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'Family Guy' breaks the funny bone barrier with Emmy nod

In a move that tells the story of TV comedy's seismic shift, it's the first animated show to be nominated in the Emmy comedy category since the 'Flintstones' days.

July 17, 2009|Scott Collins

"Family Guy" is lucky to have survived long enough to win over the holdouts. The series, which grew out of short films MacFarlane made for Cartoon Network, struggled in the ratings after its January 1999 launch. Fox axed it the following year. In an unusual move, executives brought it back for a third season and then yanked it again, seemingly for good.

But repeats of "Family Guy" soon turned into a big late-night hit for Cartoon Network, where it sometimes beat NBC's No. 1-rated "The Tonight Show" among young men, a highly coveted target for advertisers. Meanwhile, the show topped DVD sales in 2003, with a reported 2.2 million units sold. Fox, whose sister studio produced the show, decided to try another prime-time run.

The show has grown so profitable for Fox that last year it paid tens of millions of dollars to keep MacFarlane on board through at least 2012.

"Seth is incredibly well paid because he's created a remarkable asset," said Dana Walden, chairman of 20th Century Fox Television.

Not everyone agrees. "Family Guy" has nearly as many detractors as fans. The show is gleeful in its bad taste: In one episode, patriarch Peter frets that his personal anatomy doesn't measure up to his son's; in another, the family sups with Jesus, who at Peter's request gamely makes his wife's breasts balloon in size. That has made it a frequent target of the nonprofit advocacy group Parents Television Council, which has pointed out that the animation and title can be confusing to families trying to monitor their kids' viewing habits.

Meanwhile, critics have complained that "Family Guy" blatantly rips off "The Simpsons." The creators of "South Park" have done two episodes attacking the show, which they say relies too heavily on arbitrary gags and "cutaways" that are unconnected to the story.

But the studio felt "Family Guy" had become accepted enough to merit Emmy consideration. It sent out mailers to Academy of Television Arts & Sciences voters this year with a typically irreverent message from the producers: "We peaked three years ago, so by your logic, we should get an Emmy now."

The strategy appears to have worked, even if few insiders expect "Family Guy" to actually win come September.

Actor Tracy Morgan, whose show "30 Rock" will compete alongside "Family Guy," counts himself a fan. But he also predicted that no matter how cutting-edge "Family Guy" might be, certain entrenched attitudes will be hard to overcome.

"It's going to be tough for them," he said, "because they're a cartoon."

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scott.collins@latimes.com

Times staff writer Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

'Family Guy' characters

The Irish American Griffin clan resides in Quahog, a suburb of Providence, R.I.

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Peter

the father

Traits: Overweight, dumb, a blowhard.

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Lois

the mother

Traits: High-pitched voice. Reasonable, except when she's trying to kill Stewie.

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Brian

the family dog

Traits: Die-hard liberal, aspiring writer still working on his novel, walks on two legs.

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Stewie

the toddler with a British accent

Traits: Diabolically clever, funny and evil.

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Chris

the teenage son

Traits: Fat and dumb like his dear old dad.

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Meg

the teenage daughter

Traits: Insecure, unattractive and unpopular.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Timeline

1996: Seth MacFarlane makes short film "Larry & Steve."

1999: "Family Guy" debuts on Fox.

2000: Canceled for the first time.

2001: Fox brings show back.

2002: Canceled again.

2003: DVD is released; goes on to sell more than 2 million copies.

2004: Returns for production.

2007: Marks 100th episode.

2008: Deal struck to continue show until at least 2012.

Sources: Fox studio, Times staff

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