Seth MacFarlane set for variety special

Show is part of Microsoft marketing deal

“Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane is stepping in front of the camera to star in a variety special for Fox next month.

MacFarlane will partner with thesp Alex Borstein for “Family Guy Presents: Seth and Alex’s Almost Live Comedy Show,” to air Sunday, Nov. 8, at 8:30 p.m.

Instead of commercial breaks, “Almost Live Comedy Show” (which is a working title) will run for a full 30 minutes — but with marketing messages throughout the program for Microsoft’s new Windows 7 operating system.

The spesh is based on the “Family Guy Live” showcases that MacFarlane and Borstein, the voice of “Family Guy” matriarch Lois, have staged throughout the country. It’s part of a marketing deal that Fox Entertainment Group sales unit Fox One has struck with Microsoft.

MacFarlane and Borstein are working with Microsoft agencies Universal McCann and Crispin, Porter and Bogusky to write and produce the messages that they’ll give in between the special’s animated and live-action performances.

Fox One president Jean Rossi compared the integrated Windows 7 ads to the early days of television, when vaudeville-style shows like “Texaco Star Theater” featured live commercial messages pitched by stars between acts.

“We’re going through the run-through (on Wednesday), so how this will look we don’t know yet,” she said. “But Seth and Alex will step offstage and into the commercial and do a pitch.”

In one segment, for example, the duo will use what is described as ridiculous and bawdy comparisons to describe what’s “as simple as Windows 7” and what’s “more difficult than Windows 7.”

Rossi said the idea first came about after Fox decided to air the “Almost Live Comedy Show” special as part of an all-Seth 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 p.m., “Family Guy” at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. and “The Cleveland Show” at 9:30 p.m.

In deciding how to sell the “Almost Live” special, the net chose to get a single sponsor and contacted Microsoft, which it knew was set to unveil Windows 7 on Oct. 22.

“The timing was perfect,” Rossi said.

Despite “Family Guy’s” signature edgy humor, Microsoft consumer engagement/advertising g.m. Gayle Troberman said she wasn’t concerned about how Windows 7 might wind up being treated on the show — particularly because the company is working closely with MacFarlane in crafting the brand’s messaging.

“The format of the show lends itself to collaborating and creating content together,” she said. “Having done a lot of branded entertainment, the best results come when you’ve got the creative agencies, the Hollywood writers and talent and the brand coming together.”

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, 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.

MacFarlane is no stranger to marketing partnerships: His Internet series “Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy” was distributed through Google via a sponsorship deal with Burger King.

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