The Futurama Writers Had One Rule For Professor Farnsworth's Character

The "Futurama" character Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth (voiced by Billy West) was named after Philo T. Farnsworth (1906 – 1971), the inventor of the world's first all-electronic image pickup device, better known to the masses as the television tube. The real Farnsworth has many other patents besides, mostly involving electronic imaging, radio, or nuclear fusion. He is one of the most important engineers in the history of broadcast media. 

Prof. Farnsworth on "Futurama" is also an inventor with multiple patents, although his inventions tend to drift into the realm of crackpot lunacy. Prof. Farnsworth has an entire bank of doomsday devices, invented a smelloscope that can detect the odors of distant heavenly bodies, once kept a monkey whose tiny bowler hat granted him extreme intelligence, and often makes use of the fing-longer, which is a glove sporting an index finger the length of a billiard cue. That latter device is used more often than one might assume. 

Also notable about the professor is his age. In one episode, he revealed he was 160 years old, although that was before a run-in with a time-altering whirlpool that aged him up even further. Additionally — according to Matt Groening on one of the "Futurama" DVD commentary tracks — the "Futurama" animators were instructed to never show the Professor's eyeballs (he always wear his very thick glasses). 

And, as regular "Futurama" writer Eric Kaplan revealed on a 2022 episode of the "What's In My Head" podcast, the Professor was to never, ever fall into the trap of becoming a cliché "dirty old man."

Dirty old men throughout history

The cliché of the Dirty Old Man archetype, of course, is as old as ancient literature. Lascivious old men can be found in Shakespeare, Molière, and Commedia dell'arte (in the Pantalone character). The aged male who repeatedly says creepy, sexual things about younger women is a trope that many writers fall back on today, and they still crop up on the regular; remember Herbert the Pervert from "Family Guy?" Many TV writers — through no fault of their own — tend to fall back on traditional structures and archetypes as a form of shorthand. Once the easy parts have been communicated, the story proper can be told. Evidently, the showrunners on "Futurama" wanted to avoid Dirty Old Man with the Professor, as — as Kaplan recalls — was a specific decree: 

"I remember a rule was the Professor is not, does not perv on younger women. He can be callous and weird, but he's not pervy. I thought that was an interesting rule."

The Professor can indeed be callous and weird. He doesn't seem to care much for the lives of his employees at Planet Express, and, as mentioned, owns a spate of doomsday devices. He is constantly experimenting on the people around him, swapping their brains, sending them forward in time, or resurrecting them from the dead. While generally ethical -—the Professor is at least more ethical than the evil corporate overlady Mom (Tress MacNeille) — he doesn't have many compunctions about tinkering with the fabric of life or killing guinea pigs

The Professor's love life

But, because of the writers' room decree, the Professor would never flirt with younger people, or make lascivious cracks about people's bodies. Very occasionally, of course, the Professor would let slip with a sexual comment. In "Anthology of Interest II" (January 6, 2002), Bender (John DiMaggio), having been transformed into a human, tries kissing the Professor on the mouth in a test of his sexuality. Bender complains that it wasn't arousing. The professor slyly disagrees. Additionally, in the episode "Neutopia" (June 23, 2011), all the male and female characters are divided by gender and forced to fend for themselves on a distant, deserted world. As sexism was a large theme of that episode, all the characters openly made many crass jokes about gender stereotypes, the Professor included. Generally speaking, however, the Professor was marked more by his mad scientist lunacy and his doddering old cluelessness than he was by his libido. 

This is not to say that the Professor was forbidden from romance. In "Three Hundred Big Boys" (June 15, 2003), the Professor uses a $300 tax rebate to buy a gloppy facial coating of living stem cells which temporarily de-aged him. As a young man, he romanced a young Goth woman, who used her rebate on a cosmetic alteration of her own. Also, a large part of the "Futurama" backstory was that the Professor, when he was a few decades younger, had a bitter affair with Mom, an affair that occasionally threatens to begin afresh. 

The professor, then, is a larger, more textured character than his libido. He's also an insane kook with little regard for human life, a streak of cruelty, and sometimes only a dim perception of the world around him. But he is no Dirty Old Man.