Irreverent products complement "Family Guy's" irreverent humor.
It's colorful, slapstick and juvenile, but when it comes to product, "Family Guy" is the anti-Saturday-morning cartoon.
Cases in point: Packages of "Family Guy" merchandise carry the rating TV-14, letting parents know that the hit Fox series and its tchotchkes aren't meant for the little ones. Halloween costumes, T-shirts and other clothes are produced in adult sizes only, and much of the merchandise is sold through specialty adult-skewing retailers.
And in another grown-up move, Fox executives recently signed a deal with Atlanta-based MDI Entertainment for lottery tickets based on the animated property. Expected to hit first in Rhode Island, the home of the mythical Peter Griffin and his clan, "Family Guy" lottery tickets could eventually be available in a number of other states.
"The edgier the better," says Elie Dekel, executive vp at 20th Century Fox's licensing and merchandising division, which handles "Family Guy," "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill" and other properties. "As the show pushes the boundaries of biting, sarcastic humor, we try to emulate that in product."
There's plenty of fodder on screen, with Peter heading a household that includes Stewie, his evil genius baby, and a martini-loving mutt named Brian. The show veers wildly from crude toilet humor to astute social satire, peppered with catchphrases that work perfectly on notebooks, key chains and arcade-style pinball machines.
"It has great graphics, great characters and great slogans," says Michael Stone, president and CEO of licensing consultancy Beanstalk Group.
In the last two years, its merchandise program has grown swiftly, gathering 80 licensees in the U.S. It speaks to a demo that's both coveted and elusive: young males, mainly teens to college students.
"Family Guy" has become a powerful brand in that short time, with 9 million DVDs sold in the U.S. and another 4.3 million internationally (more than a half-billion dollars worth), along with products as varied as fine art, books, shot glasses, talking pens and Xbox games.
It hasn't yet approached the merchandising stratosphere of "The Simpsons," now in its 19th season and considered the gold standard of animated properties.
Homer, Bart and the rest lead the pack: The show continues to take in $600 million a year in retail sales after ringing up an estimated $1 billion in the show's first decade alone.
Fox's parent, News Corp., is nurturing "Family Guy" to be another billion-dollar franchise, with distribution as varied as Borders bookstores, Urban Outfitters, Office Depot, Target and Kmart.
A new co-branded line plans to dig further into the core market. Fox has linked with Texas A&M for shirts, hoodies, hats and other apparel that co-mingle the Griffin clan with the school's mascot and colors. Deals with other colleges are in the works.
Further cementing the show as a cultural touchstone, Fox execs have a newly hatched agreement with Lucasfilm for products based on "Family Guy's" recent "Star Wars"-themed season premiere. The limited-edition product will hit shelves by holiday time.
Glendale, N.Y.-based Changes was Family Guy's first licensee, signing onto the property because of Internet buzz among young men. A longtime "Simpsons" licensee, the company has a stable of entertainment properties that includes "Transformers," Halo and DC Comics characters. Last year, "Family Guy" was its best seller.
"It's a natural for product," says Will Thompson, vp licensing. "And Fox lets us be really creative with it -- we don't hold back."
"Family Guy" is the top-selling teen and young adult licensed getup for Disguise Inc., a Southern California manufacturer of Halloween costumes. By far the favorite is Stewie, which includes an oversized foam head and red bib overalls with an easy-open flap at the rear end that reveals a prosthetic butt.
"Twenty-year-old guys like to dress up like Stewie and moon people. It's a scream," says Stephen Stanley, Disguise's executive vp. "Obviously, it pushes the envelope."
Kids, avert your eyes.