Seth MacFarlane will host the Oscars in February. (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles…)
Seth MacFarlane is best known for his vocal talents and raunchy sense of humor, and not necessarily in that order. So it's a bit of a shock that the man behind the "Family Guy" series and host of Charlie Sheen's roast on Comedy Central was cast to headline the 2013 Oscar telecast.
But that was exactly what Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, the show's producers, were looking for.
"The idea that by announcing the host you don't even know what the show will be at this stage is really exciting," said Zadan, noting he's been a fan of MacFarlane's diverse talents for years. "There are certain people you could announce today and you would know exactly what that show would be. The fact that you don't know really gives the television viewing audience an opportunity to discover the show when they see it."
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Getting the call to host the 85th Academy Awards on Feb. 24 was also a surprise for MacFarlane, who scored big this summer with his bawdy, R-rated comedy hit "Ted," which he co-wrote, directed and voiced the foul-mouthed bear that was the animated lead.
"It's a very specific ceremony with a very specific tone," said MacFarlane. "The challenge will be to keep it funny, keep it lively and stay true to what it is I do. But at the same time adapt to the tone of this event. It's a challenge but I'm looking forward to it."
MacFarlane has long been a man of contradictions. The 38-year-old multi-hyphenate has had an immensely successful television career as the creator, writer and primary voice talent for the long-running animated series "Family Guy," now in its 11th season, in addition to "American Dad" and "The Cleveland Show." The TV mogul inked a deal with 20th Century Fox TV in 2008 for reportedly $100 million. His comedy in those shows runs more 13-year-old boy-bathroom humor and "Star Wars" riffs than sophisticated joke-telling.
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However, MacFarlane, a classically trained singer, also has a side career as a musical performer. He put out his first record of big-band standards, "Music Is Better Than Words," last year and has played sold-out shows at Carnegie Hall and London's Royal Albert Hall.
It was his recent success on the big screen with "Ted," about a talking bear and his bromance with his owner, played by Mark Wahlberg, that earned him more insider Hollywood status, rather than simply the guy on the outskirts poking fun.
Beyond his hosting duties on Comedy Central, the 2010 Writers Guild awards and the recent season premiere of "Saturday Night Live," plus guest appearances on Bill Maher and Jimmy Kimmel's shows, MacFarlane has never appeared in any of his productions. That hasn't stopped him from gaining a tremendous following among a specific demographic, mainly young men ages 13 to 28. (He has 2.8 million followers on Twitter: @SethMacFarlane.)
Yet it remains to be seen whether that demographic — not a big follower of the Oscars — will tune in to see MacFarlane, and if traditional Oscar watchers, mostly an older audience, will know who MacFarlane is or embrace his trademark irreverent humor.
"We think that Seth does have a brand, and it's a brand that will grow," Meron said. "The Oscar is the perfect platform to have that brand explode. We think it's mutually beneficial all the way around."
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Over the years, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has struggled with drawing in a young audience and has often experimented with different hosts in hopes of achieving that. But one of its most recent attempts, hiring Anne Hathaway and James Franco to headline Hollywood's biggest night of the year, failed to produce better ratings and the actors' hosting abilities were widely criticized.
During the broadcast, MacFarlane hopes to walk a fine line between reverence for the night's proceedings while integrating his specific brand of comedy. "Ted" will not make an appearance and guest spots from Stewie and Peter Griffin also appear unlikely.
"There are instances in the past where a host has tried to personalize the show too much and integrate it with their own brand too much and I don't think that necessarily works," said MacFarlane, an accomplished cartoonist who has been drawing characters since he was a small child. "It's about the Oscars, it's not about you."
MacFarlane spent most of his childhood in Connecticut obsessing over animation. He first drew Fred Flintstone and Woody Woodpecker when he was 2. Also a theater geek in high school, he attended the Rhode Island School of Design where his senior thesis, "Life of Larry" became the inspiration for "Family Guy." That thesis landed him his first job in Hollywood, drawing for Hanna-Barbera before he pitched "Family Guy" to Fox in 1998.
MacFarlane, who is single and lives in Los Angeles, will be juggling three television series in addition to his Oscar hosting duties. Notorious for being late, MacFarlane conceded that he didn't always show up for Emmy rehearsals when he was a presenter on the show last month, and he's often kept co-workers, studio executives and journalists waiting.
"I think it's safe to say I will be on time for the Academy Awards," he quipped.
Times staff writer Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.
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