'Futurama' cast in limbo

Original actors may not return for new episodes

When the "Futurama" characters come back for new episodes on Comedy Central in mid-2010, they may sound different.

That is because producing studio 20th TV is proceeding with auditioning new actors for the roles after failing to reach an agreement with the original voice cast: John DiMaggio, Maurice LaMarche, Billy West, Tress MacNeille and Katey Sagal.

"We love the 'Futurama' voice performers and absolutely wanted to use them, but unfortunately, we could not meet their salary demands," the studio said in a statement Friday. "While replacing these talented actors will be difficult, the show must go on."

Back in June when 20th TV and Comedy Central announced a deal to produce 26 new episodes of "Futurama," the producers noted that no deals with the show's original voice cast had been closed but expressed confidence that all of them would return.

When, under similar circumstances another canceled Fox/20th TV animated series, "Family Guy," was resurrected with a pickup of new episodes by Adult Swim in 2005, the show's entire voice cast came back for what is described as approximately the same salaries they were paid when "Guy" aired on Fox from 1999-2002.

The cast of "Futurama," which ran on Fox from 1999-2002, are said to have been offered modest pay increases but have insisted for bumps of several times what they used to make.

However, on "Family Guy," creator Seth MacFarlane voices the key characters, while the entire cast of "Futurama," like that of "The Simpsons," consists of outside actors.

Matt Groening, who co-created "Futurama" with David X. Cohen, knows a thing or two about voice casts standoffs.

The "Simpsons" creator had gone through a series of bruising renegotiations with the actors on the long-running Fox series.

Just like the current scuttle on "Futurama," in 1998 20th TV hired casting directors to recast the actors on "The Simpsons." A deal was ultimately reached.

In 2004 and 2008, the series' seasons were cut short after the "Simpsons" voice cast boycotted table reads as part of the tense salary negotiations.

Despite the salary disputes, "Simpsons" reached the 20-season mark with its original voice cast intact.

With "Futurama," there also is a possibility that the two sides would come to an agreement.

In the meanwhile, it's going to be rough for the casting directors assigned to find replacement actors who have already started to receive threats from fans of the show.

The topic of the actors' recasting is expected to be addressed during the "Futurama" panel 20th TV will hold during the upcoming Comic-Con which will include Groening and Cohen.
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