Beloved science fiction show Futurama was canceled in 2013, but it’s had a bit of a revival with a mobile game called Worlds of Tomorrow. To help promote the game, Nerdist partnered with game studios Jam City and TinyCo to produce a new episode, in podcast form, reuniting the entire cast of the show for a new adventure.
David X. Cohen, the show’s head writer and executive producer, told The Verge that the episode had been a long time in the making. The developers behind the game worked closely with show’s original talent to try and accurately capture the feel of the world. He explained that Tiny Co and Jam City wanted to get the point across that they are being faithful to the world, and initially floated the idea of doing a new animated episode. When Cohen explained that it would be too complicated and expensive to produce, they suggested simply not animating it.
Cohen recalled an earlier conversation that he had with Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick, who suggested something similar. Cohen then introduced Hardwick to Jam City, and together, they decided to move forward with an audio-only episode.
Nerdist released that episode today as part of its Nerdcast podcast series. The episode, titled Radiorama, draws from some of the in-game story, and follows the crew as they go through a new adventure as the world’s soap opera All My Circuits is resurrected as a podcast. They run into trouble when Bender accidentally unleashes Klaxxon (voiced by Chris Hardwick), an incarnation of all of the world’s forgotten podcasts, bent on world domination.
The episode is immediately recognizable as an episode of Futurama, due in part to the fact that all of the show’s voice actors have returned to reprise their roles. Cohen says that not every show could as easily make the jump from animated episode to audio drama, and credits to the show’s actors for their work. “They have created such distinctive characters,” Cohen notes.
Cohen explains that jumping to audio allowed the writers to do some things that they weren’t able to do with animation, such as calling back to the style of classic radio dramas and the advertisements that went along with them, but also use nudity that they couldn’t get away with on television.
Ditching the animation also allowed Cohen and the other writers to expand the episode beyond the typical 20 minutes that animated episodes usually run for. “We got carried away with the original plan,” he explained. They originally plotted out a 30-minute episode, and ended up writing additional material that brought it up to over 40 minutes in length.
Despite being less expensive because it wasn’t animated, the episode was still costly by podcast standards, Cohen says. “We still needed the entire cast, studio time, editing, music, sound effects, things that would not be in a normal podcast. It was pretty much the same amount of work that would go into producing one or two episodes of the show, except for the animation.”
Cohen noted that there’s talk “all the time” of bringing the show back as an animated show, but getting the entire cast together for a one-off episode was a much easier proposition. While this episode is a one-off production, Cohen says that he could see them doing more episodes “if there was a big reaction to it,” but says that they’ll wait and see what the reaction is for this first one.
Looking back on the history of the show, Cohen says that Futurama has often been at the cusp of changes in how people consume their entertainment: it began in 1999 with standard definition TVs on network television. It was resurrected in 2008 as a season of episodes tailored for four DVD collections, before being picked up by Comedy Central and experiencing newfound popularity on streaming services such as Netflix. (It’s soon going to Hulu.) Now, as podcasts and audio fiction are growing in popularity, the story has made yet another jump to another medium. “All of these things didn’t exist have come along and have been very helpful in reincarnating Futurama.”