OK. I hate to do this. I hate to get all lecture-y, but today's one of those days I have no choice, because there's a lot of misreporting going on on the Internet and it's important to clear at least a few things up.
I have no idea if the main vocal stars of "Futurama" -- John DiMaggio, Maurice LaMarche, Billy West, Tress MacNeille and Katey Sagal -- are going be recast. If they were, that would be a pretty ridiculous public relations blunder.
First off, credit to Forces of Geek for breaking this story and providing the casting report that seems to prove that, indeed, a search is on for new vocal talents to play Philip J. Fry, Leela, Bender, Zoidberg and the rest of the "Futurama" gang. Kudos.
Much less credit to Forces of Geek for reporting that the entity attempting to undertake this recasting is FOX, an error which frankly throws the entire story under the bus.
To clarify, when reporters refer to "FOX" or "Fox" (without any additional words afterwards), they're referring to a television network, a distribution system for television programming owned by the good people at NewsCorp.
FOX, the television network, both aired "Futurama" for many seasons and cancelled "Futurama."
FOX, the television network, has absolutely nothing to do with "Futurama" as of this exact second.
The problem here stems from generally shoddy online reporting of the deal that resurrected "Futurama," a deal that was between Comedy Central and 20th Century Fox TV.
Here's where I have to clarify again: 20th Century Fox TV is a production company, the company that produces "Futurama." Although the same people own 20th Century Fox TV and FOX, they are not the same thing and they have completely different corporate structures and a deal with one is not a deal with the other.
So Comedy Central and 20th Century Fox are bringing "Futurama" back to TV. 20th Century Fox TV has the option to shop first-run episodes of "Futurama" to broadcast networks. That would include FOX. As of now, though, FOX has not acquired broadcast rights to new episodes of "Futurama."
FOX *may* acquire broadcast rights to new episodes of "Futurama." In fact, it's expected that such a deal will be announced at Comic-Con next week. As of now, though, FOX is unconnected to new episodes of "Futurama" and the network has nothing to do with any recasting. In fact, the casting noticed published by Forces of Geek clearly says "Twentieth Century Fox Television."
This is the same confusion that led to the online freak-out over FOX not airing the "Epitaph One" episode of "Dollhouse," where many people chose not to note that the episode had been ordered by 20th Century Fox TV and not by FOX and therefore FOX had no plans or obligations to air said episode. Instead, people reported that FOX was choosing to cut short the "Dollhouse" order and that the series was cancelled.
It was not.
But back to "Futurama."
The good folks at The Hollywood Reporter have confirmed that 20th Century Fox TV is attempting to recast the voices for "Futurama."
The trade paper has a statement from the production company that reads, "We love the 'Futurama' voice performers and absolutely wanted to use them, but unfortunately, we could not meet their salary demands. While replacing these talented actors will be difficult, the show must go on. We are confident that we will find terrific new performers to give voice to (creators) Matt (Groening) and David (Cohen)'s brilliantly subversive characters."
The Hollywood Reporter story uses very clear use of the conditional tense. The story has the headline, "'Futurama' searches for a new voice" and it ends with the sentence, "Sources indicated that it is still possible that the two sides may come to an agreement."
But the story in Entertainment Weekly, posted just minutes after the trade story, with the same statement, uses the headline, "'Futurama' getting new voices for Fry, Leela, Bender, and others." Note the absence of conditional tense. Also, reading the article, note the absence of the possibility of an eventual agreement.
You see, it isn't uncommon for 20th Century Fox to play hardball with its animated vocal talent and creative forces. Ask the voices from "The Simpsons." Ask Seth MacFarlane. Then again, Seth MacFarlane still works on all of his 20th Century Fox TV shows. And despite holdouts and protestations most of the voices on "The Simpsons" are the same voices who will always be there.
The very real possibility exists that 20th Century Fox TV is negotiating, behind the scenes. Because of the specific deal between Comedy Central and 20th Century Fox TV, there is a timetable that has to be met. Given that writers are writing episodes and a studio is expecting to produce episodes, looking for a way to cover bases isn't fan-friendly, but it's logical business. It doesn't mean anything until the new voices have signed contracts, recorded episodes and those episodes are about to air.
"Futurama" will be at Comic-Con next Saturday. The exact tone of that panel may well be governed by further developments in this story. There may be a ridiculous amount of hostility from a fan community that's been teased too much already. If this specter is still hovering in the air, what ought to be an entirely positive panel celebrating a beloved show's return could become a public relations disaster.
My bet? Everybody eventually makes nice and the panel celebrates FOX acquiring new "Futurama" episodes and the return of the vocal cast. But I know absolutely nothing.
[Update #1: Variety has a good deal more information than the Hollywood Reporter.]