Some guys will confess that the two things likeliest to be on their computers are porn and "Family Guy" episodes. When a series starts to outnumber downloaded porn on the hard drives of the 18-22, sexually frustrated male demographic, it's definitely onto something good, really good.
Who knew that a baby with a football-shaped head bent on world domination, a talking dog and the rest of the quirky Griffin family would be a winning formula for a prime time cartoon? Apparently, Seth MacFarlane, the show's creator and executive producer did, and somewhere between the show's debut in 1999, its cancellation in 2002 and its incredible DVD sales in 2003, he convinced America it was, too. The Griffin family will be back on Fox network by January 2005, marking the first time a show will be revived based on its DVD sales.
Fox executives' decision to revive the show means a lot more work for the 27-year-old MacFarlane, and in addition to beginning production on "Family Guy," he is in the middle of casting for a new cartoon series pilot for Fox titled "American Dad." The surprisingly relaxed Connecticut native (whose natural voice sounds very similar to Brian the dog) could also be working on a new feature film and DVD project for "Family Guy" in the near future.
"A 'Family Guy' movie for the big screen is something that is coming up at Fox in the feature department and my guess is that it will happen at some point," MacFarlane said.
For now, however, the young Kent, Conn. native probably has more than enough to keep himself busy as he tries to breathe life back into the series' quaint town of Quahog. Quahog will be very much similar to what fans remember, and the new episodes of "Family Guy" will stick closely to the old formula. Many of the former actors will be back for the second time around, including Seth Green from "Austin Powers in Goldmember" and "The Italian Job" and Mila Kunis from "That 70's Show" — Green is the voice of Chris Griffin, and Kunis is the voice of Meg Griffin.
"We don't want to mess with it, it works the way it is and we'll pick up where we left off," MacFarlane said.
However, as the show progresses don't be surprised if the already controversial series takes it up a notch. With a more relaxed censorship climate since the last episode aired, MacFarlane sees a little more wiggle room for the show's writers.
"Things are probably better," he adds with a hint of excitement. "You can say 'friggin' now on TV."
Plus, viewers can expect new characters and more airtime for minor roles as the writers try to expand on the show. These new characters may be played by guest celebrities. Before the "Family Guy" craze caught on, MacFarlane unsuccessfully tried to woo former "Star Trek" star William Shatner for a first season episode. Now, celebrities are coming to him for a chance to be a part of Quahog.
"I told Mila not too long ago that Moby is interested in doing something with the show," MacFarlane said. "People who you wouldn't even think would be fans [are interested]."
And Hollywood is not the only one paying attention.
The "Family Guy" frenzy
While the show was on the air, a frequently changing Fox lineup meant sub-par ratings and a modest fan base. In a period of a couple of years the show's cult following has grown so much that only the title "phenomenon" would be appropriate.
"It's the kind of thing you always hope for with a cancelled show; it's a pipe dream," he said. "I'm just as amazed as anyone."
MacFarlane is not only flattered, but also confused about how "Family Guy" earned mass appeal with the public — particularly on college campuses like Princeton. When asked about his reaction to the almost religious following in dorm rooms across Princeton's campus, MacFarlane quickly answered with a question of his own:
"What's the deal? You're all much smarter than I am," he said.
Something about the frequency of "Family Guy" quotes in students' AOL Instant Messenger profiles and the countless number of "Family Guy" DVDs on campus would probably lead to a different conclusion. Jason Yen '06, who arranged impromptu "Family Guy" viewing sessions for his Feinberg Hall suite last year, had trouble pinning down one reason for the show's popularity on campus.
"I think it's really clever because it plays upon old TV shows and jokes that people think of, but don't really express," Yen said.
The countless references to pop culture and its sense of randomness also adds to the series' appeal.
"It's a secret underground society of humor addicts," James Eagen '06 said of the phenomenon. "I'm never expecting what is going to happen next, and it's always the funniest thing I've ever seen."
Last year's file sharing programs like Gank and Sleep also helped build the hype, according to Yen. While most music and film executives cringed at the possibility of students enjoying their work and never paying a dollar, Yen explained that file sharing increased DVD sales among his friends after they became fans through the network. The series also filled a void in TV programming left by a declining interest in the "Simpsons" and the lack of similar shows.
"It's more imaginative than what's on TV," Taylor Rettig '04 said. "I like how it's not afraid to push the envelope in some of the scenes."
The approximately 25-minute shows are perfectly packaged for the university lifestyle. For most students the average quick break does not equal a three hour-long movie, according to Yen.
When confronted with the evidence that students on campus probably find him smarter than his own estimate, the comical MacFarlane quickly piped up: "Let them keep enjoying that delusion," he said.
In addition to divulging plans for "Family Guy," MacFarlane was able to offer a peek at "American Dad." Like the former, the latter will concentrate on a nuclear family, but with a more political spin. If all goes well, "American Dad" should premiere about the same time as the new episodes of "Family Guy."
"'American Dad' is more heavily issue-related in the same way as 'All in the Family' was," MacFarlane explained. "We latch on to a cutting edge issue and build a story around it."
The show's creators (MacFarlane and two writers from "Family Guy") were very careful not to duplicate "Family Guy's" cast. The father will be a "very, very right wing, head knightish" character, while the daughter is the "Rob Reiner to his Archie Bunker." The setup will ensure constant conflict between the two personalities. Add into this mix a mother who is a "very sweet, very Betty Whitish character" with a racy past filled with drugs, sex and rock and roll. Of course, the show wouldn't bear MacFarlane's mark if it didn't have slightly out-there characters like Brian and Stewie. MacFarlane promises talking fish and an alien the father rescued from area 51 that is not allowed to leave the house. The alien just drinks red wine and watches daytime TV. The lines between the "Family Guy" and the "American Dad" will be pretty distinct — but don't be surprised if the Griffins pay a visit to their new neighbors. MacFarlane said this would be possible if the visual styles of the shows are compatible, which, as of now, they are.
"Its something that for me would be very fun," he said.
Outside of the studio
As "Family Guy" has grown in popularity, it has, according to MacFarlane, inevitably affected his personal life. MacFarlane is unmarried and not seriously attached, and said it can be difficult to discern people's intentions. He tries to keep dating as normal as possible and has, he said, been successful.
"I have some Brian type issues from time to time — looking for the right person — but I date as much as the next guy," MacFarlane said.
Even though Quagmire is his favorite character, he has yet to use one of the blunt, sexually charged pickup lines for which the character is famous.
"I'd have absolutely no faith in one actually working, [but] I suppose I could try some Quagmire lines and see what happens," he said.
But Quagmire may be more a part of MacFarlane than he would readily admit. When asked what was the one question he always wanted to be asked in an interview, the comical MacFarlane quickly responded in true Quagmire fashion. The question he has always wanted a reporter to ask is, "What time can you be over my house?"
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