Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Albany Daily News. Posted by Ryan Frost
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Frost
Family Guy, American Dad, Ted
Currently Known For:
Actor, Animator, Voice Actor, Filmmaker, and Singer
1990s - Present
October 26, 1973
Family Guy, American Dad, Ted
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“When you are in a room and your job is to write jokes 10 hours a day, your mind starts going to strange places.” Best known as the mastermind behind the long-running animated sitcom Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane is one of the most talented men of his generation. Launching his career as an animator and writer for Hanna-Barbera in the early 1990s, MacFarlane made several guest appearances on popular series like Gilmore Girls and Flash Forward before he created his own series, Family Guy, in 1999. With the show becoming an overnight hit and earning MacFarlane four Primetime Emmy Awards as well as a long list of bragging rights, MacFarlane has become a household name in the industry who’s also proven his talents as an actor, writer, filmmaker, and singer. Also known for hosting a variety of events from the Academy Awards to the Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump, let’s take a better look at MacFarlane’s journey from Kent, Connecticut to the bright lights of Tinsel Town!
Early Life in New England
“I’m from Connecticut and we don’t have any dialects. Well, I don’t think we have any dialects, and yeah, it’s very complex. That Rhode Island/Massachusetts/New England region is arguably the hardest dialect of all.” Seth Woodbury MacFarlane came into this world on October 26, 1973 in Kent, Connecticut where his father was a butcher and his mother was a college guidance and admissions counselor. From an early age, MacFarlane showed an interest in cartoons and started drawing the likes of Fred Flintstone and Woody Woodpecker as soon as he was old enough to hold a crayon. By the time he was five, he was well known around town for drawing cartoons on the butcher paper for customers at his father’s shop. “It was a small town, so everybody knew everybody else and the locals tolerated it,” MacFarlane recalled.
With little else to do in the small town of Kent, MacFarlane was determined to become an animator and started creating flip books of his own. “I spent my entire childhood in the same town in Kent,” he said. “I went to grade school there. There was a boarding school my mother taught at called, appropriately enough, Kent School that I went to. Yeah, pretty much my entire childhood was spent in that town.” Luckily, that little town was the perfect setting for MacFarlane’s big dreams since the town was quaint enough to let the nine-year-old get an early start by publishing his first weekly comic strip titled “Walter Crouton” in the local paper, The Kent Good Times Dispatch.
With the gig initially paying $5 per week, MacFarlane earned $10 per week for the strip by the time he reached high school, which is the same time he received his first 8mm camera that furthered his animated creations. Also dabbling in theater and stand-up comedy in high school, he dreamed of heading to Disney and enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design to study animation, film, and video in August 1991. Working toward his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, MacFarlane’s passion flourished especially after a new series called The Simpsons debuted on primetime. Instantly attracted to the show’s simplistic visual style, The Simpsons changed the course of MacFarlane’s career as he perfected his talents as an independent filmmaker and stand-up comedian, both of which he integrated into his senior thesis—The Life of Larry, a cruder version of MacFarlane’s future creation, Family Guy.
MacFarlane’s professors encouraged him to submit The Life of Larry in a Hanna-Barbera competition, which is how MacFarlane landed a job as a writer and animator for the well-known company. Hired solely based on his writing talent and not on animations, MacFarlane caught a huge break thanks to the support and encouragement of his professors. “My professors were caught between being unbelievably supportive and invaluable in the education that they gave me and being completely horrified by the type of work I was doing,” MacFarlane said. Professor Steve Subotnick agreed saying, “It was done really well, and it was hilarious, but as you can see from what he’s produced, it’s humor that thrives on being right at the edge of what’s tolerable. But he was always lots of fun and looking at Family Guy, no, he’s actually at his best being the most outrageous.”
Building His Reputation: The Makings of Family Guy
Settling into his new gig at Hanna-Barbera, MacFarlane worked as a writer and storyboard artist on four popular animated series—Dexter’s Laboratory, Cow and Chicken, I Am Weasel, and Johnny Bravo. MacFarlane focused most of his attention on Johnny Bravo where he developed his own writing style and met actors and voiceover artists like Jack Sheldon and Adam West, both of whom would have an impact on MacFarlane’s later career. During this time, he also did freelance work with Walt Disney Television Animation where he wrote for popular series like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Jungle Cubs. He wrote his first short, Zoomates, for Nickelodeon and then created The Life of Larry sequel, Larry & Steve, which was broadcast on Cartoon Network’s World Premiere Toons.
Larry & Steve caught the attention of executives at the Fox network and negotiations began for MacFarlane to join the Fox team. Given a $50,000 budget to produce a pilot series similar to King of the Hill and The Simpsons, MacFarlane accepted the offer and set out to create his first full-scale pilot of Family Guy where he drew all the frames and did most of the voices himself. Six months later, he presented a rough version of the pilot to Fox executives who instantly loved the series and scheduled it to premiere after the Super Bowl in 1999. “I spent about six months with no sleep and no life, just drawing like crazy in my kitchen and doing this pilot,” MacFarlane said of the experience that would change his life.
On January 31, 1999, the pilot episode of Family Guy debuted on Fox with the 24-year-old MacFarlane named the youngest executive producer in television history. Thanks to his natural talent and unique writing style, Family Guy became an instant hit and has been on the air ever since as millions of loyal fans tune in every week in what’s now a $1 billion franchise led by one of the highest paid television writers in history—MacFarlane himself. “Family Guy is so much the voice of Seth,” MacFarlane’s producing partner, Kara Vallow, says of MacFarlane’s influence in the series from collaborating on everything from the writing and voices to story breaking, editing, and sound effects. “He touches everything.”
Life Beyond Family Guy
Amid his growing success with Family Guy, MacFarlane was determined to extend his reach in the industry and teamed up with writers Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman to create his next animated series, American Dad!, which premiered in February 2005 and has since become MacFarlane’s second long-running hit series. Like Family Guy, American Dad! premiered after the Super Bowl in February 2005 and has built a cult following over the years while earning four Primetime Emmy Award nominations in addition to being honored as one of the top television series by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
Determined not to be pigeonholed in the industry, MacFarlane pushed the limits with his next series, the Family Guy spinoff titledThe Cleveland Show, which he created alongside Richard Appel and Mike Henry, the latter of whom voices Cleveland on Family Guy. While the show was an early hit with Fox, it failed to find the same footing on primetime and was canceled after four seasons leaving MacFarlane to focus on other projects like his webisode comedy series, Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy, as well as his hosting gigs on numerous Comedy Central Roasts in addition to events like the Academy Awards.
“One of the things that I’m enjoying about my career is that it encompasses many different disciplines,” MacFarlane said. In 2012, MacFarlane expanded his talents from television to the silver screen when he made his directorial live-action film debut with the release of Ted, which was a box office success and is currently the highest-grossing original R-rated comedy of all time. Two years later, he co-wrote and starred in his second film, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and published a companion novel of the same name followed by his big return as the talking teddy bear in the 2015 Ted sequel, Ted 2.
Following his achievements in film, MacFarlane returned to television in 2016 in The Orville, a sci-fi comedy drama series that is set 400 years in the future and, for MacFarlane, is the project closest to his heart. “This is really the show that I came out to Hollywood to make, more than anything I’ve ever done,” MacFarlane says. “I love comedy. I love sci-fi. And to try and exist in both worlds is a challenge, but to do it in an hour-long format is an absolute joy and I had this aspiration to do this hopeful, optimistic sci-fi that hasn’t really been done in 15 or 20 years… I think first and foremost, I would love for people to rediscover the feeling of having fun when they’re watching TV. I think there are shows out there nowadays that absolutely are able to do that… I’d love for people to feel something familiar and comfortable that they haven’t felt in a while from a TV show of this type, while at the same time, experiencing something even grander."
While the jury is still out on The Orville, MacFarlane’s first creation, Family Guy is still going strong as it prepares for its 17th season debut in September 2018. Of course, the 44-year-old MacFarlane knows the end might be in sight, but that isn’t exactly a bad thing—at least not for MacFarlane. “Part of me thinks that Family Guy should have already ended,” he admits. “I think seven seasons is about the right lifespan for a TV series… I talk to the fans and in a way I’m kind of secretly hoping for them to say, ‘We’re done with it.’ And there are plenty of people who say the show is kind of over the hill… but still the vast majority go pale in the face when I mention the possibility.” So, how would MacFarlane like to end his billion-dollar series? “Creatively that would be the way to do it for me, to do a really fantastic final episode while the show is still strong,” he says. But, rest assured, Stewie fans… the end isn’t here yet!
MacFarlane Behind the Scenes
Beyond his role as one of the most talented animators and writers in the industry today, MacFarlane has a few other tricks up his sleeve especially when it comes to his passion for music. Often described as a savant when it comes to music, MacFarlane signed his first record deal with Universal Republic Records in the new millennium and released his debut album, Music Is Better Than Words, in September 2011. He’s since followed up with Holiday for Swing (2014), No One Ever Tells You (2015), and In Full Swing (2017), the latter of which was nominated for two Grammy Awards.
With a stellar career in television, film, and on the stage, MacFarlane seems to have it all—except someone to share his life with, at least from what we can tell! The 44-year-old is still single and often compares himself to Brian Griffin on Family Guy saying, “I have some Brian type issues from time to time—looking for the right person—but I date as much as the next guy.” In 2012, he dated Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, but the two decided they were better friends than lovers after six months. Still looking for his soulmate, MacFarlane doesn’t seem too worried about his romantic life. “I’m wide open to getting married, but actors are not easy people to date,” he admits. “You end up sharing that person with this other mistress that is their career. I very much like the traditional courtship method of making a date. That’s what they do in normal places, but Hollywood is not normal.” While Hollywood isn’t normal, MacFarlane certainly seems like quite the catch!