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10 Questions with FAMILY GUY's Seth McFarlane - Part One
The creator of Fox's cutting edge animated show spills the beans
By Patrick Sauriol
September 11, 2003
Out this week on DVD is the second volume of FAMILY GUY
, Seth McFarlane's twisted, edgy, bordering on offensive and brilliantly funny animated series. After lasting three seasons on Fox where it was juggled around the schedule, FAMILY GUY
's luck appeared to finally run out when the show was cancelled by the network the season before last. But two funny things happened along the way into the land of re-runs:
1. When the first volume of FAMILY GUY
came out on DVD earlier this year, it became a surprise runaway bestseller.
2. When the show began appearing on Cartoon Network, ratings went through the roof.
Needless to say, Hollywood's bean counters sat up and took notice. This past spring Variety
ran a story mentioning the unexpected second life the show was having after it was off Fox. At the time there were rumors that Fox, now seeing mucho de niro
rolling in from hundreds of thousands of DVD sales, could be contemplating a FAMILY GUY
movie. (We'll have more on that later.)
And Seth McFarlane's rode through it all. The 30-year-old already had built himself a nice stable of animation credits before he pitched his idea for a dysfunctional Rhode Island family that was a heck of a long way from the network's other 2-D families in Springfield and down in Texas. Sure, THE SIMPSONS
and KING OF THE HILL
may have been more popular at the time to the suits at Fox but the comedy found in FAMILY GUY
was always riskier and more cutting edge. Often you found yourself laughing not just because of the gag itself but that they had gotten away with showing it on television.
In anticipation of the second volume of FAMILY GUY
coming out on DVD (and which contains the episode that Fox decided to not broadcast when the show was on the air), I had the chance to talk to McFarlane and ask him 10 questions. Sure, it turned out to be more like 15 or 20 questions but that's the advantage when the interview is going to appear online and you don't have to worry about how much space you have left on a page -- anyone want to complain?
Without further adieu, here's the man behind the voices of Peter, Brian and Stewie Griffin...I present to you, Mister Seth McFarlane!Q1: How did FAMILY GUY come about?McFARLANE:
Oh boy. I had written the FAMILY GUY
script while I was working at Hanna Barbara/Cartoon Network. I pitched it to Fox and they weren't buying any new animation at the time, but a year later they pulled it down off of the shelf (because KING OF THE HILL
had become a success for them) and they basically offered me a budget of $50,000 to do a 15-minute pilot, which is nothing given the fact that an animation pilot, a half-hour, costs close to a million.
And so I spent about six months animating this thing out of my house Q: So you're doing the animation? The writing? Everything??McFARLANE:
Yup. And I submitted it to them at the end of six months and they really liked it. They thought it was really funny and bought 13 episodes. And we re-did that story as the pilot with more professional animation. It's actually on the DVD set.Q: $50,000 to do an entire episode by yourself? Jeez, that's a ton of work.McFARLANE:
Yeah. I didn't have a life for six months.Q2: You provide the voices for three of the show's main characters. Was that something you always had in mind? Did you also have to provide the voices for all of the characters in the pilot episode?McFARLANE:
I did a fair number of them, yeah. It's...you know, I always sort of think that it's easier for me to get in there and do it myself than to try to get an actor. The writing style of FAMILY GUY
is such that, there's a lot of lines that in order to be funny have to be delivered a certain way. Often times it's difficult to get an actor to do it, not because they're not capable, but because the voice of the gag is so specific to my voice or the voice of the other writers, whomever had to pitch the joke.Q: Like Quagmire for instance?McFARLANE:
Yeah, yeah. It was also fun. It's a fun aspect. I like to act and it's kind of a nice little thing to have on the side.Q: How did you juggle writing for the show, showrunning it and hitting the voice studio? I mean, what was your week like?McFARLANE:
It was pretty extensive. I mean, I really only recorded maybe one full day out of the week. It would take us one full day to do an episode. So that, it wasn't unbelievably time consuming. And, it was worth it to do that.Q3: Now that FAMILY GUY has been a huge success on DVD and on Cartoon Network, the show is a bigger hit now than when it was on Fox. In your wildest imaginations did you ever think that it would end up like this?McFARLANE:
You know, it's validating and frustrating at the same time. We all kind of suspected that the show was more popular than it was allowed to be on Fox because it was moved around so much. We always kind of suspected that if people were able to find it, if people knew what night and it wasn't on a different night every week, then it would have been more popular. It's validating in a lot of ways. We kind of have this, 'Hah! We told you so!' sort of attitude. But for me personally I am surprised that it's sold this many copies and to read that it's beating Leno and Letterman in the ratings (which I don't know if it's still the case but it was a few weeks ago) is pretty incredible, pretty shocking.Q4: What was the easiest and what was the most difficult parts of making FAMILY GUY?McFARLANE:
The easiest part was, I guess...well, there was no easy part [laughs]. Everything was difficult.
The easy part was that I was working with a group of writers and artists who were such fantastic people, not only talented people but really great friends. We're all very close and we've all kept [in touch], we all still hang out together. It's a very close knit staff which you really don't see a lot. Staff will break up and move on to other jobs but the Family Guy staff, we're a very tightly knit group of people.
So that was what made it easy. Everything else was difficult. The hours were very long; it's very difficult to pack a show with that many jokes from week-to-week; there's not enough time to do anything; there's all these things that you would do different. But I think that's true for any television production.Q: How long would it take to write an episode from start to finish?McFARLANE:
To write an episode, from breaking the story to doing the draft to doing the rewrite, you're probably looking at close to a month. For the whole episode itself you're talking about nine months.Q5: True or false: the FAMILY GUY's youngest member, Stewie, is running for governor of California?McFARLANE:
The home video publicity department is really creative. They came up with this idea for Stewie to run for governor, so anyway I did this little piece of animation, a self-promotional commercial for Stewie that I think is running here and there. Q: Is he actually on the ballot?McFARLANE:
I don't know, I don't even think that's legal. I think you have to be at least a three-dimensional person to get on the ballot, which doesn't explain how Arnold Schwarzenegger got on.
* * *
Tomorrow I'll have the final portion of my 10 questions with FAMILY GUY
creator Seth McFarlane. Find out what's in store for the Quahog quintet and when you can expect to see them next in our exclusive scoop about the FAMILY GUY
movie, what the story may be about, and why ROCKY III
is in Seth's DVD player.FAMILY GUY - VOLUME TWO
is out this week on DVD. Own it like Paul Atreides owned Shai-hulud.