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Seth MacFarlane is on the move.
Following a decades-long relationship with 20th Century Fox Television, the Family Guy mastermind has signed a rich nine-figure overall deal with NBCUniversal Content Studios. Sources say MacFarlane and his Fuzzy Door Productions banner will create and develop new TV projects for across the media giant’s portfolio, working with cable- and streaming-focused Universal Content Productions as well as broadcast-leaning Universal Television in the division fronted by Bonnie Hammer. The pact, per sources, is for five years and a total of $200 million. Sources say the deal includes a signing bonus as well as overhead for his Fuzzy Door shingle. This is the first sizable talent deal since NBCU’s studios were aligned under Hammer.
In addition to continuing his work on current shows like Family Guy, MacFarlane is said to be excited to create new projects for across the NBCU fold, including for basic cabler Syfy. Sources say he’s interested in starring in and producing musicals, political dramas and anthologies around historic events in addition to working on new animated projects. He already has multiple projects in the works for NBCU — though none of them are animated (yet). The pact also keeps MacFarlane a free agent when it comes to film work, meaning he’s able to write, act , produce and direct for any studio as features remain a top priority for Fuzzy Door. The company’s feature banner has brought in grosses topping $800 million thanks to Ted and its sequel, as well as A Million Ways to Die in the West.
“Seth’s voice resonates across multiple demographics and mediums. We all admire his ability to create audacious commentary with bold, yet relatable, humor and I look forward to working with him behind and in front of the camera,” Hammer, who serves as chairman of NBCUniversal Content Studios, said Friday in a statement. Added NBCU Content Studios vice chairman George Cheeks: “NBCUniversal is known for creating some of the most talked-about television and we know Seth’s fearless voice will continue this storied legacy.”
MacFarlane has been without an overall deal since last summer, when his most recent pact with the now Disney-owned 20th TV expired. The actor, writer, showrunner and voiceover veteran wanted to focus first on acting — he’s fresh off Showtime’s The Loudest Voice in the Room and next has season three of the Fox-turned-Hulu dramedy The Orville — before turning his attention to his overall deal. Sources say MacFarlane met with the usual suspects around town — including Netflix, Amazon and Disney — and had been seeking a deal worth $40 million per year to start. He has quietly spent the past five to six months taking meetings in a courting process that one source compared to feeling “like a school tour.”
“All of us at UCP are huge fans of Seth’s work in television and film,” said UCP president Dawn Olmstead, who played a key role in the deal. “In my household, where the ages range from 11 to 52, Seth falls somewhere between an icon and a god. Whether it’s comedy, drama, science fiction, animation or musicals, his virtuoso knows no boundaries. This, combined with our shared desire to play in every sandbox that the industry has to offer, is why I believe we can be a great home for all of his creative pursuits. Plus, working with him just made me much cooler to my kids.”
Disney, sources say, bowed out after hearing MacFarlane’s initial $40 million annual figure and rumblings that the Family Guy and American Dad creator did not want to do another animated show. It’s unclear if animation will be a priority for MacFarlane at NBCUniversal. (Universal Television currently has one animated series on the air, Fox’s Amy Poehler-produced Duncanville.)
MacFarlane’s move to NBCUniversal ends a decades-long relationship the prolific producer had with 20th TV and former studio (and Fox) chief Dana Walden. The two, who have been colleagues and friends for the past decade-plus, are said to have met during MacFarlane’s courting process with Disney, where Walden now serves as chairwoman of Disney TV Studios and ABC Entertainment.
“I am extremely honored to be partnering with Dawn Olmstead and the entire UCP team,” MacFarlane said. “My relationship with Universal predates this new chapter, and if my experience producing television with UCP is anything like the experience I’ve had producing films with the company, it will be an exciting and creatively fulfilling one for me and for Fuzzy Door. I’m especially inspired by all of the opportunities that NBCUniversal Content Studios has to offer with George and Bonnie at the helm. I will remain indebted to my good friend Dana Walden and the team at 20th for their collaborative partnership over the years, and I look forward to our continued work together on Family Guy, American Dad and The Orville.”
The news arrives as Disney now controls ownership of Fox’s Family Guy, TBS’ American Dad and The Orville. MacFarlane is said to have so-called carve-outs that allow him to continue working on all three shows for Disney’s 20th TV — as well as other preexisting development for the studio, including the Hulu movie Books of Blood and new development at Fox. Family Guy — which is a multibillion-dollar franchise and the first show MacFarlane ever pitched — is in the first season of a two-year renewal that will take it through its 19th season at Fox. American Dad is locked up at WarnerMedia-backed TBS through 2020 and its 15th season, with talks already underway to extend the show beyond that. The Orville — on which MacFarlane also stars — will debut its third season and first on Hulu this year. Sources say no decisions have been made if The Orville will wrap with season three or continue on at the Disney-owned platform that is also the exclusive streaming home for both Family Guy and American Dad, with the former one of its most-watched acquired shows. Family Guy — on which MacFarlane tied an Emmy record in 2019 with his fourth voiceover win — remains a top priority for MacFarlane, who brings four of the show’s central characters to life. The series, per sources, will run as long as he wants to do it.
Added Walden: “One of my oldest memories from Fox is of a young Seth MacFarlane hanging out in the halls of the studio. He entertained us all with his incredible wit and hilarious observations. He is a brilliant artist and a great friend, and there is no one we root for more than him. As a fan, I look forward to whatever he creates next, and as his studio partner on Family Guy, American Dad and The Orville, I feel lucky to be continuing an extraordinary partnership.”
Erica Huggins, who runs Fuzzy Door, will continue to oversee both film and TV projects for the company and make the move to NBCU as well. The company next has Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, due in March for Disney-owned National Geographic.
While 20th TV was still owned by Fox, MacFarlane was among the cadre of showrunners who were openly critical about working for a company with ties to Fox News. In summer 2018, MacFarlane was among those who voiced their embarrassment over their personal affiliation with the owners of Fox News. He went on to donate $2.5 million to NPR and its Los Angeles affiliate KPCC, with the funds directly benefitting NPR’s Collaborative Journalism Network. MacFarlane’s relationship with Fox ended in March when Disney acquired 20th TV, among other assets, as part of its $71.3 billion deal. His overall deal with 20th TV expired three months later.
MacFarlane is the latest high-profile showrunner to depart 20th TV and Disney after the overall deals space exploded. Shonda Rhimes (ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy) left her longtime home at ABC Studios for a $100 million Netflix deal, while Ryan Murphy (FX’s American Crime Story) departed 20th TV and also went to Netflix in a pact worth an estimated $300 million. 20th TV, for its part, has kept several high-profile producers in its stable as new parent company Disney doubles down on creators to provide a supply of content across its TV portfolio. This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman — who was at ABC Studios before departing for 20th TV — renewed his deal earlier this year, while Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan, Empire‘s Lee Daniels and New Girl‘s Elizabeth Meriwether, among several others, all renewed deals with the studio after it became part of the Disney portfolio.
For NBCUniversal, meanwhile, onetime Oscar host and songwriter/musician MacFarlane should be considered a big “get.” He joins a roster of producers at Universal TV and UCP that includes Dick Wolf (the Law & Order, Chicago and FBI franchises) Mike Schur (The Good Place), Lorne Michaels (Saturday Night Live), Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot), Larry Wilmore (Black-ish), Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Amy Poehler (Russian Doll), among others. NBCUniversal Content Studios was launched in October when Hammer effectively swapped oversight of the streamer Peacock for the company’s centralized studio operations.
In an extensive interview with The Hollywood Reporter in December, Hammer said she would take a selective approach to the increasingly common nine-figure overall TV deals in her new role. “You have to be smart about it. … There will be times where we believe it’s important enough to the entity, whether it’s Peacock, NBC or a USA, where we basically close our eyes, hold our nose and jump,” she said. “The smart thing that we’re doing is that Belinda Menendez’s world of [global] distribution will now fold into the studios, so we’re going to be looking at and structuring deals with the backend in mind as well. Before, [global distribution] reported to somebody else and we were lucky if they could sell [a show] after the fact.”
NBCUniversal is currently putting its focus on its ad-free streaming service, Peacock, for an anticipated April launch as the company’s linear cable and broadcast ratings continue to erode. The competition for established and well-known showrunners who have the ability to juggle multiple projects at once has heated up as legacy media companies like Disney, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia enter the streaming space and look to compete with streamers both new (Apple) and established (Netflix, Amazon). Peacock will feature a collection of scripted originals — like a new take on Battlestar Galactica and a Saved by the Bell sequel — alongside library content from across NBCUniversal’s brands. Comedy will be a cornerstone of the platform, which will have exclusive domestic streaming rights to the entire Saturday Night Live library as well as The Office and Parks and Recreation. Other shows, like 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights, will eventually be exclusive to Peacock once their other SVOD pacts expire. Additional details about Peacock are expected to come during NBCUniversal’s investor presentation on Thursday.
MacFarlane is repped by manager Joy Fehily and Jackoway Austen.
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