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TV 101: 'Futurama' And Three Alternate Universes I'd Like To Live In

by Jay Black, posted Jun 23rd 2010 7:00PM
What If there was never a What If machine - did I just blow your mind right then?Rejoice, America! 'Futurama' returns this week with brand new episodes. Between that and the world cup, all I need now for my summer to be complete is for Spike to greenlight my pitch, 'Christina Hendricks and Jenna Fischer put on Leia-Style Metal Bikinis and Wrestle for the Right to Make Me a Bacon Sandwich' (working title).

However excited I am about the return of 'Futurama', part of me can't get over the fact that it should never have been canceled in the first place. What's worse, if the quantum physics I learned by watching 'Sliders' is correct, there exists at least one universe where 'Futurama' wasn't canceled. Not only have the people of that alternate universe gotten 10 uninterrupted years of Fry and Leela, I have it on good authority that their version British Petroleum didn't spill oil into the gulf, but rather delicious caramel. Clearly, 'Futurama' makes the world a better place.

So, in honor of 'Futurama', let's take a look through our own "What If" machine and see what some other alternate universes look like.

1. TiVo decides to become a software company

Should a time traveler come here from the year 1960, here are the three things he would find most shocking about our world, in reverse order from the least to the most shocking:

c) An African-American president,

b) a system of interconnected information tubes that deliver direct to your home any style of naked boob your mind can imagine,

a) the ability to watch shows whenever you want to watch them (and skip the commercials when you do).

It's a given that the DVR is the greatest invention in the history of mankind and the TiVo software was the greatest implementation of that invention.

Notice I said "software." The TiVo hardware? Not so much. I don't blame the TiVo for being overpriced and clunky; unless you're Steve Jobs, it's incredibly difficult to make a profit selling hardware.

I do, however, blame the TiVo for being stingy with its software. In the early 2000s, every cable company on the planet wanted TiVo's software for their own DVRs. TiVo refused, thinking that once people got a taste of DVRs designed by cable companies, they would flock to TiVo in droves for DVRs done right.

TiVo quickly learned that you should never underestimate the laziness of the American people. Instead of going out and paying extra for a TiVo box, we simply made do with the "free" DVRs that came pre-installed when we got our cable. After that, it was only a matter of time before TiVo drifted off to join the likes of the Archos Media Player on the island of "Those things that somehow still exist."

I like to imagine that there's a universe out there where TiVo made the right choice and licensed their clearly superior DVR software to every cable company who wanted it. In that universe no one misses their favorite show. Also, all war is settled not through armed conflict, but rather through break-dancing competitions.

2. 'Goodburger' becomes the smash hit of 1997

According to Wikipedia, 'Goodburger', the 1997 movie starring Kenan Thompson, Kel Mitchell, and Abe Vigoda (!?), grossed $87 million. That's a lot of money, but clearly not enough profit for 'Goodburger' to persist to this day as a wheezing comedy franchise.

In our universe, Kenan Thompson would not go on to movie star status, but would rather settle down as a regular on 'Saturday Night Live'. This results in 20 weeks every year where Americans are forced to wonder exactly what it is that allows Kenan Thompson to remain on the show. Is it his lack of range? His inability to do impressions or even a single character other than "black guy in wig?" His confusion between "comic timing" and "shouting for no reason?"

It's no wonder that our universe is experiencing both global warming and a great recession.

I'm sure there exists somewhere a universe where 'Goodburger' was a huge success and Thompson became a movie star, frothing up in the public eye only once every six months or so to promote 'Goodburger VI: City Under Siege' or whatever.

In that universe, I'm told, it rains donuts.

3. Reality TV show writers unionize

I'm sure you know this already, but it's worth repeating: reality shows are made-up baloney. Actually, that's not fair to baloney; at least baloney doesn't claim to be anything else other than left-over hot dog parts. Reality shows lie to you right in the name of their genre!

The Writer's Guild has long sought to unionize the people who script reality shows -- referred to not as writers but as "producers" in the credits of those shows -- but they dropped the demand as a concession during the 2008 writer's strike.

This was a huge win for the networks because not paying writers (or actors) is part of the reason why reality shows are so damned cheap to make. Had the WGA been able to unionize the reality show writers, the relative cost of producing an episode of 'Basketball Wives' wouldn't be that far off than, say, an episode of 'Breaking Bad'.

This would have forever altered the reality genre. When you make something more expensive, you immediately force the networks to be more judicious in their decision making. The patented VH1 reality show methodology of "throw any crap we can find that involves obnoxious semi-humans picking between sluts and hope something sticks" doesn't sound so smart when those shows are suddenly twice as much to produce.

When profitability means you need to attract an audience beyond shut-ins, mental patients, and me when I can't find the remote control, you actually need to apply some effort into show development.

Somewhere, the WGA was successful and that means there's a Kardashian-free universe where nuclear fusion is already commonplace and Batman is a real person. Wouldn't it be nice to live in that world?

Put your take on alternate universes in the comments. The only rule is you can't do "What if Spiderman Joined the Fantastic Four" - that's been done a ton of times.

(Jay Black is a writer and comedian who really hopes you like this column. For more information about Jay or to see one of his live shows, check out www.jayblackcomedy.net).

[Follow @jayblackomedy on Twitter]

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Jay, often times I go back and forth between loving and loathing you. I hear by apologize for the flip-flopping. After reading the comments and your various replies I will always fall on the loving side. Simply great work sir, I laughed quite a bit today.

June 25 2010 at 9:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to C.A.'s comment
Jay Black

It's rare for a comment on the internet that opens with the phrase "I got back and forth between loving and loathing you" to actually end with something nice to say. Thanks for the pleasant start to a Friday!

June 25 2010 at 10:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tony DIMeo

'Christina Hendricks and Jenna Fischer put on Leia-Style Metal Bikinis and Wrestle for the Right to Make Me a Bacon Sandwich' I would so love to watch that show because AI have a huge crush on both of them

June 25 2010 at 3:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'd like to live in a universe where canival games are not fixed. Think about it. If carnival games weren't fixed, going to them with family, friends, and significant others would be a great way to spend time together.

Children would win prizes and not run around crying and strung out on sugar.

Guys on first dates would impress women with their physical prowess, and get laid.

Friends would engage in good natured rivalry.

Carnivals would be all over the place, people would go outside and visit them, and the economy wouldn't be in the crapper. Carnies would also be clean in this reality, as they earned much more money. Coney Island would still be a place that's exciting to go to because of the setting, and not because you might get stabbed.

Also, in this universe, caramel apples cure cancer.

June 24 2010 at 4:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well, actually Jay, the entire 6th season of Lost, except for the Richard Alpert episode, was pretty abominable, all things considered. Season 6 of Lost has entered my list of "Movies and Shows That NEVER Happened". Also on that list:
- The Prequels (You know which ones!);
- The second and third Matrix movies;
- any Alien movie after Aliens and any Predator movie after Predator or any combination thereof;
- any episode of X-Files after Mulder left (including the ones where he came back)
... and the list, of course, continues on and on...

June 24 2010 at 12:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mdk's comment
Jay Black

Good points all around. I'm torn on Alien 3 though - a pretty terrible plot with some great acting and beautiful directing. (I was angry as hell the day I saw it, but I've since softened on it).

June 24 2010 at 12:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow, this was a waste of a blog entry if I've ever seen one. Sexist remarks, no news or even real editorial content other than spouting off the first opinions that come to mind, and just plain incorrect information. I can only guess the point of this was humor, but I think it's safe to say you missed that mark.

"because not paying writers (or actors) is part of the reason why reality shows are so damned cheap to make"
What?! Reality show writers (segment producers) DO get paid. They don't get paid as much as they would if they were unionized, but do you honestly think they don't get paid?

June 24 2010 at 12:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
5 replies to jim's comment

Somewhere out there, reachable only by Walter Bishop (and, of course, his evil double) is a universe where the Lost finale not only wrapped up six years worth of dangling plotlines and unanswered questions, it also did so without involving "the Hereafter", magic drainplugs, immortality water and characters who suddenly did inexplicable things just to keep the narrative moving. As a bonus the show also provided coherent, logical resolutions for Battlestar Galactica, the X-Files and Twin Peaks, as well. In this universe, cars all run on sunlight and the Middle East is the "Happiest Land On Earth".

June 24 2010 at 12:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mdk's comment
Jay Black

Yes! Something similar to this was in my original draft for this article, but I cut it at the last second thinking that I've been harping too much on the abomination that was the last fifteen minutes of the 'Lost' finale.

So glad to see you take up the slack...

June 24 2010 at 12:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Key Rick

Disrespecting Kenan Thompson? What Up With That? What Up With That!

June 24 2010 at 10:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Key Rick's comment
Jay Black

That actually made me laugh out loud. Nicely done, sir!

June 24 2010 at 12:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

you probably shouldn't look to wikipedia for movie box office totals, "Good Burger" made $23m in the US and Canada (its also two words, not goodburger)

June 24 2010 at 9:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gfunk21's comment
Jay Black

(standing in front of statue of Jimmy Wales)

Damn you Wikipedia! Damn you all to hell!

/planet of the apes

June 24 2010 at 12:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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