He’s been called “the smartest man in TV” by Entertainment Weekly after he cornered the market on Fox animated sitcoms. Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy, Patriotic Family Guy, and Black Family Guy, is one of the most successful writers in TV history – pulling off the rare feat of balancing three shows at once. The guy’s stock continues to rise too, as he branches out into feature films this year with his big-screen directorial debut, Ted. The guy’s been so busy the past decade, it’s a wonder he hasn’t spontaneously combusted.
Whether you’re a Seth MacFarlane fan or a comedy snob who’s part of the Trey Parker/Matt Stone camp, it’s still worth looking at how the guy became so goddamned successful for anyone who aims to professionally write comedy someday. The remarkable part about MacFarlane’s story isn’t how big he’s become; it’s how big he became right away. MacFarlane got hired to write for Cartoon Network straight out of college in his early 20s, and he signed with Fox to create his own show (Family Guy) at age 24. It’s extremely uncommon to see someone so young be given the reigns of their own primetime series – and even more shocking that he didn’t fall flat on his face. Whether it inspires you, makes you feel inadequate, or a little of both, let’s take a look back at Seth MacFarlane’s career and the string of unproduced and unfinished projects he’s worked on along the way.
Larry & Steve (in development 1995-1997)
As a college senior in 1995, Seth MacFarlane created an animated short film called The Life of Larry, which followed a man and his talking dog, named Larry and Steve, respectively. Larry and Steve were prototypical versions of Family Guy characters Peter and Brian, and while they look different from their better-known counterparts, their voices and personalities are pretty much exactly the same. MacFarlane voiced all the characters in the film and even hosted it as himself in a live-action wraparound segment. A college professor of MacFarlane’s sent a copy of The Life of Larry to Hanna-Barbera, and he was hired by the animation company soon after.
In 1997, Seth MacFarlane made a second short, called Larry & Steve, following these same characters. It aired as a part of Cartoon Network’s What-a-Cartoon series. In these two early films, we can see that MacFarlane’s gag-heavy, plot-light style – and love of cut-aways – is apparent right from the get-go. This second short film so impressed Fox executives that they hired Seth MacFarlane to make a pilot based upon the characters, resulting in the creation of Family Guy.
Zoomates (in development circa 1998)
With successful stints writing for kids’ shows Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, and the Ace Ventura animated series under his belt, Seth MacFarlane created another animated short film, Zoomates, as a potential pilot. MacFarlane wrote the script, and Butch Hartman, who went on to create the Fairly OddParents, directed and storyboarded the film. The short follows a young female zoo employee who is forced to live with three unruly zoo animals after she complains about the way the creatures are treated at her workplace. Zoomates aired in 1998 as part of Nickelodeon’s animation showcase series Oh Yeah! Cartoons, but unlike some of the other shorts to air on the show (like OddParents), Nickelodeon didn’t elect to spin this one off into a full series. Maybe it was because of the laughtrack, which always feels out of place in an animated show.
Family Reunion (in development 2004)
Ted is Seth MacFarlane’s first feature film and the first live-action thing he’s written to make it to the screen, but he originally planned to write and direct his first live-action movie in 2004. MacFarlane inked a deal to write Family Reunion with fellow American Dad! creators Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman. The story followed a guy going back to visit his wacky family after five years away for a big reunion, and this stands as the only Seth MacFarlane project ever – produced or unproduced – to not feature a talking animal. Development stalled on Family Reunion - a common occurrence in the movie world - and MacFarlane soon became busy with other projects (Ted, The Cleveland Show, whatever that album where he was trying to be Frank Sinatra was called).
The Flintstones (in development 2011-2012)
After Fox spent more than two years negotiating the rights to The Flintstones for Seth MacFarlane to reboot as a primetime series, he signed on to script a pilot for a new version of the classic show. The project was called off earlier this year, however, when Fox president Kevin Reilly said he liked the pilot script but didn’t love it. Some fans were wary of MacFarlane imbuing the beloved series with his trademark raunchy brand of humor, but let’s remember that the guy got his start in wholesome childrens’ TV working on well-regarded shows like Dexter’s Lab and Johnny Bravo. And besides, no matter how bad his version of The Flintstones turned out, it would have still been leaps and bounds ahead of Viva Rock Vegas.
Star Trek (never in development, only mentioned)
The Flintstones isn’t the only classic 60s show Seth MacFarlane wants to bring back to the airwaves. He told the press last year that he’d like to reboot Star Trek as a weekly series, saying “I don’t know who would give me the keys to that car, but I’d love to see that franchise in the way that it was in the 1990s: very thoughtful, smartly written stories that transcend the science fiction audience.” Like he says, it seems unlikely that MacFarlane would be given the reigns to this high-profile series when he doesn’t have experience doing anything sci-fi or non-comedic, especially considering that heavy-hitter J.J. Abrams has successfully resurrected the franchise for films. For now, it seems like Seth MacFarlane’s dreams of rebooting Star Trek will have to remain dreams unless J.J. Abrams asks him to write some cut-aways for Star Trek 2.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.