Q&A: Seth MacFarlane

'The Family Guy' creator on Fox, poop and the FCC

Seth MacFarlane, creator 'Family Guy', "Freakin' Sweet Stewie" Sound-Alike-Contest, April 15th, 2005/ Credit: Jaimie Trueblood/WireImage for Fox Television Network/Getty

 In the last five years, "The Family Guy" was canceled by Fox, became a cable hit, sold 3 million DVDs and is now returning to Fox. Were you surprised to get a second chance?
I was shocked. It required Fox saying they made a mistake, which doesn't happen often. But they aren't running a charity, and if the show's not getting numbers for them, they have every right to cancel it again. And it's entirely possible that they will.

Could you have come back without the cable and DVD exposure?
Not at all. The TV-to-DVD market didn't exist when we were first on the air, and it's totally changed the economics of television. Coupled with the Cartoon Network airings, it allowed fans to vote with their Nielsen boxes and pocketbooks. Fox could see that there was money to be made.

The landscape has also become more conservative. Do you have to tone things down?
Well, on some levels we do, and it's mainly poop jokes that have been the victim. How Janet Jackson exposing her breast has translated into a fear of defecation is beyond me. If you want to harp on problems with TV, there are better places to start. Personally, I'm of the mind-set that if parents are doing their jobs, it doesn't matter what their kids are watching.

But because it's a cartoon, can't you push the limits a bit?
We'll find out. It may be that Fox comes under pressure to change the content, which to me is terrifying. Unfortunately, that's the bed we've made for ourselves. It seems like there's a mass insanity that's taken hold, and I only hope it doesn't get out of hand. At the end of the day, if Fox wanted to, they could turn us into 7th Heaven. I understand their effort to accommodate the FCC, but I don't feel that they're going so overboard that it stifles us to the point that we can't do our show.

The new series shows the Family Guy, Peter, in the buff. Will the nudity be pixelated?
Not as of yet. The good thing about Peter is that his gut is so big, it'll cover any frontal nudity. Even if we were allowed to show his genitals, I don't think we'd want to. What's the big deal? We were looking at Homer Simpson's bare butt fifteen years ago.

The show is packed with obscure pop-culture references, which explains why it's become such a cult hit. But does that make it a tough sell to a mainstream audience?
It has occurred to me. The show's done so well on cable and DVD that it's assumed it's going to do great on Fox. I don't know that that's the case. It could be that enough of Middle America is put off by the show to keep it from becoming a mainstream hit.

So where will you be on May 1st, when the show debuts?
I will be in a bottle somewhere. As George Zip [in Airplane!] said, "I don't know where I'll be then, but I won't smell too good, that's for sure."