When Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and eight scribes lounge on sofas in their writers’ room, one-upping each other with twisted ideas for Fox’s animated adventures of a dopey Rhode Island clan, it sounds like they’re playing a new game called ”Who can make the FCC weep first?” An upcoming episode, for example, will take tubby paterfamidiot Peter Griffin to his class reunion: What if, exec producer Chris Sheridan asks, wife Lois falls and gets a black eye before the reunion, ”and all the successful ex-jocks there are whipped, and they envy Peter because they think he beats his wife?” Then they consider having Peter meet his favorite football team, the New England Patriots, and writer Alec Sulkin suggests that Peter urge his high school daughter, Meg, to sleep with the whole team. MacFarlane, who voices Peter, barks in character: ”When you do them, do [quarterback] Tom Brady first — as a sign of respect.”
Haven’t these people heard of Janet Jackson? Are they trying to get canceled?
Oh, wait…they’ve already been canceled. But the show’s fans demonstrated just how much they missed Family Guy’s poop jokes, sex gags, racial insults, religious takedowns, and general nonstop sacrilege by buying 2.2 million copies of the Family Guy: Volume One DVD, making it the second-highest-selling TV DVD ever (Chappelle’s Show: Season One is first).
And they watched the same 50 reruns over and over again on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block until the show regularly beat Jay Leno and David Letterman among young male viewers.
Fox — always on the lookout for a hit that doesn’t have the words American or Idol in the title — couldn’t ignore the demand, and made the unprecedented move of resuscitating the show two years after it was canned. (New episodes of the reanimated series premiere Sunday, May 1, at 9 p.m. on Fox.) So, three years after MacFarlane cleaned out his Family Guy office in the Valley, his staff finds itself in a new Miracle Mile conference room giddily conceiving of ways to pee on Mel Blanc’s grave. ”One would like to say the wise network president figured out to put this show back on,” says incoming Fox president Peter Liguori (who inherited FG when he was hired on March 24 to replace the departing Gail Berman, who had announced the show’s return last May). ”But all we were really doing is following the people’s choice.”
For a man with a scatalogical mind, MacFarlane keeps his own office quite tidy: His shelves are neatly lined with Griffin collectible dolls, and DVDs of G.I. Joe and The Flintstones cartoons are stacked on his desk as reference, because their characters will be popping up in random, pop-culture cutaway gags that are Family Guy’s trademark.
After a long meeting, a weary-looking MacFarlane apologizes for diving into a pizza. Not only have he and his staff been writing new FGs for a year straight, but he’s also constantly in the recording booth: Among other characters, he voices Peter, Brian the alcoholic talking dog, and Stewie, the matricidal Kim Jong II of a toddler. (MacFarlane’s natural speaking voice is closest to Brian’s.) He’s also the main voice on American Dad, a new animated comedy he cocreated about a right-wing CIA agent/family guy that will air right after FG. Mind you, he’s not complaining about the work. In fact, he still seems a little happily befuddled at how he ended up back at work at all. ”[I was sure] Family Guy would not be coming back,” says MacFarlane, 31, whose hair has grayed slightly since he first sold the show to Fox seven years ago. ”There was no precedent for it. It would require a network to say, ‘We’ve made a mistake.”’