‘Family Guy’ Bosses Praise Seth MacFarlane’s ‘Fearlessness’ Over 25-Year Run

Richard Appel and Alec Sulkin reflect on the Fox comedy’s milestone anniversary, and how the writers’ room stays fresh in Season 22

Family Guy on Fox
Fox Entertainment

When viewers think of long-running adult animated comedies, three shows immediately come to mind: “The Simpsons,” which recently celebrated 34 years on the air, “South Park,” which has been on the air for 27 years, and “Family Guy,” which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.

“I don’t think it’s an accident,” the latter’s co-showrunner Richard Appel told TheWrap. “There’s a freedom that you get in animation [where] people allow edgy humor more readily when the characters on these shows are not, in fact, real people. I think it’s easier to take the ribbing and the wild stories that we all tell.” 

Co-showrunner Alec Sulkin credited the success of “Family Guy” to creator and star Seth MacFarlane, the mastermind behind a world filled with flashy musical numbers and 50 “well-liked” characters that help audiences escape their daily lives.

“All of your favorite shows over time give you a world in which to escape. If you watch ‘Friends,’ you love that world, ‘Seinfeld,’ you love that world, ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ ‘All in the Family,’ on and on,” Sulkin told TheWrap. “Seth created another world for people to escape in. And when all is said and done, I think that’s what you have to do to be a show that endures.”

Appel also touted MacFarlane’s continued “fearlessness” with audiences in an ever-evolving comedy landscape.

“He’s a pretty fearless person in terms of principles in life and comedy as well. So I don’t think that the changing times dictate the kind of stories we do. But I do think that the culture changes,” Appel said. “I would readily say that there are many episodes our show did in the first five years that we wouldn’t do today, not because we think some finger will wag at us, but because it maybe just doesn’t seem as funny anymore. I think we’re still looking for ways to push the envelope and not be afraid of potentially offending someone.”

In addition to MacFarlane, the success of “Family Guy” would not be possible without its writing staff, who have developed a tight bond over the last two decades.

“They are constantly generating new ideas,” Sulkin said. “They are really practiced at finding the interesting small things in their lives that can be blown out into a great ‘Family Guy’ episode or taking the bigger swings that ‘Family Guy’ is known for.”

“So much in comedy is helped by stripping away any potential embarrassment or fear of looking stupid in the writers’ room and just saying what comes into your mind,” Appel added. “The more you know your colleagues, the freer you are and you don’t edit yourself. The longer a show’s on the air and the longer a staff is intact, the better unit they become collaboratively.”

While “Family Guy” has gone on to become a hit for Fox and a staple of the adult animated comedy genre, its road to success was somewhat bumpy, with a brief cancellation in 2002.

The show was revived in 2005 after generating strong DVD sales and having a successful run on Adult Swim. By 2009, it earned a Primetime Emmy award nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series — the first for an animated series since “The Flintstones” in 1961. “Family Guy” later won Emmys in 2010 for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for “Road to the Multiverse” and 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 for Outstanding Character Voice Over Performance by MacFarlane and costar Alex Borstein.

Now, “Family Guy” is gearing up for its Season 22 premiere, with a renewal for Season 23 already clinched. MacFarlane previously told TheWrap that the show still has a sizeable audience and that there’s “no indication” it will end anytime soon.

“I think we all realize on this show how incredibly lucky we are and what a unicorn we are riding at this point, because shows do not last two seasons, let alone 20,” Sulkin said. “I think there’s just an immense feeling of gratitude and we’re happy to be here.”

The return of Season 22 notably marks a change for “Family Guy,” with the show shifting to Wednesday nights from its long-time Sunday night timeslot.

Appel views the change as a “vote of confidence” from Fox that “Family Guy” will be able to stand on its own in its new time.

“I think if this had happened 10 years ago, I might have been annoyed. But the fact of the matter is that almost everyone is watching the show on Hulu now,” Sulkin added. 

“Family Guy” returns at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT Wednesday on Fox.

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