Family Guy is celebrating it’s 20th Anniversary (January 31st, 1999) and we decided to give you guys a sneak peek of our upcoming untitled book about the history of adult animation. This is our chapter for Family Guy which will be included in the hard copy release coming soon to a store near you!
The roots of Family Guy can be traced back to the Rhode Island School of Design in 1995. Student Seth MacFarlane had conceived a thesis film called The Life of Larry that revolved around Larry and his best friend, a talking dog, named “Steve”. The show would feature cutaways gags and gags like Family Guy, and even featured Larry’s wife “Lois” and their overweight son “Milt”. The film would eventually be spotted at a school screening by Hanna-Barbera’s “Ellen Cockrill” who subsequently offered MacFarlane a job at Cartoon Network to further develop his thesis film into what would eventually be a family friendly-animated short named Larry and Steve, that would further feature a commercial airline pilot that was essentially the precursor to Quagmire and a furniture store named “Stewie’s”.
FOX would spend a bunch of development time trying to find that second The Simpsons. This would eventually lead to series like Futurama, Greg the Bunny, The PJ’s, and others getting multiple season orders. Likewise, FOX had ordered pilots for two other series, King of the Hill and Family Guy. At the time, King of the Hill was the only one that got the series order, but eventually, Family Guy did too.
After being given $50,000, Seth MacFarlane went back home and self-produced every stitch of what would become a seven-minute pilot that was originally going to accompany MadTV much in the same way The Simpsons did for The Tracy Ullman Show or The Ambiguously Gay Duo for Saturday Night Live. That said, Mad TV didn’t have the budget that either of those series had, so the pilot premiered after Super Bowl on January 19th, 1999.
While there were definitely some similarities to Seth’s previous shorts, for example, Family Guy kept the talking dog and renamed it “Brian”, to go along with a completely different looking “Lois”. But, the show was definitely for the more mature audience, with Seth noting The Simpsons and All In The Family as influences to go along with a bevy of jokes from 80s pop culture that resonated with the fan base.
FOX prefers the animated series that almost resemble The Simpsons, but a lot of the voice cast did initially come from MADTV and as such, helped deliver a more stingy and controversial effort. “Peter Griffin”(voiced by Seth MacFarlane) was made the leading man, literally drawn with balls on his chin, Peter drew inspiration from Seth MacFarlane’s RISD days by way of a security guard. More often than not, Peter’s looking for some sort of a quick rich scheme all the while providing a balancing act of his hair brain schemes and the sovereignty of Peter’s family. “Lois”(voiced by Alex Borstein) like “Marge” from The Simpsons, often was the voice of reason for her husband but was ultimately supportive. Quite frankly, she had other things to worry about, like her infant toddler “Stewie” (voiced by MacFarlane) trying to come up with ways to end her existence and take over the world. The family dog, “Brian”(voiced by MacFarlane), would sip on his martini and provide ample armchair quarterbacking on whatever the underlying argument being presented to him would be. As years went on, Brian would take on a way more advantageous liberal skew on what was going on and would become one half of what would be a yearly Family Guy tradition… “Brian and Stewie”. While most later episodes would feature premises involving Stewie and Brian and their shenanigans, producers would eventually put together full episodes with just these two characters in wildly crazy scenarios whether it was moving through the multiverse or being trapped at the bank, some of the shows most memorable scenes were contrived from just these episodes so much so fans would be disappointed if they didn’t get ONE of these. As a result of these episodes, the character of Stewie would evolve from an evil genius to that of someone way more vulnerable but still maintain a mean streak when needed. Who can forget Stewie beating the shit out of Brian unmercifully over a silly bet or dragging “New Brian’s” body parts to the trash. Moreover, Stewie played around a lot with sci-fi elements, rivaling efforts from Futurama and eventually Rick and Morty in commercial viability, Family Guy’s sci-fi elements were clearly love letters from Seth to pop culture’s most renowned franchises like Back to the Future, Star Trek, and most famously by way of the “Blue Harvest” trilogy, a full blown Star Wars parody. Ironically enough,it was Chris Griffin (voiced by Seth Green) that was tasked with being “Luke” with Peter taking a back seat to being a take on “Han Solo”. Chris is the very well endowed and often pursued (by Herbert anyway) son of Peter and Lois, the latter would claim that Chris was so big she had to have all of her major organs rearranged after giving birth. Seth Green would later note that his inspiration for the voice would come by way of his impression of the “Buffalo Bill” character from Silence of the Lambs, however, Chris was nowhere near as assertive. Chris would often be stressed out when dealing with girls or if he has differing views with his parents, but perhaps his earliest claim to fame was being the one-time landlord of a monkey that lived in his closet.
This monkey would be one of a dozen or so consistent ongoing gags that Family Guy would be known for. Peter’s fights with a giant chicken are legendary and some of the best examples of choreography in American-produced adult animation. “Meg” (voiced by at first Lacey Chabert but more prominently by Mila Kunis) would be at a constant brunt end of abuse by her father and the unapologetic writhing brought on by her producers.
Knowing all this, it would probably be shocking to learn by the average fan of Family Guy that FOX had actually canceled the series after three seasons. Fortunately, DVD sales, prominent exposure on Adult Swim, and the internet helped spurn FOX to bring the series back that would to this day be a ratings magnate for FOX Sunday Nights. Hell, the show even had a crossover episode with The Simpsons and like the aforementioned franchise would enjoy mountains of success in the world of merchandise. Even bit characters like “Cleveland”(voiced by Mike Henry), “Quagmire”(voiced by MacFarlane), and “Joe” (voiced by Patrick Warburton) would enjoy a certain amount of celebrity status as the series wore on. Quagmire’s “giggity giggity” is just as much a part of pop culture lexicon as “d’oh!”, and has been the subject of many ‘a’ classic episodes like when Brian slept with his transexual father, Cleveland got so popular that he even got his own spin-off series entitled The Cleveland Show that lasted four seasons, and last we checked Joe still can’t walk (and Peter reminds us EVERY episode we see him).
Undeniably the biggest success of Family Guy, was it’s creator, Seth MacFarlane. Seth would enjoy a career that would entail multiple animated TV series, a slew of hosting opportunities including a stint with the Academy Awards, a hugely successful film career, a music career, and pretty much whatever else he touched would turn to gold. In the decades following the premiere of Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane would continue to enjoy a thriving career that few have been able to emulate.