MacFarlane Talks 100 Dads, More

Seth MacFarlane’s animation empire continues to grow. Not only is Family Guy one of the great rags to riches stories of the past decade, he’s got a spinoff coming in The Cleveland Show, the online Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy coming soon to DVD, and the satirical American Dad! celebrating production of its 100th episode.

It was the latter that drew cast, crew, network executives and press to a special table read of the episode, titled ’100 A.D.’ at the American Dad! production offices this week.

Working from scripts covered with either a Captain America or Powerpuff Girls tribute illustration, executive producers Matt Weitzman and Mike Barker lead the table read with MacFarlane playing hyper-conservative CIA man Stan Smith and the alien Roger, Wendy Schaal as Francine, Rachael MacFarlane as Hayley, Dee Bradley Barker as Klaus and Jeff Fischer as Jeff Fischer. The episode saw Stan and Francine trying to stop daughter Hayley from eloping with slacker suitor Jeff Fischer, and features the death of 100 ‘beloved’ characters from the series.

After the reading, Fox Animation execs Gary Newman, Dana Waldron, Kevin Reilly and Peter Rice were on hand for congratulatory comments and a photo-op cake-cutting.

MacFarlane took a few moments afterward for a short interview with the press:

Q: Is this show easier to write with Obama in office, regarding Stan?

MacFarlane: Yes. Everything is easier with Obama in office ‘ including this show.

Q: You’ve said the show evolved from your annoyance with Bush. How has the show evolved since the original seed of inception?

MacFarlane: I think we’ve seen Stan and certainly Roger evolve beyond simple one-note characters in the same way that Stewie (in Family Guy) evolved beyond just being the guy who wants to take over the world. We’ve seen many different facets of those characters. I think that of the rest of the family as well ‘ Hayley, Francine. Francine really has become in a lot of ways really one of the most interesting mom characters on television. And Wendy Schaal, the actress, just can pretty much read a straight line and be hilarious.

Q: Your father figures have difficult relationships with their children. Where does this come from?

MacFarlane: I’m not sure. I always had a very good relationship with my parents and, in many ways, I guess I was bored by that. I think it would maybe be a little more interesting and a little bit easier to write comedy if they had been the terrible people that I sometimes wish they were. So I guess it’s a way for me to live out the dysfunctionality that I was never privileged enough to experience in my own childhood.

Q: Is that dysfunction going to continue with The Cleveland Show?

MacFarlane: Yeah, in a different way. Cleveland is a much more introspective, much more grounded character in a lot of ways than some of the others. But he has this almost self-torturing, neurotic Woody Allen attitude ‘ in the body of a black man.

Q: What’s the difficult relationship going to be then?

MacFarlane: Well, Cleveland has the additional burden of having a Brady Bunch-type situation where he brought his own kid into a family ‘ He’s saddled his kid with some stepbrothers and stepsisters who Cleveland Junior is going to have to get comfortable with and not bump heads too much with.

And he’s got his own way of dealing with things, Cleveland does. He’s less kind of finger on the trigger like Stan is. It’s the difference between Bush and Kerry, I guess. Everything has to be analyzed in depth with Cleveland before he makes any decision.

Q: You’ve done some crossovers. Will we see more?

MacFarlane: Yeah. We have fun with that stuff. We already have some Family Guy episodes coming up in which both the American Dad! cast and the Cleveland cast make appearances. And in our Return of the Jedi episode, all three casts kind of come together to play those characters.

Q: And how about putting them in a film at any point? Is that in the cards?

MacFarlane: Yeah. The Family Guy movie is something we’ve been talking about for a while. It’s on the horizon, it’s just a question of finding the time to get started on it. But the studio wants it, we want it and we already sort of know what it’s going to be. But it’s just a question of working it into the schedule, which is why it took The Simpsons so long to do theirs. There’s just so much to do on an animated show on a week-to-week basis. There’s ten times as much to do as there is on a live-action show.

Q: Were there any lessons learned from The Simpsons Movie for you?

MacFarlane: I don’t know. They set out to do a particular story and they executed it very well. I think for us, we’re sort of obsessed with finding a way to do something that we couldn’t do on TV. I think the hard thing with animation is I think really any story that’s really big can still be done in the context of television, as far as animation is concerned. We’ve done the end of the world on Family Guy and you can do that in 22 minutes. What story is it you can do that is gonna be so big that it can only be a movie? And then the question becomes, do people want to see a story that big? Because comedy is an intimate medium and do you really want to see the Griffins go to Mars? No, you want to see something that feels like what you see on TV. So it’s a balancing act. We think we’ve found a solution to that, but we just got to find the time to get going on it.

Q: Can you give us a clue about the solution?

MacFarlane: No. It’s too early.

Q: After doing a hundred episodes, what motivates you? Is it money, is it art, is it comedy?

MacFarlane: Well, that’s a very good question. On a day-to-day basis you get so wrapped up in it. I don’t know, maybe we should shut it down! (Laughs!) Honest to Christ, I can’t think of a reason! (Laughs again.)

MacFarlane had to leave at this point, but it was clear he was joking. We think.