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Seth MacFarlane stressed two things Tuesday evening when meeting with reporters at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour. He is sick of pop culture painting a uniformly bleak vision of the future, and his new show is not going to contribute to that.
“It can’t all be The Hunger Games,” MacFarlane said, plugging his new Fox show The Orville. “There has to be an aspirational blueprint for [a future] where we get our shit together.”
The Orville, given a straight-to-series order in early 2016, will finally premiere Sept 10. And while the hourlong has been described as both a comedy and drama, its actual tone is something that has evaded description. MacFarlane, speaking as both creator and star, says that’s intentional. “The show is seeking to break a bit of new ground, tonally,” he said. “It’s not something that has been done on TV in recent years, at least in the hourlong format … we really do see it as a sci-fi comedic drama. We allow ourselves room for levity in the ways that a traditional hourlong show doesn’t.”
Echoing a question posed to Fox chief Dana Walden earlier in the day, MacFarlane and executive producer Brannon Braga were pushed on the show’s obvious similarities to Star Trek. The Orville, like Star Trek, follows the crew of a spaceship bopping around the galaxy.
“Star Trek itself sprang from a lot of different shows before it,” said MacFarlane, seemingly confidant about The Orville not drifting too close to one of its sources of inspiration — mostly because it will never be quite as serious. “I miss the hopeful side of science fiction. That flourished in the ‘90s. Some shows did it in a more cheesy fashion, and some shows, like Star Trek, did it a little more seriously.”
Star Trek, which hasn’t had a TV home in over a decade, is being revived this fall with the launch of CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Discovery — something that did not have The Orville‘s producers visibly concerned. “I think there’s room for two shows on a spaceship,” added Braga, who has a lengthy tenure on the Star Trek TV franchise as a producer on The Next Generation, Voyager and Enterprise. There’s more than two cop shows. There’s more than two hospital shows. I don’t see it as us competing with them.”
Over the course of the panel, MacFarlane made references to Star Trek and Mel Brooks’ slapstick Spaceballs in equal measure. That kind of dichotomy, per the Family Guy creator, is what The Orville is going for.
“You should be able to write any kind of story each week and surprise your audience,” he said. “Your characters should remain intact. That’s really what we’re trying to do here.”
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