When “Family Guy” first premiered on January 31st, 1999, it was another strong testament to the changing landscape of cartoons that had taken place throughout the 1990s. Up until that point, cartoons were normally segmented into two categories: 1) ‘Saturday Morning cartoons’, such as Looney Tunes and Scooby-Doo with simple, goofy storylines meant for children; and 2) ‘Prime Time cartoons’, such as The Flintstones and The Jetsons, which were basically safe variations of the already established sitcom family, targeted for all ages. The 1990s introduced audiences to cartoons like: Ren & Stimpy, Beavis and Butthead, Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, King of The Hill, and South Park. These were all shows that didn’t quite fit into either category, but they seem to attract audiences of all ages, with their blend of: politically incorrect humor, biting satire, and offbeat characters and storylines. And “Family Guy” was the perfect addition to this growing list of cartoons, that challenged audience’s expectations of what a cartoon could be. “Family Guy” is the brainchild of Seth MacFarlane, loosely based off two short cartoons that MacFarlane wrote and directed, called “The Life of Larry” and “Larry and Steve”. When watching these short cartoons, one can easily see the influence in the style of humor, that would eventually become “Family Guy”, including the foundational friendship of Larry and Steve, that would become Peter and Brian. – What do you think they eat? – Oh, yeah, I don’t know… some kind of, like, Space Jerky or something, I guess? – You know. Yeah, cuz- you know, cause they’re obviously, I mean Shatner’s obviously, you know, getting fed fairly well, I mean somebody- somebody’s seem to land. As of now, Family Guy has had a prosperous 15 seasons, but the show just doesn’t resonate with me the same way it once did. The formula and characters feel tired, and long worn-out. So what happened, what changed? I’m gonna examine Family Guy’s entire 15-season run, and will attempt to pinpoint The Day Family Guy died. Family Guy was initially viewed in over 22 Million homes, during its premiere episode “Death Has a Shadow” mostly in part because it aired in the much-coveted time slot, following the Super Bowl. But Family Guy’s first three seasons were plagued with mediocre ratings, in a constant reshuffling of time slots, at different times being pitted against NBC’s “must-see” TV line-up of ‘Friends’ and ‘Frasier’, and new break-out hits on ABC and CBS. At the conclusion of its 3rd season, Fox finally pulled the plug on Family Guy, officially canceling it. However, a year later Family Guy was given a second life, as re-runs began airing on Adult Swim the same week DVDs of Season 1 and Season 2 were released. Instantly, Family Guy garnered cult status, as viewership on Adult Swim was boosted 239%, and sales of the DVDs reached 2.2 million copies; becoming the highest selling television show DVD of 2003, and the 2nd highest selling television DVD ever, behind “Chappelle’s Show”. Season 3 was later released on DVD, also selling over 1 million copies. The extreme success and popularity in DVD sales and reruns convinced The Fox Network to bring Family Guy back for a 4th Season, making Family Guy the first revival of a television show, based predominantly on DVD sales. One could argue, that Family Guy died the day Fox canceled the series after its initial 3-season run. When it came back, the creators had to attempt recapturing the same tone and humor, that was so successful before. But when coming back from an extended hiatus, there’s always the fear that the creators will become blind fans of their own work, attempting to mimic what worked before with nostalgic callbacks, while never firmly getting back to the formula that worked before. That’s what happened with recent revivals, such as “Arrested Development” and “The X-Files”. All the pieces are in place, but they never quite strike the same chords. They spend more time looking back to what worked before, as opposed to striking new, effective ground. But I don’t think that’s the case for Family Guy. When Family Guy returned to Fox, “American Dad!” premiered with it. This marked the first big shift in the creative force behind Family Guy, as American Dad! pulled away original staff writers, such as Matt Weitzman and Mike Barker. Weitzman and Barker co-created American Dad! with Seth MacFarlane, who also voices multiple characters on the show. At the popularity of “Family Guy” and “American Dad!” began to take off, so did Seth MacFarlane’s career. In the 10 years that Family Guy’s been back on the air, Seth MacFarlane helped co-create a third animated show, wrote, directed and starred in three movies, recorded three albums, and hosted the PrimeTime Emmy Awards, and The Academy Awards; all the while still serving as the Head Writer for Family Guy. The Head Writer is arguably the most important position on a television show, and with McFarlane’s attention pulled in multiple directions, the creative excellence was bound to decline. All these factors have added up to Family Guy’s gradual downfall, but if i had to pick a day, when Family Guy finally died for good, it would be November 24th, 2013,
with the Season 12 episode “Life of Brian”. – You… you’ve given me a wonderful life. I love you all. In this episode, Stewie destroys his time machine, due to the numerous close calls he and Brian have gotten into during past adventures. When trying to pass the time together outside, Brian is suddenly struck by a speeding car and dies. The entire family is so overwhelmed by grief, that they adopt another dog Vinny, to try and fill the void. But Stewie is still left saddened by the fact, that he can’t go back in time in his time machine, and save his best friend. The episode received almost universal backlash from fans. On IMDB’s 10-star rating scale, Family Guy’s average episode rating is 7.4. But fans gave “Life of Brian” its lowest episode rating for the entire series by far, with a 4.2. Fans also started an online petition, stating: “Brian Griffin was an important part of our viewing experience. The writers of Family Guy didn’t just kill off one of their creations, they killed off the dog, who has lived in our homes for the last 15 years. They killed the dog, we have all come to love.” The petition went on to obtain over 120,000 signatures. The episode itself was surprisingly emotional, but the overall tone of the episode was off. At moments you had poignant reverence, followed instantly with slapstick goofiness. Peter Griffin:
– Holy crap, what the hell happened?! Squirrel:
– That guy sucked! I’m aware that Family Guy is a cartoon, but if the writers want the audience to care about their characters and have an emotional connection with them, then they must handle the characters with mutual respect. If nothing matters because it’s a cartoon – then why should I waste my time as a viewer, connecting to any of the characters? Why should I watch it all? Brian has always been the heart of Family Guy. He started off as the ‘straight man’ to Peter’s idiocy, but he eventually turned into the emotional and intellectual equal to Stewie. Their relationship quickly evolved into the best dynamic on the show. Stewie:
– Doesn’t seem to be working. Brian:
– Hmmmmm. Stewie:
– Wha- wha- wha- What is that? What is that “hmmm”? Wha- wha- what are you looking for?
What are you looking for, specifically? Yeah, that’s right. And you can tell, that the writers of the show realized this too, as many episodes involve Brian and Stewie on their own adventures. Now-classic episodes like “Brian and Stewie”, “Back to the Pilots”, and the eight Road-To’s, are some of the smartest, funniest, and most emotional episodes of the entire series. Stewie:
– I like you a lot! I guess you could say, I… Really like you! I would… even dare to go a little further, perhaps. I… care a great deal about you. A very great deal. Maybe even… deeper than that. I… um… (begrudgingly) I love you. I mean, I love you, as one loves another person, whom one simply cannot do without. Brian:
I… I love you too, Stewie. Again, based on IMDB’s fan ratings, the episodes that revolve around Brian/Stewie average a rating of 8.0, much higher than the show’s episode average. Their relationship was the best thing the show had going, and to have that taken away was the last straw. And yes, Brian Griffin was eventually brought back two episodes later, in the episode “Christmas Guy”, but at that time Brian’s return wasn’t a guarantee. In the season 9 episode, “And Then There Were Fewer”, the writers established a precedent – that characters could die and never return, after they killed off Muriel Goldman and Diane Simmons, both veteran, reoccurring characters. – These are all the characters, that we’ve killed off over the years, uh… This is a reminder, not to use these characters in future episodes, as that would be… that would be a, uh…
Well, the fans would notice. More than anything else, killing Brian signaled, that the writers were long out of ideas. Episodes have been reduced to repeated gags, tired storylines, and other desperate attempts for viewers, like their Simpsons crossover episode “The Simpsons Guy”. In an interview with “The Hollywood Reporter” back in October 2011, Seth MacFarlane had this to say, regarding the future of Family Guy: “Part of me thinks that Family Guy should have already ended. I think 7 seasons is about the right lifespan for a TV series. I talk to the fans, and, in a way, I’m kind of secretly hoping for them to say we’re done with it.” He sounded completely lackluster about the creative future of Family Guy, and that was 6 years ago, two years before he would kill Brian. It’s curious too, that later in the same Hollywood Reporter article, Seth MacFarlane talks about his dream to reboot Star Trek for television. And now here he is, 6 years later, about to star in the new television show he created, “The Orville”, a not-so-subtle knockoff of Star Trek. Consider this: Brian Griffin is a highly intellectual, liberal atheist, who writes. So is Seth MacFarlane. In a sense, Brian Griffin’s persona is an extension of Seth MacFarlane. On top of that, Brian is the only character voiced by Seth MacFarlane, where he doesn’t alter his voice at all. Seth MacFarlane:
– It’s the same old story, for me. Stewie, uh, emerged from an impression of Rex Harris, and Peter was based on a security guard that, you know, worked at the college that i went to, and Brian is just… just me, trying to give my pipes a break. – Brian? – Yeah- yes, sir?
– What… Very respectful. – Thank you. Well, I’m on “Inside the
Actor’s Studio” with James Lipton. After reading that article in The Hollywood Reporter, I can’t help but wonder, if killing Brian was McFarlane’s metaphor for his emotional and creative distance from Family Guy. Perhaps in killing Brian, a little part of MacFarlane hoped that he would sabotage the show, so fans would leave, and he could move on to his other numerous creative pursuits. Family Guy can’t function properly without both Brian Griffin and Seth MacFarlane. Brian is the straight man, giving purpose and meaning to the show’s insanity, and Seth MacFarlane is the driving creative force, providing emotional and intelligent breath, to what has become one of the best cartoons ever created. But when Brian was killed, Seth MacFarlane’s apparent interest in the show died with him. And that was the day Family Guy died. Hey everyone! Thanks so much for watching. I’ve been doing “Entertain The Elk” now for a little over eight months, I’ve been doing everything for free, and everything in the little spare time that I have – and I do that, because I love doing this. I love talking about TV and film, and all things art, but if I want to make this more than just a hobby, I really need your help, so I finally launched a Patreon account. I have a link below that you can go to,
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