USA TV: FOX
UK TV: FX UK
Seth MacFarlane studied animation at the Rhode Island School of design and in the mid-90s he created his thesis film The Life of Larry. The film got the attention of Hanna-Barbera and further development of the idea led to the creation of an intellectual dog called Steve to join Larry. This was the inspiration for what would turn into Peter and Brian and in 1998 MacFarlane pitched Family Guy to FOX.
The show debuted after the 1999 Super Bowl to an audience of twenty two million but then settled down to around twelve million regular viewers on Sundays. The next two seasons saw the show moved into very tough timeslots opposite shows like Frasier, Friends, Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Survivor. FOX frequently moved the show around its schedule and almost cancelled it after season two. In May 2002 the show was cancelled.
Reruns of the show began to air on Adult Swim and gain solid ratings. The DVDs then went on the market and sold very well. Millions of copies were shifted and FOX eventually
re-commissioned Family Guy. The first new episode appeared on May 1st 2005.
Upon its return the show had changed. The first three seasons lent clearly on the sit com formula established for decades on US television. One or more of the Griffins would go through a crisis or change in their lives; they would learn a lesson and then return to normal. Family Guy often took an odd slant on this formula, particularly with its risquÃ© content and cutaway gags. However for three seasons the show felt very much like an alternative Simpsons where the family's love for one another would always triumph and pull them back together.
Once season four began that rule was lost, forgotten or marginalized depending on your analysis. Having risen from the dead, so to speak, the show's producers perhaps felt that they should steer toward the riskier material that had got them complaints as early as the first episode.
So as the seasons progressed the show increasingly indulged in violence, graphic sexual jokes, cruelty, bullying, pedophilia, rape and the mocking of the handicapped. It still amazes me that there haven't been more complaints about the offensive nature of Family Guy's content.
Shock value will always count for something though and it is the degradation of the characters and any sense that stories, logic or continuity matter that has bothered me more. Though to be fair I have had many moments of feeling disgusted by the show. I have never seen another show which offends and celebrates horrible things for so little gain.
I began watching Family Guy in 2002 around the time of its cancellation. It had just begun to gain cult status in the UK and several of my friends were talking about it. It seemed then like it was a natural exaggeration of The Simpsons formula and aimed to bend reality even further to make its jokes. I enjoyed the first three seasons without ever thinking that it had reached the levels which The Simpsons did. I was pleased to hear that it had been renewed but was disappointed by season four. I slowly began to realize that something had changed permanently in the show's construction. The disconnection from both proper storytelling and morality came slowly but steadily.
I do intend to go back and review season's two through five. I seem to be in a minority who can see clearly what Family Guy was and what it has become. I feel a responsibility to keep chronicling the show's sins and respond to those who argue that the show hasn't changed or isn't offensive. The show is still capable of producing good episodes and jokes which makes the job easier.
I suspect that Family Guy's influence on other television shows is greater than we may ever know. Scrubs appeared in 2001 with the same cutaway gags that Family Guy was employing with such frequency. Shows like Arrested Development (2003) and 30 Rock (2006) built on this legacy. By 2011 the idea that a statement can be immediately contradicted or embellished with the use of a clip has become a commonplace technique amongst the majority of single camera comedies.
I also believe that Family Guy has contributed to a slackening of the formula which governed sit coms for decades. So many of the comedies debuting in the 2000s seemed to misunderstand the need to provide a satisfying conclusion to their stories or a proper morality to guide the actions of their characters.