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Oscars 2013: Who Is Seth MacFarlane?

The “Family Guy” boss and Comedy Central roast master will bring his biting sense of humor -- and surprising musical chops -- to Sunday’s ceremony.

Seth MacFarlane Oscars - P 2012
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Seth MacFarlane

As the 85th Academy Awards ceremony approaches, some viewers will find themselves wondering: "Who is Seth MacFarlane? And why is he hosting the Oscars?"

The Family Guy creator at first seemed an odd choice for the Academy, with several Comedy Central roasts among his hosting credentials, but viewers got a small taste of what to expect from MacFarlane during the Oscar nominations announcement in January.

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"I read Amour was co-produced in Austria and Germany," he joked during the Jan. 10 announcement. "The last time Austria and Germany got together and co-produced something, it was Hitler. But this is much better. Highly recommended."

Among his other memorable jokes was one aimed at the best supporting actress nominees, including Anne Hathaway and Sally Field, in which MacFarlane congratulated them with, "You five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein."

The Hollywood Reporter’s chief television critic Tim Goodman praised MacFarlane's first outing for the Academy.

“No matter what MacFarlane did at this quick, if unconventional, appearance, he's going to be a lightning rod for criticism,” Goodman wrote. “However, on Thursday he did nothing more than be himself. … It might have been a little quippy for people who are not that familiar with his brand of humor, but it was right on tone for his fans.”

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The choice is a far cry from last year's Billy Crystal, who has guided the telecast nine times, but lest we forget the Academy's ill-fated first choice for 2012: Eddie Murphy. The comic and Tower Heist star quit the gig in the midst of a publicity nightmare for director Brett Ratner, who resigned from his position as Oscars producer after making several offensive public remarks and ultimately was replaced by Brian Grazer.

MacFarlane, no stranger to offending audiences, also has proved himself more than simply a crude humorist through successful forays into filmmaking (Ted), music (his Grammy-nominated album, Music Is Better Than Words, had one critic comparing him to "a latter-day Dean Martin") and political activism, indicating that viewers should expect the unexpected during Sunday’s broadcast.

In THR’s current Oscars issue, MacFarlane’s sister Rachael confesses that her big brother was “not a typical child” but one who listened to movie scores in the car and could imitate Ronald Reagan and Michael Dukakis.

“I really think he’s going to strike a chord with older audiences and younger audiences,” says the younger MacFarlane. “He’s this brilliant marriage of that Old Hollywood charm with the cutting-edge brand of humor he brings to his work.”

The Kent, Conn., native undoubtedly will appeal to a younger male audience, which has rocketed MacFarlane's Fox cartoons Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show to consistently high ratings. This week, 4.85 million viewers tuned in to Family Guy, which earned a 2.4 rating among adults 18-49. But hiring MacFarlane -- who boasts nearly 3.7 million Twitter followers -- isn't the Academy's first attempt to target younger viewers. Anne Hathaway and James Franco famously hosted the 2011 ceremony, which was immediately lambasted by critics and audiences alike.

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In THR’s October 2011 cover story, MacFarlane confessed to a love of Broadway, which should come in handy during the multiple musical segments that are par the course for the annual ceremony. Among this year's new plans: a closing number alongside Broadway veteran Kristin Chenoweth. Of pursuing a project on Broadway, MacFarlane said, “If I did a Broadway musical, I’d probably want to do something a little more old fashioned.” Referencing South Park co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s wildly successful The Book of Mormon, MacFarlane adds: “I wouldn’t necessarily do something that was as edgy as what they have done. The challenge to me would be along the lines of, ‘Gosh, can somebody write Oklahoma! for 2011?’ ”

But if you’re still perplexed by the Academy’s decision to put the voice of several foul-mouthed cartoon characters in front of the year's biggest awards show, you’re not alone. MacFarlane admitted to THR in 2011 that he liked the idea of hosting the Emmys one day but imagined that the crude nature of the roasts had killed any chance of that happening.

So will MacFarlane stick to the script? Play it safe? Or pull a Gervais? Audiences will find out when MacFarlane hits the stage Sunday at the Dolby Theatre.