‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Family Guy’ Animation Domination: An Evolution

Family Guy Dana Walden Gary Newman

Diversifying is key to impact of 20th TV animated shows

Of all the shows 20th Century Fox Television produces, it’s the animated ones that have taken on a life of their own.

“The two most profitable TV series the studio has ever done are ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Family Guy,’ ” says 20th TV chairman and CEO Gary Newman, who joined the company in 1990, shortly after the yellow-skinned Springfield family branched off from “The Tracey Ullman Show” into its own animated sitcom, battling NBC’s top-rated “Cosby Show” to a near-draw in its second season. A decade later, he worked with Seth MacFarlane to adapt his animated short “Larry and Steve” into what would become “Family Guy.”

“I think what really stands out about those two series is both came from creators who had a very specific and strong vision, and in both cases, the people responsible for that vision have stayed in control of the show,” Newman says.

Twenty-five seasons into “The Simpsons” — a show so established that a good percentage of its audience isn’t old enough to remember a time when the series wasn’t on the air — executive producer James L. Brooks still attends every table read, while creator Matt Groening continues to serve as keeper of the brand, signing off on all ancillary and consumer-product opportunities.

As proof of the series’ continued popularity, Electronic Arts’ “The Simpsons: Tapped Out” app ranks as the top mobile game of the year, and Universal Studios Orlando expanded its Simpsons ride into a full-blown section of the park earlier this summer.

“Similarly, ‘Family Guy’ is just as much Seth’s baby,” Newman says.

Despite recent steps into the live-action world — which include helming last year’s hit “Ted,” and directing and starring in the 2014 oater “A Million Ways to Die in the West” — MacFarlane remained closely involved with not just “Family Guy” but two other Fox-produced shows as well: “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show” (a “Family Guy” spinoff that ended its 88-episode run in May).

Along with Loren Bouchard’s “Bob’s Burgers,” these toons constitute Fox’s formidable “Animation Domination” programming block on Sunday nights. The production division, which Newman oversees with fellow chairman-CEO Dana Walden, also makes toons for other outlets, including “Brickleberry” for Comedy Central.

The process for creating TV animation has changed dramatically over 25 years, shortening what used to be a nine- to 15-month production cycle to only four to six months. In the past, if something important like an election was happening and “The Simpsons” writers wanted to riff off the current president, they’d have to include a “donut” in the show, leaving a hole in the animation that could be filled at the last minute. Now, thanks to the digital revolution, animated shows can be much more relevant.

“If you’re shooting a live-action multicam show, you can be on the air with it two weeks later, so it’s possible to be very current,” Newman says.

Despite the painstaking animation process, the toon format has always offered certain advantages over traditional sitcoms.

“At an obvious level, your cast doesn’t have to age like they do in live action,” Newman says. “(In live action,) 10 years in, those cute 7-year-old kids are now young adults. Bart Simpson is the same age he was when the show started, and Stewie’s going to be a young, precocious, insane baby for the duration of that series.”

One of the biggest changes in Newman and Walden’s job descriptions this year has been the addition of syndication and distribution duties, which sparked the announcement that “The Simpsons” will finally be headed to cable, once it finds the right partner.

“It just felt as if the show isn’t losing any of its creative steam,” Newman says. “Rather than continuing to wait until it goes off the air, we think it’s an enormous opportunity for whichever cable network decides to step up to it.”

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  1. john says:

    I always looked forward to the Fox’s animation domination, but there had been times when it didn’t air as some football game or baseball game aired instead. DOH!

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  4. I have never missed a single episode of family guy, i absolutely love it.i have ‘mAde’ a few friends that have never watched it watch it(against their own will) and they are now addicts like myself.as long as fox lets seth have free reign of writing, family guy will never die.
    And everybody thought Uncle Chip to be an awesome character and im quite sure we can expect a few cameos of him in future episodes.

    • Rena Moretti says:

      I could not disagree more. Every time I was exposed to Family Guy, I failed to even smile. As for Seth MacFarlane’s voice “talent” the less said the better.

      • occultology says:

        Rena, Family Guy is like the reverse of a great wine. Only watch the post 2003 episodes and ever after, with the most recent years’ vintage being absolutely sparkling and outrageously delightful.

  5. Jeff says:

    And yet Rena, the show has been saved from cancellation 4 times I believe…

    YOU may not find Family Guy funny, but there are plenty of people like myself that do. It’s remained edgier as opposed to the Simpsons, which I do still enjoy despite it’s relative timidity in recent years.

    I like Seth’s other shows as well, but none quite capture the attention so much as the original antics of the Griffins…

    • Rena Moretti says:

      The fact that it should have been cancelled four times already says a lot about its “popularity”.

      I do agree with you on The Simpsons however. I was just thinking that in the old days they would not have shied away from making fun of our sitting president, no matter his party. Today, they don’t dare as much, which is too bad.

      • Get_owned says:

        clearly it is popular if its been brought back so much you idiot the only reason you don’t think its popular is because you don’t like it.

        also Seth Mcfarlane must be talented if everything he makes is usually a big hit like ted for example and his character voices on family guy are perfect you don’t know what you are talking about

  6. Rena Moretti says:

    I think it’s ridiculous to conflate The Simpsons and that other show.

    The Simpsons was a bone fide cultural phenomenon and an incredible hit (it was still Top Three on FOX after 15 seasons if I recall correctly).

    Family Guy is a me-too show that quite unfunny, was never a hit and keeps being produced for reasons unknown – apart that someone at FOX has made it their goal in life to force feed the untalented Seth MacFarlane down our collective throats.

    • Family guy is far more hilarious than the simpsons, hands down.take your negetivity elsewere, please.and thanks.

      • Rena Moretti says:

        Why should I stop speaking because you disagree with me? I don’t ask you to stop liking what you like.

        Of course my main point was that Family Guy is so far removed from the hit the Simpsons was that putting both in the same sentence is just wrong, regardless of quality.

    • Evan Rauh says:

      Spend more time with grandkids. Family Guy is far more relevant to the new generation then the Simpsons are. Seth MacFarlane changed the way humor is presented in the 21st century.

      • Rena Moretti says:

        How “relevant” is Family Guy given its low-low ratings? It’s routinely #7 or #8 on Sundays. IF you look at actual ratings, you realize how empty the hype really is.

        As for Seth MacFarlane, I do think that he hasn’t changed anything (thankfully!) except in redefining how to make millions while producing flops and insultingthe company dedicated to making your fortune (that IS his special talent!)

    • Luke Orgeron says:

      Hey, did you know that your opinion doesn’t fit well with the mainstream opinion of the show. Most people I know think Simpsons is tired and should have been cancelled 10 years ago and that family guy is cool and relevant. Times change buddy. It’s not ’92 anymore. The show no longer has any cultural relevance anymore, but it definitely USED TO.

      • Rena Moretti says:

        And yet The Simpsons still had more viewers than Family Guy the first two weeks of this season.

        What you all don’t seem to realize is how tiny the audience for Family Guy is (and was as it was never a hit).

        The fact you read gloriously laudatory articles that FOX’s PR keeps planting in the press doesn’t mean it’s actually popular with real people.

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