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Fox bets its chips on young 'Family Guy' creator

Web posted on:
Tuesday, February 09, 1999 11:47:05 AM EST

A NewsStand: CNN & Entertainment Weekly Report
From Correspondent Michael Shure and Producer Janet Janjigian

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- It's a sunny California morning, and Seth MacFarlane is walking into the lobby of the Ritz Carlton-Huntington Hotel. As a doorman greets him, he leans over and asks a companion, quietly, "Am I supposed to tip these guys?"

It's all new to MacFarlane: One minute he was toiling away at Hanna-Barbera, and the next he was the Fox network's boy wonder. His brand-new animated show, "Family Guy," had the honor of premiering last week in one of the most-watched time slots TV has to offer -- the Sunday evening slot right after the end of "Super Bowl XXXIII."

In MacFarlane's creation, chockful of his unique sure-to-offend sense of humor, the Griffin family -- dad Peter, mom Lois, teen-age son Chris, baby Stewie and the family dog, Brian, all characters their creator knows and believes in -- interact in a crude, non-PC, and very, very funny way.

"When I first saw Seth's student film, I laughed out loud," says Leslie Kolins-Small, the Fox executive who discovered MacFarlane. "And I was alone, so I knew that was a very good sign."

Kolins-Small was on the lookout for raw talent when she saw MacFarlane's student film, featuring truly dysfunctional characters which he had written, animated and voiced.

If you enjoy substance abuse jokes, "Family Guy" is the show for you

A cheap date?

"He's an executive's dream," Kolins-Small says, "because he is one-stop shopping. He's the man of a million voices, and it's ready-made. Prepackaged, ready-made. All you have to do is give him lunch now and again." According to her, he doesn't eat, "so he's a very cheap date."

To the TV layman, MacFarlane wasn't really that cheap. It took $2.5 million to woo him and the house he built for "Family Guy" over to Fox, where it is hoped that his series will be this year's smash hit.

MacFarlane, who's just 25, works in an office/frat house atmosphere with Mike Barker and Hal Weitzman, the show's writers. They run on sugar, caffeine and pressure these days.

"It's stressful as hell," MacFarlane says. "I'll be having a lot of fun if the show gets good ratings."

The ratings for his first episode weren't too shabby -- with the show following the Super Bowl, also on Fox, it ranked number seven in last week's Nielsen ratings, couping viewers in some 12 million households. Now, it's all up to the Griffins, who are bound to raise some eyebrows as they interact with MacFarlane's odd characters -- including an African-American woman who pops up out of nowhere, which MacFarlane calls a "Jemima's Witness."

MacFarlane's show premiered after the broadcast of Super Bowl XXXIII

'Some cleverness behind it'

"There's some cleverness behind it. I mean ... it probably will be construed as somewhat racist, but it's really a play on the familiar situation."

And if you think substance abuse jokes are insensitive, well, this is the show for you. Take Peter Griffin, who loves to drink, but can't hold his liquor -- so instead he goes for butter-rum flavored candies.

"You are allowed to get away with so much more in animation," MacFarlane says. "The characters don't need to be redeeming. I just think we live in a culture where people are sitting with notebooks, dying to be offended, writing things down."

The show's executive producer, David Zuckerman, admits that "Family Guy" will offend some people. But, he adds, "I think we're going to make many, many more people laugh."

Fox has a great track record for cashing in prime-time animated shows, including "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill," and its newest, controversial venture, the Eddie Murphy production "The PJs." MacFarlane is hoping "Family Guy" is their next big score.

There's nothing I rather be doing," he says, "and I wouldn't trade it for anything."

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