While debates continue to linger as to exactly how golden of a television age we’re living in, most would agree that there are a lot of fiercely intelligent and creative people who have chosen the medium of television as their preferred canvas. Names like Matthew Weiner, Tina Fey, and J.J. Abrams all spring to mind as being at or near the top of the list of master practitioners of the scripted side of the craft, and reality fans could certainly put together a noble argument for the inclusion of maestros like Mark Burnett or production companies like Magical Elves and 51 Minds. However, Entertainment Weekly’s proclamation in this week’s issue that Seth MacFarlane yes, that same Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy and American Dad fame is the “Smartest Person on Television” nearly sent the entertainment world spinning off its axis. Especially when you consider MacFarlane’s incredibly rocky relationship with both the magazine and its lead television critic, Ken Tucker, over the years. How rocky, exactly? Well, there was that one episode of Family Guy where Stewie wiped his ass with a copy of Entertainment Weekly instead of squeezable Charmin, declaring, “Well, that’s one problem solved.”
The hilariously ugly beef between the mag and MacFarlane began when Ken Tucker branded Family Guy as “The Simpsons as conceived by a singularly sophomoric mind that lacks any reference point beyond other TV shows” when it debuted in 1999. He went on to follow up that gem of a slam by naming the show the worst of that year (“Racist, anti-Semitic, and AIDS jokes; shoddy animation; stolen ideas: the cartoon as vile swill”). From there, MacFarlane went on the offensive; not only did the aforementioned gag make it on air, but in the direct-to-DVD release of Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, Stewie breaks the neck of an unnamed EW reporter that most assumed to be Tucker. MacFarlane also confessed that another Tucker jab that had Peter Griffin turning to the camera to say “Up yours, Ken Tucker” was ultimately left on the cutting-room floor.
So, with such a contentious relationship, how on earth did EW arrive at the conclusion that MacFarlane is television’s brightest shining star? Well, their position seems almost entirely staked on the size of his paycheck:
That frat-boy persona is only a cover. MacFarlane earns the $100 million that Fox is paying him to keep Family Guy and American Dad on Sundays through 2012, especially when you consider that Family Guy DVDs and merchandise have pulled in a reported $1 billion for 20th Century Fox. The apple-faced prankster secured a full-season order for a Guy spin-off called The Cleveland Show, and he still manages to find time to shoot his Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy Web shorts (and animated ads) for a separate deal with Google. With Guy reruns airing approximately 20 hours a week on various networks, it’s no wonder MacFarlane is now the highest-paid writer in TV.
Hmmm, okay. Feeling thoroughly unsatisfied with that rationale, Vulture reached out to none other than Ken Tucker himself to see if he could help shed any light on the situation. He quickly got back to us with this answer: “My on-the-record response? No comment.” Well, then, there you have it!