'Family Guy's' 250th Episode Was Written by Seth MacFarlane's Assistant
Jaydi Samuels penned the episode, which sees Peter Griffin attempting to beat up Liam Neeson.
A version of this story first appeared in the May 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
May 3 will deliver a significant 30 minutes of television for the Family Guy team. On that date, Fox will air the special 250th episode of Seth MacFarlane's animated hit. But the episode also has huge significance in the life of 29-year-old female scribe Jaydi Samuels: It marks her TV writing debut.
The South Florida native has been working on the show since the fall of 2008, working her way up through the ranks from PA to coordinator to her current position as MacFarlane's first assistant. The mogul, who is known to be kind to his hard-working staff, gave Samuels the huge opportunity to freelance an episode for season 13 by writing "Fighting Irish." THR had a chance to catch up with Samuels to get the skinny on her debut, the perks of working for one of Hollywood's busiest creators and her advice to showrunners looking for fresh female voices.
Let's start from the beginning. Can you give me an overview of your career and how you got started?
I went to the USC screenwriting program and when I graduated I didn't have any contacts in television. I had done a bunch of internships in film and [when I neared graduation] I had a change of heart and realized that I had to work in TV. And since I didn't know anyone, I went on IMDb — when it was more resourceful than creepy — and looked up, literally, every scripted show in production, and I tried to find as many crewmembers as possible on Facebook, ranging from PAs to executive producers. I got some very interesting responses; I had coffee with people. It just so happened that one of the PAs who was leaving Family Guy was one of the people I had contacted, unknowingly. I have no idea why, but he left them my résumé on his way out the door, even though I had never met him before. So I got my foot in the door there, and the interview went well and I got hired in August 2008.
How did you land on Seth's desk?
I was a PA on the show for about a year, and I got bumped up to production coordinator. The whole time I was there, I was sort of gunning for Seth's desk because he had a great reputation for promoting former assistants if they could prove themselves. When I heard that he was looking for a second assistant, I really wanted it. I heard that it was maybe going to this other person who one of the producers knew better. So I wrote Seth a letter. I had never really spoken to him before, but I figured if I approach him with this letter and they think I'm doing something unprofessional and they want to get rid of me, that's fine. All I want to do on the show anyway is work for Seth directly. So I waited until he was alone in the kitchen and I handed him this letter stating why I should work for him and why I was the best person for the job. And I ended up getting an interview and he hired me. I have been one of his assistants now for three years.
What's the best part of working for Seth?
He's a great boss. This was my first full-time job after I graduated, even though I had so many jobs before and had worked for so many different people. I worked for Scott Rudin as an intern and at Warner Bros. None of them were negative experiences …
Not even working for Scott Rudin?
He's challenging, but he's a brilliant guy and his taste is impeccable. [Aside from working for Seth], I have never learned so much at a job. Yeah, there are absolutely challenges, but Scott knows what he's doing and there's a lot to learn from, if that's what you're seeking.
Back to Seth: What's the best part?
Getting to be backstage at the rehearsals for the Academy Awards is an experience I'll never forget. Having my own parking spot there for a week. He flies private so there's a lot of time he's traveling and I've been able to accompany him to different events. That's always a nice perk. He's really great about exposing the people who work for him to all aspects of what he does. You're not just scheduling or answering the phones, you're part of the process. You can sit in on orchestra sessions on the scoring stage. There hasn't been any part of Family Guy or his movies that I've expressed interest in that I haven't been able to first-hand witness his process.
What's the hardest part?
The challenge is that he's working on so much all at the same time and having to stay on top of that and be aware of what his priority is on any given day.
What is the milestone episode about?
The gist of it is that every time Peter gets drunk, he brags to his friends that there is a celebrity that he can beat up. The friends finally have had it after Peter does this multiple times. They say that they want to find this person and have Peter prove it to them, knowing full well that Peter is just not capable. There were different actors tossed around to play the celebrity — we had discussed Bruce Willis, Michael Chiklis and someone came up with Liam Neeson. At that point we just knew he was our guy because so many jokes came up and Seth had worked with him on A Million Ways to Die in the West and he had that relationship already. And Liam, now having heard him record, he was so open and down for anything. There wasn't a single joke that he even requested revisions on. He was an absolute pleasure to work with, and I'm glad that we landed on him as our guy.
Now that the show is done and you've seen it, how do you feel about the final product?
I'm super excited about it. It's really fun to see how it started as this general concept and how my draft compared to what we read at the table read to what's onscreen. There's something to be said for that collaborative process. I really don't think there is a single person alive who could write a draft completely on their own of anything where it couldn't be improved upon with 10-20 people punching it up. My favorite part of the process was watching it get even more elevated from its original form because of the awesomely talented people working on the show.
What did Seth say about it?
I guess you have to ask Seth (laughs). He's so busy I don't normally talk to him about myself or my contributions because every time we speak it's communicating what's happening with his schedule that day. But I guess you have to ask him. Given that he gave it his blessing to make it the 250th episode I would imagine that it's one of his favorites but you have to confirm that directly with him.
Can you single out your favorite Family Guy episode?
Gary Janetti wrote this unbelievable episode where Stewie and Brian are trapped in a bank vault. The entire episode — it might be the only one on our entire show that had no cutaways — it was just the two of them sitting in a room together talking. It was really funny but there were some dark moments and it was very philosophical. It was really cool. Because Seth plays both Stewie and Brian, the table read was essentially Seth having a conversation with himself for the entire half hour. It was so brilliant and well-written.
The challenges faced by women in this business and the lack of good, creative opportunities for women is an important issue. What do you think is a good solution?
The people who can help with that the most are the showrunners and studio executives who make those hiring decisions. I've read so many interviews about this subject — I'm very interested in it — and you hear a lot of times that there aren't enough women out there who are interested or who submit to these shows. The wiser ones who have answered that question say that if you aren't getting enough on your desk, seek them out. In my case, I just wrote an episode that is becoming the 250th of Family Guy and who knows if I will get staffed or not, but I know that my script or other samples of mine won't necessarily get in front of some showrunners. And some of those showrunners are people who have said that they don't know enough female comedy writers out there. My answer would be for those people to seek them out. They are certainly out there. Writers rooms are always stronger when you not only have diverse backgrounds, but diverse voices.