MacFarlane special loses Microsoft

Company yanks sponsorship of Fox show

Microsoft has yanked its sponsorship from Fox’s upcoming Seth MacFarlane comedy/variety special over content concerns.

Fox still plans to air “Family Guy Presents: Seth and Alex’s Almost Live Comedy Show” on Nov. 8, but with another, yet-to-be-named, sponsor.

“Almost Live Comedy Show” was announced earlier this month as part of a major marketing partnership Microsoft had sealed with a wide range of News Corp. properties to promote the launch of the computer giant’s Windows 7 operating system. As part of the deal, “Almost Live Comedy Show” was set to run commercial-free, with Microsoft marketing messages built into the special instead (Daily Variety, Oct. 14).

But that was before Microsoft execs attended the special’s taping Oct. 16. The program included MacFarlane and Alex Borstein — the voice of “Family Guy” matriarch Lois — pitching Windows 7.

For most of the special, however, MacFarlane and Borstein made typical “Family Guy”-style jokes, including riffs on deaf people, the Holocaust, feminine hygiene and incest.

Such material was apparently a bit much for Microsoft.

“We initially chose to participate in the Seth and Alex variety show based on the audience composition and creative humor of ‘Family Guy,’ but after reviewing an early version of the variety show, it became clear that the content was not a fit with the Windows brand,” said a Microsoft spokeswoman. “We continue to have a good partnership with Fox, Seth MacFarlane and Alex Borstein and are working with them in other areas.  We continue to believe in the value of brand integrations and partnerships between brands, media companies and talent.”

In announcing the deal, Microsoft consumer engagement/advertising general manager Gayle Troberman had said she wasn’t concerned about how Windows 7 might be treated on the show. The company may have been optimistic, however, in believing that MacFarlane and Borstein wouldn’t be as raunchy in live performance as their animated alter egos are on “Family Guy.”

In fact, the animated portions of “Almost Live Comedy Show” were the tamest parts of the show — it was the live-action segments (such as one in which MacFarlane and Borstein play Latino housekeepers) that probably raised the most eyebrows.

Microsoft sent MacFarlane and Fox several notes expressing their concern over the show’s content but ultimately decided just to drop out.

MacFarlane and Borstein pitched Windows 7 live in front of the studio audience in the middle of taping “Almost Live Comedy Show.” It’s unclear how the show will be edited and whether the duo will have to shoot new scenes with the replacement sponsor.

Specials vet Ken Ehrlich produced “Almost Live Comedy Show,” which included the “Family Guy” 40-piece orchestra led by Walter Murphy.

Although Microsoft is no longer a part of “Almost Live Comedy Show,” the rest of the company’s marketing deal — which still includes a “Family Guy” component — remains.

Beyond the MacFarlane special, Microsoft’s multimillion-dollar deal with Fox One encompasses a wide range of News Corp. properties, including Fox Sports, FX, Hulu, FoxSports.com on MSN, Fox Licensing and Merchandising and 20th Century Fox TV. Partnership includes a 12-week college tour sponsored by Fox Licensing and Merchandising — featuring events such as “Family Guy”-themed movie nights.

Fox decided to air the “Almost Live Comedy Show” special as part of an all-MacFarlane night on Nov. 8.

MacFarlane will host the evening via interstitials. Along with “Almost Live Comedy Show,” Fox will air new episodes of MacFarlane’s other series that night — “American Dad” at 7:30, “Family Guy” at 8 and 9 and “The Cleveland Show” at 9:30.

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