May 1, 2005
'Family Guy' returns
By KEVIN WILLIAMSON -- Calgary Sun
Death has been good to the Family Guy.
Resurrected from cancellation by Fox executives who were swayed by DVD sales and a healthy afterlife on U.S. cable networks TBS and the Cartoon Network, the animated sitcom returns fully invigorated.
Worried the second coming of bumbling patriarch Peter Griffith might soften its comedic blows?
Don't be. Much of tonight's plot revolves around Peter and wife Lois discovering a copy of Mel Gibson's top-secret Passion of the Christ 2, an action comedy that teams Jim Caviezel's messiah with Chris Tucker.
Like we said, death has been good to both the show and its creator, Seth MacFarlane, who also marks tonight with the permanent arrival of American Dad, a politically pertinent 'toon with another family guy -- this one a CIA case officer with stars and stripes in his eyes -- at the centre of the action. Audiences got their first look at it after this year's Super Bowl. It premieres at 9:30 p.m. on Fox and Global immediately following -- what else? -- Family Guy.
Even MacFarlane admits the time off since Family Guy ceased production has recharged his -- and the writers -- creative batteries.
"We've had to, at least once before, basically shut down and then get back into it like it's nothing," he says during a recent conference call with journalists. "It's actually good to do that because animated shows don't get hiatuses. Often times, you'll find later in the season, at least with Family Guy, as the season gets later and we get more tired, you see a lot more sex jokes and (bodily function) jokes and signs of a fatigued staff that their brains are just fried."
The fact that Family Guy is back at all indicates how the television industry has changed, thanks to the DVD explosion -- and the continued proliferation of cable networks.
"The TV to DVD phenomena was something that didn't exist when we premiered and that was only six years ago ... Coupled with cable, it has completely changed the economic model and Family Guy is sort of the first example of that. I think for a live action show to be resurrected by strong DVD sales and strong rerun ratings, I think would be a long shot.
"Because it's just much more difficult to get a production like that back up and running, mainly because you need actors seven days a week who oftentimes have gone on to other things. To me, our biggest audience is the colleges. As far as the show being brought back, it was the adults 18-to-34-male audience that did it. That's the audience that we write for. I'm always actually surprised when younger viewers watch the show because there's so much stuff that I can't imagine that they possibly would get."
Don't expect that to change. Tonight's season premiere is replete with in-jokes, satirical asides and loads of those aforementioned sex and bodily function gags.
"As far as the characters themselves, we really wanted to keep the show exactly as it was.None of us had any desire to make it look any slicker.
"I think one of the things that makes the show work is that it does look kind of simplistic and underground."
Of course, neither man nor network can survive on ratings and DVDs alone, so Fox has unrolled a merchandising blitz to accompany Family Guy's return, hoping its cult following will pick up, among other items, a Live In Vegas soundtrack and a book detailing malevolent infant Stewie's plans for world domination.
"Certainly, with the show back on Fox, it's going to mean more merchandise and it's going to mean, I think, more bigger sales, I would imagine," MacFarlane says.
"There are certain types of products that I'm kind of more hands on with, most notably the Vegas album. That was something that was kind of a passion project for me and our composer, Walter Murphy, in which we spent a good year working on that. The Stewie book was something that was written by Steve Callaghan, who is the Family Guy writer and that would be something that I maybe was not as directly involved in."
And later in 2005, fans can expect a made-for-DVD Family Guy movie.
Predictably, MacFarlane is tight-lipped about the plot.
"It has to do with Stewie thinking he has found his real father and going off in search of him."
So Peter is not his real father?
"That's sort of what the movie is about. It has a nice third act twist that I think it takes it in a totally different direction that I think will surprise people."
The same might be true of American Dad, which is much more political than the affable, pop-culture-drenched Guy. "Part of it was you don't want to do the same show twice. You do want to do something different. Family Guy was created during the Clinton years. Obviously, this is a much more polarized political climate that we're now and it just seemed like the right time to do a show like this. All in the Family worked so well in the '70s during what was, I think, a very similarly polarized climate and it seemed like the right time to do a show like this."