12 Facts About Family Guy on Its 20th Anniversary
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 20 years, it’s likely you have heard one thing or another about the hit animated TV series Family Guy. For example, most fans know the story of the show’s early cancellation and subsequent revival after massive DVD sales and re-run ratings convinced Fox to give it another shot. This comes as no surprise as, for 17 seasons now, Family Guy has regularly been the center of a larger conversation—from the show’s many controversies, to its eight Emmy Awards, to its undeniable influence over today’s pop culture.
On the 20th anniversary of its premiere, here are some facts about Family Guy and its creator, Seth MacFarlane, that you might not already know.
1. Seth MacFarlane began his animation career at Hanna-Barbera.
Two weeks before graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Seth MacFarlane received a surprise job offer: famed animation studio Hanna-Barbera wanted him to move to Los Angeles and join their team. As it turns out, unbeknownst to MacFarlane, a professor at RISD had submitted MacFarlane’s thesis film, The Life Of Larry, to a student film competition orchestrated by the company. As the winner of the competition, MacFarlane’s wit and storytelling ability caught Hanna-Barbera’s attention, so much so that they offered him a writer’s position. With Hanna-Barbera, MacFarlane would go on to contribute to several classic ‘90s animated TV shows including Johnny Bravo, Dexter’s Laboratory, and Cow and Chicken.
2. Larry & Steve, a precursor to Family Guy, aired on Cartoon Network in the late 1990s.
While working at Hanna-Barbera, MacFarlane followed up his The Life of Larry short with a second: Larry & Steve. Utilizing the same characters as before, Larry & Steve takes the story back to the beginning, revealing how Larry (whose voice is reminiscent of Family Guy’s Peter) adopted his talking dog Steve (a la Brian from Family Guy) from the pound. The short aired on Cartoon Network in 1997 as part of its “What A Cartoon!” series.
3. Family Guy was originally supposed to be a series of shorts for MADtv.
Riding on the wave of success from Larry & Steve, MacFarlane next turned his attention to where any budding animator would naturally look: primetime. A Saturday night sketch comedy show with occasional animated segments, MADtv seemed like the perfect home for MacFarlane’s next project, yet it never came to fruition. “Family Guy was supposed to be a series of shorts on MADtv, in the way that The Simpsons began on Tracey Ullman,” MacFarlane told IGN in 2003. “It just came down to a budgetary thing. They didn't really have the budget to do any kind of animation at that point.”
4. Family Guy owes some thanks to King of the Hill.
MacFarlane first pitched Family Guy to Fox around the same time that Mike Judge was signing a deal for King of the Hill. Uncertain of how King of the Hill would fare with viewers, Fox executives were hesitant to add another new animated comedy to their lineup. Because of this, they decided to pass on Family Guy.
One year later, MacFarlane followed up with Fox to see if Family Guy was still dead in the water. As it turns out, the success of King of the Hill was a key factor in Fox’s decision to take on another new animated comedy. They gave MacFarlane $50,000 to create an episode; he spent six months creating a seven-minute pilot, which was enough to convince Fox to order Family Guy to series.
5. South Park's creators (and others) have SOME beef with Family Guy's comedic style.
During South Park's 10th season, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone decided to vocalize their disdain for Family Guy’s humor in the form of a two-part episode titled “Cartoon Wars." In the episode, it is revealed to the characters in South Park that the writing staff of Family Guy is actually a group of manatees, and their ideas for cutaway jokes are generated by randomly pairing “idea” balls.
As Business Insider reported on the feud,
"South Park co-creator Trey Parker explained in the DVD commentary that he and co-creator Matt Stone 'don't respect [Family Guy] in terms of writing.' He added that much of Hollywood felt the same way, with producers from The Simpsons sending them flowers after the episode and people at King of the Hill expressing thanks (despite both shows being on Fox). 'There was this animation solidarity moment, where everyone did come together over their hatred of Family Guy,' said [Parker].
MacFarlane defended Family Guy’s cutaway gags, claiming they are the hardest parts of the show to write. “When you’re dealing with story-based comedy it’s almost easier. With the cutaways, you need to develop a brand new premise, storyline, arc, all in just a few seconds.”
6. Family Guy ignited a controversy by killing off a fan-favorite character.
In the 2013 episode “The Life of Brian,” Family Guy decided to shake things up by killing off Brian, the Griffins' outspoken, talking dog. To add insult to injury, Brian was immediately replaced by a new dog, Vinny, in the very same episode. While many fans cried that it was a ratings grab, others feared that Brian’s removal from the opening credits signified a permanent change. Some distraught fans quickly flocked to a Change.org petition, calling for Brian to be brought back to the show. In the end, Brian returned to his rightful place in the Griffin home only two episodes later, not due to public outcry but by design of the publicity stunt.
“We were all very surprised, in a good way, that people still cared enough about that character to be that angry,” MacFarlane said. “We thought it would create a little bit of a stir, but the rage wasn’t something we counted on."
7. William H. Macy auditioned for the role of Brian.
“It was the fact that they had heard Brian that way [MacFarlane’s voicing] in the initial pilot, and at that point they were used to hearing him that way,” MacFarlane explained of why Fox executives decided to have the creator voice the character instead of bringing Oscar nominee William H. Macy into the Griffin family fold. “I think they just didn't want to mess with it.”
8. Four different actresses have been hired throughout the show's history to play Meg.
While most viewers immediately recognize Mila Kunis as the definitive voice of Meg, she wasn’t the first person to portray the Griffins’ outcast daughter. During the first season, the voice of Meg was provided by Lacey Chabert, best known for playing Claudia Salinger on Party of Five and Gretchen Wieners in Mean Girls. So why didn’t Chabert come back for the second season? While rumors of being fired or having a falling out with the show’s producers over religious beliefs have circulated widely around the Internet, Chabert set the record straight in 2006: “I actually left the show of my own accord. And only because I was in school and doing Party of Five at the time.”
“I think there was a mistake in her contract,” MacFarlane further clarified, “and I guess she had not intended to be involved for, like, the full run of the show."
As for the other two Megs? Cree Summer, best known as the voice of Elmyra in Tiny Toon Adventures, was originally hired to voice Meg in the pilot. But before she recorded her lines, Summer was fired by producers for unexplained reasons (according to whatculture.com, Summer stated that, “Seth MacFarlane didn’t think a black actress would be right for Meg’s voice”). As a last resort, MacFarlane turned to his sister Rachael to provide Meg’s voice for the pilot.
9. Peter Griffin was inspired by a real person.
In countless interviews, MacFarlane has claimed that the basis for Family Guy’s patriarch, Peter Griffin, was a security guard he once knew while attending RISD. MacFarlane described the man as having a “big thick Rhode Island accent, everything was said at this volume, absolutely no self editing whatsoever.” As it turns out, in 2013, ABC 6 news was able to identify Paul Timmins, the former director of public safety at RISD, as MacFarlane’s inspiration for the character. “I'm very proud of it," Timmins joked, still wearing his signature white button-up and glasses. "I am clearly the visual of Peter because the character of Peter is an idiot."
10. Alex Borstein was almost replaced in the beginning of the series.
Alex Borstein, who provides the iconic voice of Lois, had to fight to keep her role after portraying the family’s matriarch in the pilot. After ordering a 13-episode first season, Fox decided that they wanted to take her character’s voice in a different direction. “The network wanted to get rid of me,” Borstein said. “So I had to fight to keep my job. I had to re-audition for it, along with every female that ever stepped off a bus in Hollywood. And I got very lucky and I got to keep it and I was thrilled, because it was some of the funniest stuff that I had ever read.”
While Borstein continues to provide the voice of Lois, she's also gained further recognition for her live-action work playing scrappy up-and-coming talent agent Susie Myerson on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. At the 2018 Emmy Awards, Borstein one a pair of statuettes—one for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Mrs. Maisel, and the other for Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance for Family Guy.
11. Carrie Fisher voiced a recurring character.
Carrie Fisher began voicing the character of Angela, Peter’s hard-nosed boss at the Pawtucket Brewery, in 2005. She also provided the voice of Mon Mothma in Family Guy’s Star Wars parody, “It’s a Trap!” The beloved actress contributed to more than two dozen episodes before her passing in 2016.
12. George Lucas gave his blessing for the Family Guy Star Wars parody trilogy.
As the story goes, MacFarlane quickly realized that with each new episode of Family Guy, they were creating more and more Star Wars jokes. Fearing a lawsuit, Fox’s legal team decided to clear the jokes with Lucasfilm first. Much to MacFarlane’s surprise, Lucas approved of the gags. But he had one condition: the characters had to look exactly like they did in the movies. This spawned the idea for the Family Guy Star Wars trilogy. After the completion of “Blue Harvest,” the first in the trilogy, Lucas actually invited MacFarlane and the Family Guy team to watch the film with him and his son at their ranch.
An earlier version of this article ran in 2016.