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'American Dad' and 'Family Guy' Creator Seth MacFarlane Is Animated About Work and Play

TV Tattler Interview: Seth MacFarlane of 'Family Guy' on Fox

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May 11 -- Seth McFarlane is a lucky, but hard-working guy.

Lucky because with 'Family Guy' and 'American Dad,' he has two successful animated shows on a major network.

Hard-working because he has two animated shows on a major network, is working on a live-action pilot and does voice acting for other animated shows like 'Robot Chicken.'

And this lucky, hard-working guy also narrowly missed one of the ill-fated flights on 9-11.

AOL Television editor Sean Doorly chatted with MacFarlane about all the above, plus the difficulties of animation vs. live action and his love of 'Star Trek.'

For people who are not familiar with 'American Dad,' what was the origin of the show?
It was right after the election and me and co-creator Matt Weitzman, were so frustrated with the Bush administration that we would just spend days bitching and complaining and we figured we should channel this into something creative and hopefully profitable.

Creatively how are you going to try to shake things up?
In television, you never really know. With 'Family Guy', weíre working on our 100th episode and still kind of figuring out exactly what that is.

When does the 100th come out?
It airs I think in about a year.

Wow, so youíre that far ahead?
Yes, for any given episode itís usually about a 10-month production time.

I guess with animation you have to be that far ahead?
Yes, thereís no shortcut to the process that anyoneís been able to come up with. I guess itís different if youíre using computers, but for the style that we use, you know that hand-drawn style, thereís just no shortcut. People have tried doing that with computers to make it faster, but it looks like a computer did it.

Family Guy
With season one, you were getting your feet wet. So what did you learn from season one say for season two?
Weíve learned how to make the show feel different enough from 'Family Guy' for one thing, and the creative direction of that show has been largely guided by Barker and Weitzman, which has really worked in its favor. Theyíve really taken the reigns on that show and given it its own voice.

What about next season?
As far as where it will go in the next season, if thereís some radical shift in the thinking of the country, 'American Dad' will definitely reflect that. We sort of look in a very broad sense, because the show is very different. We look to 'All in the Family' as a template for how to do a political show that doesnít feel so specific that it wonít be relevant 10 years from now.

You don't want to be so dated?
Yes. Thereís an advantage and a disadvantage to a show like, say íSouth Park,í that has like a three-week production time or something like that. It can be very current. If something happens in the news, they can do a show about it almost immediately.

Thatís unheard of in animation.
Yes, and it makes that show very unique. But, the downside to that is, if you do an entire episode about John Bobbit, after a few years itís going to feel incredibly dated.

Itís like, "Whoís that guy?"
Exactly. I donít think theyíve done that particular episode. Iím just pulling that out of my ass. (Laughs).

American Dad
What can we expect to see on the finale of 'American Dad?'
Letís see, what can I say without giving it away? If Iím remembering this correctly, this one takes place over the course of an entire year in a half hour. The 'Family Guy' 100th episode is the first obvious season finale that show has done, because for a lot of the time we didnít really know what was going to air when. So we couldnít even really do holiday episodes because we just donít know when they are going to go on.

That must feel exciting to have two animated shows on TV on a major network?
Yes, if I had the time to come up for air and enjoy it, I think it would feel good. Itís an enormous amount of work. What goes into putting together an animated show, itís just staggering. Itís interesting; I did my first live action sitcom pilot this year. It was written by, created and written by Ricky Blitt who was a 'Family Guy' writer whoís gone on to write movies for the Farleys. It stars Rob Corddry from 'The Daily Show.' I always knew there was a lot of work that went into making an animated show. Doing a traditional sitcom, process wise it feels like a breeze compared to doing an animated show. You can get it all done in a couple of months as opposed to a year. Doing an animated show, itís like putting together a little movie every week. Everything is storyboarded with the intricacy of a feature film action sequence. You have to edit with a musical score in mind. And of course, we use an orchestra for each episode. So itís really like putting together a little feature each week and I was just shocked at how much, not to underplay all the work that goes into live-action sitcoms, but my God, itís definitely a much more difficult medium to me.

Did anything from working on the animated shows help you to do the live-action sitcom?
Yes. For example, composition wise and cutting wise, when youíre dealing with a scene with a couple of characters who are having a conversation, all the same cinematic rules of editing and shot composition apply. It's the same language. So, it certainly helped being very familiar with what constitutes a good edit or a bad edit. The real surprise to me was the flexibility you have of cutting to different angles.

You donít have to plan months in advance to do that?
Exactly. Thereís no such thing as coverage in animation. With editing you canít say, ďOh yeah, it would be better to have a close up of Peter here.Ē And you can do that, but you have to have an animator that takes a week and a half. So the flexibility of how you can change the look of a scene and editing was had a good side and a bad side. In animation, you have control over almost every frame.

So has the show been picked up or are you working on it?
No, not yet. Weíre just a pilot.

Whatís the basic story line?
It's called 'The Winner' and itís a coming of age story for a guy whoís 32. The guy lived at home with his parents. Heís never dated, never had sex and never had a job. Heís this guy whoís stuck in his adolescence. His old grade school crush comes back into town and gets a boot in the ass to make up for 15 years of adulthood in a compressed amount of time. The series is his story of growing up as fast as humanly possible, so he can get this girl.

Star Trek
You are a big 'Star Trek' fan. Whatís your take on the latest news on the new 'Star Trek' film?
Iím always cautious these days because thereís a real instinct with a lot of science fiction to go dark. And I have a sinking feeling that they may fall into that hole again, but I donít know. Iíve seen it happen too many times. What theyíve never managed to recapture is that bright, plush environment of 'The Next Generation.' I think thatís one of the reasons it did better than any of the other shows. That it managed to tap into more of a mainstream audience. It wasnít dark. It wasnít dirty. It wasnít gritty. It was a bunch of people working in a really nice corporate office.

I agree. I still watch it every night on G4.
And if you look at the movies, I thought that was a big problem with the movies. They redesigned everything so it was dark and militaristic and that is less inviting to a lot of people. The characters became more intense and less casual. Thatís one manís opinion. I canít get into íBattlestar Galactica.í Itís so dark. There were houseplants on the Enterprise for God sake!

There were a lot of pastels and beige.
Exactly, it was plush and expensive looking.

>> Next Page: MacFarlane's Close Brush With the 9/11 Attacks

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