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Seth McFarlane’s ‘Family Guy’ beat the odds

Network brought the show back when it proved popular on cable
/ Source: The Associated Press

He’s a family man, evil infant, talking dog and sarcastic alien.

Meet Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Fox’s “Family Guy” and “American Dad,” as well as the voice of many of the characters on the two witty and ribald animated series.

This day, at a table reading for an episode of “Family Guy,” MacFarlane as title character Peter Griffin sings a song about working, works his way through baby Stewie’s biting commentary, and invests Brian the mutt with lively common sense.

He also subs for so many other roles — later to be filled by guest actors — that eventually even he, in an exchange between Brian and Peter, gets the voices mixed up — to a chorus of laughter from some 60 people gathered in the conference room at MacFarlane’s office.

Among them are network watchdogs scribbling notes, undoubtedly marking extremes of sexual and religious humor that may not make the final cut in this post-Janet era. “We give them a few red herrings that we figure they would take out,” MacFarlane says.

Although he wonders why the standards and practices people get so upset sometimes, he credits them for generally being reasonable, “particularly with the pressures they are under right now with the FCC.”

‘Too excited to gloat’Fox originally canceled “Family Guy,” but has picked it up again, along with his new series, “American Dad.” MacFarlane says he recognizes the cancellation was a business decision the network was entitled to.

But now, in response to the success of the “Family Guy” DVDs and reruns on the Cartoon Network’s late-night “Adult Swim” lineup, 35 new episodes, along with at least 13 episodes of “American Dad,” have been ordered by the network.

The half-hour shows, which got a prominent kickoff following the Super Bowl telecast in February, begin airing regularly on May 1, in the 9 p.m. ET time slot.

“I’m too excited to gloat,” the 31-year-old MacFarlane says, laughing.

Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman, co-creators and executive producers of “American Dad,” say it helps to be “twisted” if you work with MacFarlane.

Latest McFarlane adventure“American Dad” is about Stan Smith (voiced by MacFarlane), a trigger happy CIA agent obsessed with national security. His ultraliberal daughter, Hayley, is voiced by MacFarlane’s younger sister, Rachael. Roger, a space alien also voiced by MacFarlane, lives in the Smiths’ attic, and the family circle includes Klaus (Dee Bradley), a German-speaking, sexually obsessed goldfish, the result of a CIA experiment gone wrong.

MacFarlane says the show’s concept “sprang from the climate during the (presidential) election ... a very politically charged time, with the whole country split in half.”

He’s a big fan of “All in the Family,” which satirized the sharp cultural and political divisions in the 1970s, and feels “that’s what we are dealing with now.”

A liberal on most issues, MacFarlane co-created in Smith a right-wing character who is “completely the other end of the spectrum.” But he says, “It’s interesting, because by its nature, it does keep us in check from getting on a soap box, because at the end of the day, you have to like your main character.”

So there’s equality of thought in the parodying of the absurdities of both Stan’s knee-jerk reactionism and Hayley’s ultraliberalism.

“Originally we intended for Hayley to be the voice of reason, but as it’s gone along, it’s much funnier to play a little more extreme,” says Barker.

The visual style is the same on both the Griffin- and Smith-family shows — which are hand-drawn in Korea — but Weitzman believes what most clearly marks the difference between the two is that “American Dad” has “much less non-sequitur humor than ‘Family Guy’ ... We are more narrative.”

MacFarlane freely acknowledges his influences and inspirations. He’s a fan of “The Simpsons” and of Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” cartoons, in which the “animals were always drawn completely real. If you look at his cows, there’s nothing cartoony about them — other than that they are standing on their hind legs. But those leg joints are like real cows, only these have names like Warren, Paul and Steve.”