Five Fox Execs Explain Why They Canceled -- Then Revived -- 'Family Guy'
Execs dish on the wacky pitch, the devastating cancellation and a thwarted plan to have Seth MacFarlane host the Oscars.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
President of alternative programming at the Fox Broadcasting Co.
"Seth came into my office as an unknown, right out of Rhode Island School of Design, basically. He sat down and did a little scene and some of the voices. Honestly, I thought he was either crazy or a genius. Turns out he was a genius. I gave him about $40,000 to make me a two- to three-minute animatic. Instead, he took that $40,000 and he cashed out every credit card he had and delivered us a full pilot. Everybody was incredibly impressed with the pilot. We put it on after the Super Bowl."
Former entertainment chief at Fox (now co-owner of BermanBraun)
"Shortly after I arrived at Fox, I ordered additional episodes of Family Guy because I felt that even though it wasn't performing well, it was very funny. I remember calling Seth to tell him and he was so grateful. I don't think he thought anybody was going to throw the show a life preserver. But again, the show didn't perform. I remember the disappointment of canceling it, and then the added disappointment of coming home to my son, who had heard at school that somehow his mom was involved in the cancellation of Family Guy and he was appalled. He was waiting for me when I walked in the door. I was completely attacked by everyone in my own home for it. But then I had one of the rare moments in life -- certainly in network life -- when you get to bring something back from the dead. I got to come home and tell my son, 'I'm bringing it back.' It was a wonderful full circle and pretty awesome to have that happen during my tenure."
Chairman of 20th Century Fox Television
"My first memory of my first meeting with Seth -- at the time I was head of business affairs -- he came bounding in with glasses as thick as a Coke bottle. He could not be goofier or sweeter and more enthusiastic. After the show was canceled years later, we made a deal with Seth, and he developed a lot of comedy ideas. He'd come in for meetings, and after those meetings he would drop into my office and say, 'We've got to get back into production on Family Guy. We could get everyone back, and we could produce episodes and in six months we could be back on the air.' I had to tell him, 'Seth, the only problem with that plan is that the network doesn't want it.' He would be relentless. Every couple of weeks he would poke his head in or call me on the phone. The story that's told a lot is that we put the series out on DVD and gave it to Cartoon Network [for its Adult Swim block] on a free trial for a couple of months, and it did very well. At about that time, I was speaking to a group of college kids at Yale who wouldn't stop talking about how much they loved Family Guy."
Chairman of 20th Century Fox Television
"That's not how the story went! The story went that Gary and I would go to update our boss at the time, and every single time, Gary would say, 'I know I'm a broken record, but I just want to talk one more time about Family Guy given what's going on in the home entertainment market and what's going on at Cartoon Network,' until finally my boss said directly to Gary, 'If you bring up Family Guy one more time, I am going to have to fire you.' So a few weeks later, we're walking over for another update meeting, and Gary says, 'I'm going to bring it up.' And I said, 'Go at your own peril.' And so Gary went in and it was finally the moment that our boss said, 'OK, if you're prepared to get fired over this and you're still staying with it, maybe we should consider it.' "
Chairman of entertainment at the Fox Broadcasting Co.
"It's impossible to think about the Fox brand without animation, and animation has really been defined by the one-two punch of The Simpsons and Family Guy. By traveling the unconventional path that the show did, I don't think that anybody would have imagined that it could have gotten this big and sustained for this long. At this point, I think it's maybe at the middle of its run. I think [my predecessors] used to collectively fret over it a little bit more, and I just made a fundamental decision when I got here that we have other things we need to be fretting over, you know? The show had a track record, and it was pretty clear that it is an equal-opportunity offender. I would do anything with Seth. We ordered the primetime special [Family Guy Presents: Seth and Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show in 2009] with Seth and Alex Borstein a few years ago because I knew that guy had on-camera talent, too. If I have any regrets, it's that we haven't been able to figure out the weekly [live-action] thing with him yet. He has a lot of talents, and he now has the desire to start perusing those other things. I'd give him a late-night show tomorrow, frankly, if he had the time. Now he's hosting the Oscars for God sake, so I think that is only the beginning of the onscreen stuff. The irony, and I've never said this to him, is that had we had the Emmys this year, I would have offered it to him, and I was actually going to talk to him about the Emmys next year and then I read the story about him getting the Oscars and was like, 'You have got to be kidding me.' I'm going to look at that as one big audition."
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