Last week “Family Guy” reached a milestone few in the TV universe that few ever see.
The venerable Fox sitcom celebrated its 200th episode Sunday with a one-hour bash that included a half-hour retrospective (9:30 p.m.) and a new episode (9 p.m.). The latter featured callbacks to past events in the series as Brian and Stewie encounter a form of time travel where all activity happens in reverse (the episode is titled “Yug Ylimaf,” which is, of course, “Family Guy” spelled backwards).
Series creator Seth MacFarlane credits exec producer Mark Hentemann, who wrote the episode, for coming up with a fresh take on time travel.
“Some episodes I’m very involved with and others I executive produce from afar. It just depends what else is going on,” explains MacFarlane, who directed the summer box office comedy hit “Ted” and is set to host the Oscars in February. “The 200th came about after ‘Ted’ and it was something I paid special attention to.”
Fox chairman of entertainment Kevin Reilly says MacFarlane remains close to the series, even if he’s not physically present in the production offices as much.
“As an executive you hope you can make suggestions and observations and a showrunner will take it and come back to you with something even more inspired. I’ve found with Seth that has been the case every time,” Reilly says. Most long-running series burn brighter culturally at the start of their run than 10 seasons in, but “Family Guy” remains on the pop culture radar, particularly for young male viewers. Candace Havens, managing editor of TV blog FYI Television says “Family Guy” continues to entertain, even if it’s not in the same communal way it once did.
“At first it was a show our family could all sit down and watch together and laugh,” she says, noting that her twentysomething-age kids continue to tune in. “One son watches on his computer at college and it’s the one show where if he’s having a bad day, it can get him out of a bad mood.”
MacFarlane says it’s easier for animated series to stay relevant 10 seasons into their run, more so than a live-action program.
“You look back at earlier episodes of animated shows and the only thing that gives away their age is that in earlier episodes the animation may be cruder. Once you get to season three or four, it doesn’t really matter,” MacFarlane says. “Maybe an occasional reference gives it away — “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” isn’t a reference we’d make now — but you have an advantage of not falling into that ‘Friends’ trap where you see the hairstyles and it suddenly looks dated and very much of a specific era.”
Fox 20th Century Fox TV chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman believe “Family Guy” benefits from its multigeneration appeal.
“There is this huge fan base that only grows over time as young people get within the age range they start hearing about it,” Walden says. “I have a 12-year-old daughter and she’s not allowed to watch it yet but it’s all she can talk about.
Newman says it helps that even as “Family Guy” adds new fans, existing viewers tend to stick around.
“People don’t tire of that show,” he says. “The humor is unique and specific and they really hold themselves to a very high standard.”
MacFarlane doesn’t see an end in sight.
“As long as there is an audience, people are getting something out of it, it’s funny and fans want to keep watching, it makes sense to keep it on the air,” MacFarlane says.
But he also sounds a note of caution.
“Can you think of any show that entered its best years after season seven? It’s always that internal conflict that begins to flare when this issue is brought up.”
Reilly says he expects “Family Guy” to be around for many more seasons.
“Not only does it perform on our air, it’s a consistent performer in syndication and the digital marketplace,” he says, pointing to popular clips on YouTube and the show’s popularity on Hulu. “This show has consistently demonstrated the ability to stay on top of and in front of the culture. That will keep the show vibrant for a long time.”