“American Dad” creator-exec producer Seth MacFarlane recognizes that the animated Fox comedy probably will not get the same treatment in the media as “The Simpsons” or “Family Guy” did when those series reached 100 episodes, and he also knows his success may be partly to blame.
“It’s kind of getting to be par for the course,” MacFarlane explains. “The more animation represents itself as a serious force in the television landscape, it’s becoming less of an anomaly (to reach 100 episodes). It did seem like ‘Family Guy’ made a bit more noise, but that also had something to do with that fact that ‘Family Guy’ had to struggle. It made (the milestone) that much more dramatic.”
In contrast, “American Dad” has remained a comparatively stable presence in Fox’s Sunday-night lineup since its 2005 premiere introduced viewers to CIA agent Stan Smith and his family, which includes a talking goldfish and a space alien named Roger. (MacFarlane gives voice to Stan and Roger.)
MacFarlane, who also exec produces Fox’s “Family Guy” and “The Cleveland Show,” credits the success of “American Dad” to its ability to differentiate itself from “Family Guy” thanks to his fellow “American Dad” creators and exec producers.
“Under the guidance of Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman, ‘American Dad’ has become its own animal,” MacFarlane says. “It’s really developed its own voice under their guidance. The fact that I have not been so 100% hands-on the way I am with ‘Family Guy’ has allowed that show to feel like something other than a carbon copy of ‘Family Guy.’ I run into a lot of people, much more than I used to, who actually prefer ‘American Dad’ to ‘Family Guy.’?”
With three series on the air, MacFarlane, recently named to Vanity Fair’s 16th annual “New Establishment” list as one of 13 influential TV fixtures, said his primary goal is to keep his creative interest high.
“If I can operate in such a way that keeps me enthusiastic about whatever projects I’m working on day-to-day, that’s all anyone can ask for,” he says. “The trick with ‘Family Guy,’ because it’s been going on for so long, is not to get bored, and there are times when I am, and that’s when we try to shake things up like the Brian and Stewie trapped-in-a-vault episode.”
“The Cleveland Show” is just entering its second season, and “American Dad” is comfortably settling into middle age as it begins season six, but MacFarlane says he’s uncertain how long “Family Guy,” now in its ninth season, will continue. “The Simpsons” has remained in production for more than 20 years, but he doesn’t foresee that happening with “Family Guy.”
“I kind of feel like ‘Family Guy’ is better served going off the air after 12 seasons,” he says.
Dana Walden, chair of Twentieth Century Fox Television, says MacFarlane’s passion is what drives his shows.
“I don’t think you could know Seth or have a professional relationship with him and have an expectation that his brand could survive beyond when he’s excited about what he’s doing,” she said. “At the point Seth has no more to say about the world in the form of those characters and that storytelling, the show will be done, I believe.”
To help keep his interest in his day jobs, MacFarlane has been getting involved in side projects, whether it’s appearing on HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher,” emceeing the Comedy Central roast of David Hasselhoff or taking an acting role in a live-action project (last fall he appeared on ABC’s “FlashForward”).
“I don’t have any specific designs when it comes to broadening that part of my career,” he says. “On the one hand, it’s just not as profitable as what I’m doing now, and on the other hand, I like to let the project dictate what my involvement and in what capacity it would be.”
MacFarlane is also branching out in other areas. He’s at work on a big-band album for Universal Republic, and he’ll soon direct his first feature, an animated, live-action mix about a man and his teddy bear, for Universal.
“You never want to be thought of in just one particular way,” he acknowledges. “That’s something in recent years I have been fairly aggressive about, not with a specific eye toward acting but a general attempt to cover a wide berth of creative areas. The album will be something that shakes it up in a different way.”
Walden says MacFarlane’s ability to appeal to a broad audience is key to his success.
“There are jokes in his shows which play to young men, which play to my mother and her generation, which play to my children, and there are jokes that fly over my kids’ heads that are too sophisticated,” she says. “He’s an enormously humble, wildly intelligent, a very bold creator and very courageous. He never really edits himself, and that’s scary. He follows his gut. If he thinks a topic is relevant and makes him laugh, he’ll go for it.”