Dysfunctional family live in the fictional town of Quahog, Rhode Island.
1999 - present.
Few television shows have had more lives than this prime-time animated series. ‘Family Guy’ has been knocked for its vulgarity, its similarity (to put it mildly) to the older and more-established ‘The Simpsons’, and its crude cartoon style. But there are enough viewers who love the show–faults and all--enough to keep it on the air and even bring it back from the dead after its original cancellation. ‘Family Guy’ has also made its creator, Seth MacFarlane, one of the richest television producers in America.
Connecticut-born MacFarlane, who is also an actor, received a degree in animation at the Rhode Island School of Design. He had wanted to work at Disney but changed his mind, calling the company “Satan.” Instead, he was hired at Hanna-Barbara, which was purchased by cable mogul Ted Turner. MacFarlane did animation for several programmes on Turner’s Cartoon Network, including ‘Johnny Bravo’ and ‘Dexter’s Laboratory.’ While studying at RISD, MacFarlane did a thesis film entitled ‘The Life Of Larry’, about a middle-aged slob named Larry Cummings, his wife and his talking dog Steve. In 1996, MacFarlane was tapped to do a sequel to ‘The Life Of Larry’ for Cartoon Network’s show World Premiere Toons. It was entitled ‘Larry and Steve’, and MacFarlane did most of the characters’ voices. Executives at 20th Century Fox studios saw both shorts and gave MacFarlane a deal to develop a series based on the characters. ‘Larry and Steve’ eventually evolved into the characters Peter Griffin (Larry) and Brian the dog, and became ‘Family Guy.’ The series was picked up by Fox Broadcasting, which saw the series as a companion to its other prime-time cartoons, ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘King of the Hill.’
When the show began, Peter Griffin was a blue collar worker for the Happy-Go-Lucky Toy Company and lived in Quahog, Rhode Island with his family: wife Lois; 16-year-old teen Meg; 13-year-old son Chris, and the youngest member of the family, one-year-old Stewie, a homicidal infant who always tried to undermine the Griffin family and destroy the world (for some strange reason, he spoke with a British accent). Peter, a rather obese, dense and insensitive man, did care about his family (though it was beleaguered Lois who was the brains of the clan).
There have been other recurring ‘Family Guy’ characters, including airline pilot and oversexed bachelor Glenn Quagmire; delicatessen owner Cleveland Brown; police officer and paraplegic Joe Swanson; paranoid Jewish psychiatrist Mort Goldman; and the mayor of Quahog, actor ‘Adam West’ (who is voiced by the former 'Batman' star).
‘Family Guy’ made its debut after Fox’s coverage of the Super Bowl on January 31st, 1999, and was watched by 22 million viewers. But the series run did not begin until April 6th of that year. Only seven episodes aired before ‘Family Guy’ returned in the fall. Fox moved the show to its Thursday night lineup, where it was clobbered by NBC’s long-running ‘Frasier.’ The show was taken off the air for a short time, and Fox executives had considered yanking ‘Family Guy’ permanently. But a power shift at the network–combined with letters and messages from fans–brought ‘Family Guy’ a temporary reprieve. The new network team ordered 13 more episodes for a third season. But pitted against two formidable Thursday night shows, ‘Friends’ and ‘Survivor’, the show again scraped the bottom of the ratings. It would not get another chance. Fox pulled the plug on ‘Family Guy’ once and for all, with the final third season episode airing in April 2002.
But again, fate stepped in–or in this case, the new television landscape. In 2003, reruns of ‘Family Guy’ aired on Cartoon Network’s late night schedule (known as “Adult Swim.”) Fans watched–and as it turned out, there were many of them. In fact, the ‘Family Guy’ reruns became the top show among adults and young men in its cable time slot–sometimes even beating the established ‘Tonight Show With Jay Leno’ and ‘Late Show With David Letterman.’ Also in 2003, 20th Century Fox released ‘Family Guy’ as a two-volume collection on DVD. It sold over two million units, more than any other television series collection on DVD that year. Fox executives looked at the figures and began negotiations with Seth MacFarlane.
In March 2004, Fox announced it would buy 22 new episodes of ‘Family Guy’, to air starting in early 2005. Taking no chances, Fox moved the show to its Sunday night “Animation Domination” block, along with ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘King of the Hill’. When the return episode premiered on May 1st, 2005, it was actually a flashback from the last original episode of 2002, when Peter announces to the family that the series was cancelled:
Peter: Unfortunately, there’s just no more room on the schedule. We’ve just got to accept the fact that Fox has to make room for terrific shows like ‘Dark Angel’, 'Titus’, ‘Undeclared’, ‘Action’, ‘That 80's Show’, ‘Wonderfalls’ and ‘Greg The Bunny’. The joke: All those series were also cancelled by Fox. But the return of ‘Family Guy’ was no fluke; the ratings held up against strong Sunday night competition as ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Cold Case’, usually winning its time slot with younger and male viewers. Fox quickly renewed the series for another season, and it continues on the schedule to this day.
Not everyone is a fan of ‘Family Guy’. Some critics call it a second-rate version of ‘The Simpsons’ (when the show made the cover of “MAD” magazine, Peter and the family are depicted as Simpson clones, right down to their yellow skin and Marge Simpson’s blue bouffant hairdo on Lois). In a 1995 “TV Guide” magazine interview, MacFarlane dismissed the feud between the two cartoon shows: “You know, it's funny — (Simpsons creator) Matt Groening and I actually have a great relationship. We've talked several times in the past few weeks and joked about this. One day out of nowhere [this rumour] pops up in papers and magazines...Matt's just a cool guy, and fortunately neither of us was ruffled by any of that stuff. We just laughed it off.”
Another enemy of ‘Family Guy’ is the conservative “Parents Television Council,” which calls the cartoon “not recommended for viewers under age 18.” Says the PTC: “Family Guy is rated red (its worst rating) for sex. Although the show is intended to be a satire of the American family, it depends heavily on oblique sexual innuendo and sexual themes such as incest, bestiality and paedophilia. The premiere episode of the show’s 7th season centred on Brian’s new girlfriend, who has sex with everyone but Brian. Violence can often be a problem in this series....Language is a major issue....Anatomical references are commonplace.”
No doubt the PTC has seen the November 2005 ‘Family Guy' episode called “PTV,” where Peter forms his own television network after an unusually protective Federal Communications Commission starts clamping down on television when (according to the show) actor David Hyde Pierce experiences a “wardrobe malfunction” during the Emmy Awards telecast. One of the episode’s highlights included a musical tribute to the American regulatory agency, with this spot-on final stanza:
So they sent this little warning they're prepared to do their worst
And they stuck it in your mailbox hoping you could be coerced
I can think of quite another place they should have stuck it first!
They may just be neurotic or possibly psychotic
They're the fellas at the freakin FCC!
It’s those moments that can make you forgive some of the faults of ‘Family Guy’. Certainly, the folks at 20th Century Fox have made their peace. In 2008, the studio announced a major deal for show creator Seth MacFarlane, reportedly worth $100 million. Under the deal, MacFarlane will continue to produce ‘Family Guy’ through the year 2012. For all its faults (along with its virtues), it’s nice to see a little bit of anarchy in the world of American broadcast television.
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