We chatted, angrily and with utmost Fox-aimed contempt, on the podcast a few weeks back about the news that the studio were planning to replace the entire original voice cast of Futurama for its return to television screens. The fury with which the majority of the online world and Futurama-fanbase reacted to the news was primarily borne out of residual anger against Fox for its televisual mistakes of the past and, more perhaps, by such a blatant attempt to win a PR war they were entirely ill-equipped to succeed in.
I understand the executives at Fox are under pressure the majority of the time, given the problems they have faced in trying to match the box-office thump heralded by rivals Warner Bros and, to a lesser competitive extent, Disney. But they just don’t help themselves. The news at the end of last week that the cast of Futurama have now been signed on to work on the new TV series was entirely expected in the face of the furore which erupted in the wake of news they would not return. The question is, why would Fox seek to piss so many fans off at a time when their stock could hardly sink any lower?
The entire move appears to have been an attempt to drive down the salaries of the main players amid the recession. The studio should, and I emphasise SHOULD, understand that their tactics to achieve this goal – essentially involving threatening to fire these people should they refuse to take a pay cut – could, would and will never work within an internet era. The moment the news broke, fingers will have begun to slam onto keyboards across the world to criticise the entire concept that you could replace an entire voice cast. A few years ago, this may have been avoided through sheer fact that the social internet had yet to form into a worldwide community. Maybe it could have grown into an issue, but not in the instant that it will do nowadays.
On our podcast, my esteemed colleague Tom briefly noted the move by Family Guy to replace Lacey Chabert with Mila Kunis in voicing Meg, a move which prompted absolutely no reaction from anywhere. Why? Because one minor cast member is just about doable. You can replace a single voice cast member with a similar vocal actor because, outside of a few initial confusions and annoyances, everyone will get over that. You just cannot, ever, replace the entire voice cast of a show. Further to that, you absolutely cannot replace an entire voice cast on a show which is being brought back through sheer popularity. The only reason the show is to return is because of its popularity in the straight-to-DVD movie form. It’s like a record label signing a band which has just been dropped, only to insist that all members be replaced before they will put a record out. Ridiculous.
Will Fox learn? I sincerely doubt it. They have shown time (Arrested Development) and time (Firefly) and time (original Family Guy/The Tick/Undeclared/Wonderfalls/The Ben Stiller Show/Greg the Bunny/Andy Richter Controls the Universe) again that they have almost no ability to choose, exhibit or promote good quality television. Sure, 24 was great, if entirely in line with the ideological viewpoint of the Fox Network, and there are other good shows that they produce, but just consider some of the cancellations they have made over the years and you get to feeling like all TV folk are on a losing path from day one.
Another question to pose quickly though, will Futurama be any good coming back in this form? Family Guy’s first three season are immensely brilliant, but that show has descended into a quagmire of self-parody and creaking joke-writing. The creation of a Cleveland spin-off should be the final death knell. When these shows get cancelled, we often feel the pangs of pain that they are no longer with us. But really, if we consider it fully, do we need Futurama to come back?
NOTE: It was pointed out by HitFix that the company involved in the negotiations is 20th Century Fox. Given they, and the FOX Network, are both owned by News Corp and likely have a party line to follow, it seems only right to use the capitalised Fox as a catch all for the widespread idiocy within its television operation.