If you're a regular Bullz-Eye reader (and, of course, you certainly should be), you may recall that, a few months ago, we were fortunate enough to be able to speak briefly with "Family Guy" and "American Dad" creator Seth MacFarlane while he was doing a teleconference in his stead as the producer of the Fox sitcom, "The Winner." The key word was definitely "briefly," however, because there were plenty of other writers on the call, which led to our only getting to ask a few questions. Thankfully, MacFarlane is back on the publicity trail, pimping the DVD release of the second volume of "American Dad," and we were able to score a little one-on-one time with him. Read on to see how we quizzed him about his various series, the not-quite-platinum-selling "Family Guy" CD, and at the risk of being hung up on, we even asked him about the manatees. (The things we do for "South Park" fans.)
Seth MacFarlane: Hey, Will.
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Seth, how's it going?
SM: Good. How are you?
BE: Not bad at all, well, except for a little bit of a sore throat.
SM: Oh, that's not good.
BE: I was on the Fox teleconference a few months ago when you and Ricky Blitt were talking about "The Winner."
SM: Oh, sure, sure, sure.
BE: So what's the status of that show?
SM: Um, at the moment, we don't know. We expect to know within the week, and we're cautiously optimistic, but you never know with Fox. They're very…unpredictable.
BE: I would think that the creators of "Drive" are saying the same thing about now.
SM: (laughs) What, that they're cautiously optimistic?
BE: Actually, they probably aren't anymore! (Writer's note: Fox unceremoniously yanked "Drive" after only a few airings and is burning off the remaining episodes on July 4th, which is traditionally one of the worst nights of the year for TV ratings.) What were your thoughts about Fox putting the episodes of "The Winner" online before they'd actually aired?
SM: Well, since there were only six, I actually thought it was a good idea, because if "Family Guy" has proven anything, it's that the more time and exposure a show has, the better chance it has at building an audience. And, nowadays, if you're not a hit right out of the box, you're not going anywhere. "The Winner" did very well for the first six episodes, but I'm sure there are a lot of shows that could've become great shows that weren't given a chance to build an audience, just because executives get scared if something is not a hit right away. Which flies in the face of shows like "Seinfeld," which took time. It just takes time. That's something that, hopefully, they'll be able to re-learn, but who knows? But I think that…given that reality, I think it was a good idea to put the episodes online, because, again, there were only six of them, and they aired them all within three weeks. It's a little tougher, I think, to watch a sitcom online than it would be to watch a piece of animation; that's the only negative about it. That format is so based in television, and it's a little different to sit down and watch a multi-camera show on your computer. But I don't know.
BE: I didn't know if you felt like the show was being set up for a Catch-22 where the episodes are being put online so that people can watch them anytime they want, and since they've already seen them, they don't tune in when they actually air on Fox.
SM: There is that possibility, and we did discuss that. When "Family Guy" returned for its fourth season, as I recall, the season premiere was leaked onto the Internet beforehand, and it didn't hurt our ratings. I gotta figure that only a certain type of diehard fan is gonna watch an entire episode online before it airs.
BE: Okay, so, let's talk "American Dad." It's actually evolved a fair amount since it first debuted.
SM: It has. It has.
BE: Like, Stan's been, well, not really toned down, per se, but the prominent characteristics he's defined by aren't necessarily running every episode anymore.
SM: No, and that's (hesitates) There has been an effort to sort of expand what the series is. I think that show is definitely at its best when we do adhere to that central premise that we conceived when we created the show, which is that this is just a regular guy who happens to work for the CIA. But the shows really are centered around his family. We didn't want to do a CIA-centric show. I think that's what works so well about a show like "The Sopranos;" he's in the mob, but the best shows are really about that family.
BE: Now, your sister voices your daughter on the show. That must result in a weird family dynamic.
SM: (laughs) It's a little odd. Yeah, she did…when we were doing our initial 12-minute presentation for "American Dad," my sister did the voice of the daughter, and we presented it to the network, and when they picked up the series, we actually re-cast her with another actress. And the network saw the cut of the pilot and said, "Listen, we actually prefer your sister in that role. Would you be OK with having her do that?" And I said, "Well, yeah, obviously! That's fine!" It was a kind of nice, very honest way for her to get that role. If anything, it was working against her that we're related. But it was an honest way for her to get the party, anyway.
BE: I read that Roger the Alien is supposed to be a parody of sorts of Spewey the Alien, from "Get A Life."
SM: (uncertainly) What's that?
"('American Dad') is definitely at its best when we do adhere to that central premise that we conceived when we created the show, which is that this is just a regular guy who happens to work for the CIA. But the shows really are centered around his family." BE: I was just saying that I'd read that Roger is supposed to be a parody of Spewey, the alien from "Get A Life."
SM: God, y'know, I don't even know who that is! Roger's a parody of Paul Lynde!
BE: Well, yeah, I definitely knew that. You can tell that from the voice! But…
SM: Who is it, again? Stewey the Alien…?
BE: Dude, I swear this is in your Wikipedia entry.
SM: Is it really?
SM: See, that's the problem with Wikipedia, right there.
BE: But, yeah, anyway, it was this Chris Elliot sitcom called "Get A Life," and…
SM: Oh, yeah, I remember the show. I just don't remember...there was an alien character?
BE: I guess so. But if you go to the "Get A Life" Wikipedia entry, it says that the character was already kind of a parody itself, because they were basically making fun of "E.T." and "Mac and Me."
SM: Wikipedia is a scary thing.
BE: Yeah, I'll be going online to fix that right after we're done here.
BE: So how did you ever get Patrick Stewart on board as a semi-regular for "American Dad?" I know he's got a wicked sense of humor; was he already a fan of "Family Guy?"
SM: Uh, y'know, he's a guy who appreciates animation. And in my view, he is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, male actors alive today. The breadth, just the diversity of what that guy has done astonishes me. When you look at it…obviously, he's done Shakespeare and still does Shakespeare. He did hour-long television drama in Captain Picard, he did "Saturday Night Live"…
BE: Oh, that was classic.
SM: …and, you know, he's obviously done animation, with a show like "American Dad." And then, on "Extras," he gave a performance that's as subtle as anything I've seen on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." It was that show that made me realize, "This guy can do anything!" And he does it all successfully. He does it all very, very well. And then, of course, he's done "A Christmas Carol" on Broadway. I mean, he's…I can't think of any other actor who's done all of those things as successfully and as well as he has. And I really wish Hollywood would recognize that this is about as good as it gets! (laughs)
BE: I didn't know until, literally, today that you had done a couple of episodes of "Star Trek: Enterprise."
BE: That must've been a dream come true, 'cause I know you're a big "Trek" fan.
SM: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. My producing partner, David Goodman, at the time was writing on "Enterprise," because "Family Guy" had been cancelled, and there were some "Family Guy" fans over there, so they thought it would be fun for me to come on and do the show. Pretty cool looking sets over there. Definitely fun to walk around that place.
BE: As far as "Family Guy," does the criticism that you get from the show sometimes…well, basically, do you just take comfort in the kajillions of dollars that you pull in from merchandising?
SM: Yeah, y'know, the criticism…well, it certainly depends on the criticism. If it's from a source that I respect, then, obviously, I'll take it seriously. But if it's from, like, the Parents' Television Council, then they can suck my dick.
BE: There you go.
BE: You realize that that's gonna be in big block letters as a pull quote, right?
SM: Yeah! Do it! Do it, man!
BE: When the Family Guy: Live in Vegas CD came out. Well, I mean, I'm a big Rat Pack fan, so, musically, I totally understood where you were coming from, musically, but, um, did anyone else refer to it as "MacFarlane's Folly"? Because I just can't imagine that the average teenage "Family Guy" fan would embrace it immediately, if at all!
SM: You know, it was an interesting experiment. As lush as it sounds -- it was a 55-piece orchestra -- and given what it costs to make an album, it really wasn't that costly to do. It's just that nobody chooses to use an orchestra in most cases and in most currently released CDs, and, y'know, we use an orchestra every week on the show. The musical style is something that…I mean, it's exactly what fans hear each week on the series; it's just that there are no visuals. And because of that, we thought we should maybe push the edginess of the content just a little further and maybe hear some words that you can't hear on TV. You know, it's interesting: the album kind of went under the radar in a lot of ways. I rarely hear anyone mention it. Even when it came out, it just kind of came and went. It may be that anyone who would appreciate the sophistication of that kind of music might not necessarily appreciate "Family Guy," and vice versa. So that was one theory as to maybe why it didn't make a whole lot of noise. But I still hold out hope that it will maybe be rediscovered at one point, because it was a year of work to do that thing. I'm particularly proud of the work that Walter Murphy did with his orchestrations; I mean, there are some amazing, classic-style orchestrations on that album, and it really was an impressive thing to watch the band play that stuff. But it's really gone relatively unnoticed. I don't think a lot of people know…I've talked to a lot of fans who don't even know that it's out there.
BE: I know that Alex (Borstein, the voice of Lois Griffin) is doing a pilot: "The Thick of It." Have you heard any word about that getting picked up.
SM: Not yet. It's funny, I haven't really… (hesitates) That's the Christopher Guest pilot, right?
SM: Yeah, I actually don't know anything about the pilot itself. I've talked to briefly about it, and I know she's really excited about it, and she's thrilled to be working with him, but I don't know anything about the pilot itself.
BE: Now, if that were to be picked up, how would that affect "Family Guy?" I mean, I guess you can do the audio recording at pretty much any time.
SM: It wouldn't affect "Family Guy." We'd just work around her schedule. Animation voiceover is a very flexible…has a very flexible timeline. I mean, we've managed to schedule Drew Barrymore, so I think we're in good shape. We'll just work around that show.
BE: Do you ever get tired of people asking you do "do Stewey" or "do Peter"? (Writer's note: MacFarlane does the voices of both characters, as well as that of Brian; but, then, you probably already knew that.)
SM: Um, y'know, that in and of itself doesn't bother me. It's just the annoyance of having to come up with a funny line at a moment's notice. I can never…I never have the right thing. Even if I'm just pulling something out of the show, I never have it at the tip of my tongue.
BE: Okay, and…
Friendly Neighborhood Fox Publicist: Hey, Will, can you ask your last question…?
BE: I can, indeed. And, in fact (laughs nervously) I've got an editorial staff full of "South Park" fans, so I would be remiss if did not ask if you can see the manatees from where you are, and if you can, would you pet them for us?
SM: (laughs) I will do that. I will do that. (laughs)
BE: And, of course, the sidebar to that question is, how did you first react when you heard about that episode of "South Park," or when you first saw it?
MacFarlane: "The 'Family Guy' criticism…well,
it certainly depends on the criticism. If it's from
a source that I respect, then, obviously, I'll take
it seriously. But if it's from, like, the Parents'
Television Council, then they can suck my dick."
Bullz-Eye: "You realize that that's gonna be in big block letters as a pull quote, right?"
Seth MacFarlane: "Yeah! Do it! Do it, man!"SM: Um, you know, I didn't even know about it until about a week before it came out, and…I'll say this: it can only be a good thing that they spent two half-hours of air time talking about us. (laughs) I mean, that's sort of the way that I look at it. I mean, "The Simpsons" has taken shots at us before, and that's what animated shows do, and I think that's what they should do. There's been some recent concern from Fox about us taking shots at "The Simpsons," but why I don't really know. But, you know, that's something that, with animated shows, is kind of par for the course. I was astonished that they devoted that much time to talking about us, because…I don't know those guys. I know Matt Groening, and he's just one of the nicest guys, one of the most grounded guys that I've met in the business. He has all of this enormous success, and it just doesn't affect him; he's just a real good guy. And I don't know Trey and Matt. I've met Trey once. I certainly get a very different vibe from them than I do from Matt. There's nothing Hollywood about Matt Groening. (laughs) So I don't really know whether they hate or resent "Family Guy" as much as they imply. I really just have no idea. I kinda took that episode with a smirk and, again, any show that wants to promote "Family Guy" for two weeks in a row is all right by me!
BE: All right! Well, good talking to you again. I appreciate it!
SM: All right, cool. Thanks, Will!