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THE SUNDAY CONVERSATION

Q & A with Seth MacFarlane

The 'Family Guy' creator talks about his 'Star Wars' fixation, his visit to George Lucas' ranch and being targeted by the Parents Television Council.

December 27, 2009|By Scott Collins
  • Seth MacFarlane dresssed to the nines for a recent "Family Guy: Something, Something, Something Dark Side" DVD launch party.
Seth MacFarlane dresssed to the nines for a recent "Family Guy: Something,… (Ann Johansson / For The Times )

Seth MacFarlane, 36, created "Family Guy," Fox's animated sitcom, which this year became the first cartoon series nominated for a prime-time Emmy since "The Flintstones" in 1961. Fox just released the DVD "Family Guy: Something, Something, Something Dark Side," a follow-up to the 2007 "Blue Harvest" episode that spoofed the "Star Wars" franchise.

Why do an extended "Star Wars" parody?

Everybody knows "Star Wars" -- at least, everybody in our audience. And Lucasfilm is probably the only company out there right now that is progressive enough to allow this. Certainly we would have a laugh doing this with "Indiana Jones" or "Wrath of Khan." But I can't imagine in a billion years that Paramount would give us permission.

So you actually cleared this with George Lucas?

The first episode came about because we were doing so many "Star Wars" gags that finally Fox's legal department said, "Hey, we got to start clearing this with Lucas or we're gonna get sued." We got very depressed and thought, "Well, this is it." But to our surprise, Lucasfilm said something we never, ever hear: "OK, you can do it, just make sure the characters look exactly like they do in the movies."

But wait -- Stewie, the baby in "Family Guy," doesn't exactly look like Darth Vader, even though he plays him in this film.

Other than the distortion to fit Stewie's head, the helmet is pretty much the same. The Stormtroopers look like Stormtroopers.

Except yours are wearing mesh shirts.

Exactly. They're dressed a little gayer.

Did you hear from Lucas himself?

As a matter of fact, when the first "Blue Harvest" episode was about to air, we were invited up to his ranch and we sat down and watched it with him. We were half-expecting him to say, "You know what? We can't allow this to air." But he brought his son, and they were both into it.

Did he actually laugh?

He laughed a few times, yeah. He's a very muted guy.

At the start of the new film, you have fun ridiculing Fox, which released the "Star Wars" movies, for letting Lucas take all the merchandising rights.

We actually didn't get a single studio note on that. Fox is notorious for having a very thick skin about taking shots at themselves.

You've got quite the empire yourself now. It turns out that "The Cleveland Show," the "Family Guy" spinoff starring the Griffins' black neighbor, has been a surprise hit on Fox this fall.

No one really knew what to expect, because Cleveland is not the obvious choice for a spinoff. But the things that we were hoping would work have in fact worked. It feels like its own thing, not just another episode of "Family Guy."

But you've made some powerful enemies along the way with your tasteless humor. The Parents Television Council, the advocacy group, consistently attacks your show.

I always thought it would be funny to have the Parents Television Council write an episode of "Family Guy" and give them full creative control. Then see how good the episode is. That's something we've actually discussed in the writers' room. We haven't proposed it yet, but if somebody from the PTC reads this, it might be worth discussing.

How often do the Fox censors tell you that certain gags have to come out?

Very often. About half the jokes that are on our standards list in every episode don't make it into the show. You trade. It's about quantity.

You raised another firestorm recently by suggesting that Stewie is gay.

No, that was a journalist printing only part of the comment and making a story out of it. I said we had written an episode at one point in which Stewie comes out of the closet. But we scrapped it because we felt like we got a lot more mileage out of him being uncertain and not making that decision just yet.

That whole press whirlwind was hilarious to me. It's not even news. He's not gay -- he doesn't even exist!

Carol Burnett also sued you -- unsuccessfully -- over a parody that spoofed her famous cleaning-lady character. Do you think she has a sense of humor?

I would certainly hope so. I was at the Creative Arts Emmys this year, and Carol Burnett was one of the presenters. And when she came out, everyone gave her a standing ovation, including me. It was a moment that you only get in Hollywood: Giving a standing ovation to somebody who sued you a year ago.

How did it make you feel?

Like I had no spine.

scott.collins@latimes.com

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