent years — essentially from before the show even hit television sets — walking it down the road to the chopping block.

Fox and Groening butted heads over Futurama from the very beginning. During an interview with Mother Jones, Groening was asked about working in Hollywood (i.e., working with Fox). He had some not-so-great things to say: "You can't believe what babies people are. It's really like being in junior high school." Groening even said that Fox executives weren't fans of The Simpsons either, revealing, "You can't expect people to behave in their own best interest. It's in Fox's best interest for this show to be a success, but they'd rather mess with the show and have them fail, than allow creators independence and let them succeed ... They don't like The Simpsons at Fox."

When Futurama was originally coming down the pike, Groening wanted Futurama to air at 8:30 PM on Sundays, directly after The Simpsons (and ahead of The X-Files) in order to give the show the best chance to find a large audience. This seemed like a no-brainer — but Fox disagreed, for whatever reason, choosing instead to show only two episodes of Futurama in the Sunday night lineup before moving the series to a "possibly deadly" Tuesday night time slot. By the time the second season of Futurama came around, Fox moved the show back to the 8:30 PM Sunday spot in which the first two episodes aired. Then, in a move that alienated audiences further, Fox shifted the show again in the middle of the season — this time bumping it up to 7:00 PM on Sunday

You'd be forgiven for thinking Fox would've figured out this method of scheduling was doing nothing but hurting the show's prospects by the time the final season was airing on the network, but Futurama still had an unpredictable, erratic airing schedule up until its last episode on the network. Irregularly timed sporting events, which were a huge money-maker for Fox, made it even harder to anticipate when Futurama would air each week. This up-and-down scheduling had a majorly disappointing consequence: Fox held on to episodes of Futurama made for the third and fourth seasons and reserved them for a fifth season... that didn't end up airing on the network. 

Fox never formally canceled Futurama — not in the way that television series are usually axed nowadays. The network simply stopped purchasing new episodes of Futurama, and the series went out of production ahead of the fall 2003 broadcast season. Six years later, Comedy Central picked up Futurama. The series lasted seven years on the network before it ended in 2013.

In a 2003 interview, Groening offered his candid thoughts on the situation: "The people at Fox didn't ever support the show and it wasn't to their taste 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 ... We won the Emmy for best animated show and I didn't even get a begrudging phone call from anyone at Fox. That's a dark company that they can't even make a fake phone call." Ouch. Tell them how you really feel, Matt. 

Ultimately, Groening got the last laugh. The Simpsons continues to run to this day, and his show at Netflix, Disenchantment, scored a second and third season in late 2018.