The co-creator of the hit animated series talks about the new DVD, the two more to follow and hopefully going back to network

While David X. Cohen's animated series Futurama is still off the air, that doesn't mean he's giving up without a fight. The series, which Cohen co-created with The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, still lives on in DVD with Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs, the second of four straight-to-DVD releases that hits the shelves on June 24. I had the chance to talk with Cohen over the phone about this latest release, and here's what he had to say.

I talked to you in November about the first DVD (Futurama: Bender's Big Score) so it's only fitting that we talk again about the second one.

David X. Cohen: This could be part two of a four-part conversation, I suspect.

It could be. It could be. So, the first one was a pretty big success on DVD. From that success, did you change anything with this second one to grow off that success?

David X. Cohen: No, we got very cocky and it's the same animation and dialogue you saw the first time. I'm only kidding (Laughs). Because we were producing these in largely overlapping schedules, there weren't a lot of changes we could make based on what we did in the first one. Maybe we could make changes in the third in fourth ones, but these two were being produced largely in the same timeframe. They were both in the pipeline simultaneously so if you liked the first one, I think you'll like the second one.

What kind of differences and what kind of similarities are there from Futurama: Bender's Big Score to this one?

David X. Cohen: I would say that Futurama: Bender's Big Score requires a lot of concentration to watch. It's a very complicated time-travel story. Part of the joke on that was just that the complexity would be over the top. This one is a more straight-foward science-fiction story, I would say. Alien invasion and people running in terror, that kind of thing, with a slight twist of there being an inappropriate physical relationship with the big octopus monster (Laughs). We've got a straight-up science-fiction movie. This one is a little more relaxing to watch and you don't have to study all of the intricacies to watch it, you can just sit back and relax.

So there's a "lost episode" on the special features. That was used for the video game but was that originally part of the series before it was cancelled?

David X. Cohen: No, it's never been aired. I would say that is the single best DVD extra that we've ever offered. I think it will be a big treat for the fans. We've been trying to get that DVD extra for quite awhile and it finally came together. We were even talking about it back in the fourth season, when we were still on the air, and we weren't able to get it together in time for Futurama: Bender's Big Score so we finally have this here. It's a full episode, slightly longer than a half-hour with the real voice cast. It was written by Stuart Burns, one of our longtime writers, I did the voice directing. It really does have the feel of a real episode except that it's completely CGI, all computer graphics because it was done for the previous-generation game console. It was a whole episode that was chopped up and you would see a scene each time you completed a level of the game. It was like, 'Oh man. Why have we not put this thing together?' We finally have gotten our act together. It's a full episode and more, it's slightly longer than a full episode that nobody has ever seen unless you've played the game and made it through all the way to the end. A few hardcore gamers have seen it, but that's about it. It's our best DVD extra ever.

So it's all CGI? Is it kind of like virtual-reality animation?

David X. Cohen: People may find that an extra treat or a distraction, I don't know, but it's pretty interesting to see the characters including Fry, Leela and the Professor in 3-D graphics. Bender sort of looks the same, but the other ones it was interesting to see the 3-D take on what the characters look like.

In the last DVD you had Coolio and Sarah Silverman and Al Gore for guest spots and this one you have David Cross, Brittany Murphy, Dan Castenella and Stephen J. Hawking for the guests on this one. How were they to work with and why did you want to bring those particular actors on for this DVD?

David X. Cohen: Well, David Cross is there because I'm a huge Mr. Show with Bob and David fan, first of all. It's very funny and second of all, the nature of that part. He's this giant octopus from another universe and his personality is a little bit sleazy and, I don't want to say anything bad about David Cross, but suffice it to say it seemed like he was right for the part. He's just somebody I've always really liked and we've always tried to get other Mr. Show with Bob and David people on. We had Bob Oedenkirk on in an episode. Brittany Murphy, we just wanted someone that's sexy to play Fry's love interest and she's done voice acting from King of the Hill, so she was a natural choice. Stephen Hawking has been on before, this is his second appearance and me being a physics guy before I started writing, I like to get the chance to interact with the world's greatest physicist (Laughs). Dan Castenella also reprising his role as the Robot Devil, so that we needed that part and he was kind enough to come back again.

So no Al Gore in this one?

David X. Cohen: No Al Gore in this one, I'm afraid. His three or four appearances will have to keep people happy.

Have you planned any tenative release dates for the last two?

David X. Cohen: Yes. I've heard sometime in the Fall for the third one. That one is real fresh in my mind because we just delivered it to Fox yesterday for the manufacturing process. The fourth one we don't have a date. I'm guessing, this is a wild guess on my part, but May of 2009. There's still quite a while before we can run out of this round of Futurama so people can relax and know they have at least one more year of Futurama.

So when we talked for the first DVD, part of the point of these DVDs was to generate enough interest so this could get back on the air. Have you heard any whisperings of that so far, that you might have enough buzz to get back on the air?

David X. Cohen: I've heard a lot of whispering, but it was me who was whispering (Laughs). The question is, is anybody hearing me whispering? We have not heard anything yet, one way or another, so nothing bad, nothing good. We have heard that the sales were exceptional for Futurama: Bender's Big Score, so logically speaking, it would be reasonable that they would want some more, but you never know. They're taking it cautiously and seeing how the successive ones do. We're cautiously optimistic, but we haven't heard anything yet.

If you don't get a pick-up by this fourth DVD, is there a possibility of keeping going on the DVD series, or maybe making a definitive ending for Futurama?

David X. Cohen: That's a good question. Luckilly, we've faced this situation several times before, a situation where it could be the last episode ever but we're not sure. That's one thing we're more experienced in than most TV shows. At the end of season four, we wrote an episode that's called "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Play-Things" and that was the very last regular episode for Fox network. We kind of wrote it that we won't actually have the characters wave goodbye at the end, but we will leave it in the right tone so that if it is our last episode ever, we'd be satisfied to go out that way. Luckily that turned out not to be our last episode ever and we didn't have everyone say goodbye or we didn't have everyone blow up in a giant atomic blast or anything. The characters are still alive and we're back. We have attempted again in the fourth one to leave things where it could be, if it's the end, we'll be happy with that. It's a little bigger ending than usual, but we haven't ruled out the possibility of return. The fourth one has a really grand climax.

So can you give us any hints, storywise, as what the last two will entail?

David X. Cohen: Yeah, absolutely. It's actually harder for me to remember the second one because we're working so hard on the third and fourth. The third one is a big move into the world of fantasy, magic and dragons and castles and that kind of stuff. Somehow, we'd never managed to go into that before and I don't know how. We all started talking about it and we all went, 'Why haven't we done this before?' I'm sure our fans are all 99% overlapping with fantasy. So you'll get to see the fantasy versions of all of our characers and I think it will be the most visually spectacular of the four. The fourth one is the going-out-with-a-bang, the big sci-fi story. It's an epic battle between good and evil forces which, of course, our crew finds themselves in the middle of. It has a little bit of an environmental message too, which we try to sneak in when we can and it's a big finale. If it's the end, we'll be reasonably happy with it.

Finally, there will always be the die-had Futurama fans that are always going to pic these discs up. For those who might not be familiar with the series, what would you like to say to them to try and entice them to pick up these DVD's?

David X. Cohen: Well, it's really good (Laughs). I would say, for the fans, that the DVD extras are the best ever, so that alone is worth five times the cover price. Of course, we're kind of at the mercy of our fans to save us, so if you love the show, show your support.

Well, that's about all I have. Thanks so much for your time again, David.

David X. Cohen: It was a pleasure. I'll talk to you again in a few months.

You can enjoy all the wacky characters of Cohen's Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs on DVD starting on June 24.