Seth MacFarlane: The Restless Mind of a Complicated Cartoonist
Seth MacFarlane secretly wishes "Family Guy" would end as he expands his multibillion-dollar empire with "The Flintstones," a shockingly well-received singing career, talk of a potential "Star Trek" reboot and an astonishing ambition to not be pigeonholed.
This story appears on the cover of the new Hollywood Reporter magazine.
It's a steamy day in early September and the Family Guy writers and producers are huddled in the lobby of a nondescript third-floor office in Los Angeles. 20th Century Fox TV chairman Gary Newman checks his watch while his partner Dana Walden makes small talk with Fox's Kevin Reilly and Peter Rice. They're all waiting on the man of the hour: Seth MacFarlane, who's 20 minutes late.
"I just called him," says one writer, shoulders shrugging at his boss' perpetual tardiness.
"He's on Seth time," another one quips. Ten more minutes pass before MacFarlane appears, his mop of jet-black hair seemingly unbrushed and uniform polo shirt and jeans wrinkled. He rips a pair of iPhone buds out of his ears, takes a seat at the head of a conference room table and turns to page one of Family Guy's 200th episode script. Unlike the boisterous staff seated before him, MacFarlane seems uncomfortable with the fuss being made of the milestone. With others around the table still cheering, he holds up the 43-page script with a nod that suggests it's time to begin. For the next 15 minutes, MacFarlane transforms into his characters, ping-ponging between a martini-swilling dog and a matricidal baby. As they're whipped through a fictional time machine that has vomit flowing backward, MacFarlane's corporate bosses, now crammed into a row to his right, have let any earlier frustration with his delay give way to wide grins.
How can they not? In an era of fractured viewership and hard-to-come-by hits, MacFarlane, 37, is at the white-hot center of a multibillion-dollar empire, one that continues to deliver younger viewers, hefty syndication revenue and the kind of merchandise studio heads drool over. Not to mention the practical piece: MacFarlane's characters never age. Last year alone, his programming generated nearly $200 million in ad revenue, according to Kantar Media.
And what the Emmy winner lacks in time management, he makes up for in output, as evidenced by the many other projects he's added to his resume in recent years. There's American Dad!, now in its eighth season, along with Family Guy spinoff The Cleveland Show, upcoming offering The Flintstones, passion project Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey and a fifth animated series he's preparing to pitch shortly. That's in addition to his feature film directorial debut, Ted (out next summer), his surprisingly well-reviewed big band album, Music Is Better Than Words, his rash of talk show appearances including HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher and his string of gigs as Comedy Central's roast-master (most recent victim: Charlie Sheen).
"This is a business where hyperbole -- 'genius,' 'whiz kid' -- can be thrown around, but Seth is really one of a kind," says Fox entertainment president Reilly, who keeps a framed picture of the Family Guy characters signed by MacFarlane in his office.
"He's a comedy savant," Newman adds of a man whom his studio signed to an unprecedented five-year, $100 million-plus deal in 2008. In a celebratory speech following this day's table read, Newman suggests MacFarlane verbally commit to re-upping for the entirety of the studio chief's tenure.
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