Behind Seth MacFarlane's NBCUniversal Deal: Flexibility, Freedom and $200 Million

Ultimately the creator was won over by the possibility of doing more than writing and animation.
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Seth MacFarlane

Four months after WarnerMedia's company-wide pact with J.J. Abrams, NBCUniversal also has leveraged its multiple outlets to land Seth MacFarlane.

The creator of multibillion-dollar franchise Family Guy left his decades-long home at 20th Century Fox TV on Jan. 10 for what sources say is a five-year, $200 million overall TV deal. Under the pact, MacFarlane will create new content for the company's entire portfolio — and have the ability to sell to outside buyers like Netflix — while maintaining his status as a free agent on the film side.

The MacFarlane deal is NBCU's biggest since the overalls market exploded in late 2017 (although Dick Wolf will soon easily top it) and offers the prolific producer and The Orville star — who is expected to continue acting — freedom to create what sources describe as a varied slate that includes musicals, political dramas, historical anthologies and animated shows. MacFarlane (Joy Fehily, Jackoway Austen) already has multiple projects in the works for NBCU, and he is particularly interested in developing for ratings-challenged basic cabler Syfy.

"What is exciting about working with a multifaceted talent like Seth is that we as a studio can give him the latitude to create across both internal and external platforms," says Dawn Olmstead, president of cable- and streaming-focused Universal Content Studios, who played a key role in the deal. "Seth's scope and desire is impressive. He and [production company Fuzzy Door topper] Erica Huggins want to create for broadcast, cable and streaming. It's going to be a very busy and fruitful partnership."

NBCU emerged on top following a yearlong process that saw MacFarlane meet with Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Warners, Sony, ViacomCBS and Disney, the latter of which involved multiple talks with longtime friend and former 20th TV head Dana Walden.

The process, which one source compared to feeling "like a school tour," boiled down to Disney and NBCU. MacFarlane will remain in business with Walden and continue work on Fox's Family Guy, Hulu's The Orville and TBS' American Dad, but ultimately, sources familiar with the deal say, he was won over by the possibility of doing more than writing and animation. 

This story first appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.