Seth MacFarlane, the multi-hyphenated creative and producing executive, struggled to explain the complicated relationship he currently has with the Fox Network at the 13th annual Produced By conference on Sunday.
Fox has long been home to many of MacFarlane’s signature television projects, such as family Guy and Cosmos. The conflict is a result of his feelings towards Fox News while also revealing that he had a refreshingly easy partnership with Disney after it took over many of its properties.
At the conference – which ironically took place on the Fox Studios campus – MacFarlane took a moment to articulate the constantly ambivalent feelings he has towards the network alongside Erica Huggins, president of his production company Fuzzy Door. He parted ways with Fox to pursue a lucrative pact with NBCUniversal’s UCP in 2020, largely over his objections to the tone and content of sister division Fox News.
“It’s an incredibly complicated relationship that I have with this company,” MacFarlane explained. “There are people there that I have a great personal relationship with. There are people I like very much. But it’s a different company than it was in my day. It is very difficult for me to precisely reconcile my relationship with this company at the moment.”
He added, “I, like a lot of people, have a lot of issues and a lot of objections to their practices.” “Certainly the news department and the entertainment department work relatively independently and that’s allowed a lot of us to get a little better sleep.” But he pointed out controversial former New York Mayor and Trump administration insider Rudy Giuliani on the network’s hit reality contest The Masked Singer as “distressing”.
“My overall reaction — and I know I’m not alone — to what the company does and how it communicates, what it communicates and what it thinks is acceptable, is that I have a lot of objections.”
MacFarlane noted that despite his public criticism, Fox has never attempted to censor a series’ often left-leaning, often borderline content Family Guy, who has shown her share of satirical commentary on Fox News.
“I throw a lot at Fox, but I have to say that the whole time I was there, no one ever tried to politically censor the show,” he revealed. “There is a very laissez faire Attitude that worked great for us… I was never censored and never pressured to take a different political stance.”
He added that he believes the news media would benefit from conservative news with an honest, reasonable and conservative perspective. “The tragedy for me is that I think there is actually an opening and need in this day and age for, God help me, a conservative news agency that is rational and presents an opposing viewpoint in a thoughtful manner and that recognizes the truth and science acknowledges and acknowledges the reality of the world around us. And that doesn’t really exist.”
“At one point, you could argue that Fox News went in that direction, and they really took a legal route that went to a radically different place,” he added. “To me, the ideal situation would be if they could correct course and make a conscious moral decision to try and let that be their role going forward. I don’t think there’s a chance in hell, but you never know.”
Meanwhile, MacFarlane said his relationship with the notoriously family-friendly Walt Disney Company has been smooth sailing since they acquitted some of his rude intellectual property when they bought 21St Fox of the Century in 2019.
“It’s been great,” he said, citing his long, close relationship with Dana Walden, the former executive director of Fox TV who was recently appointed chair of general entertainment content at Disney. “She’s a great friend and a great leader and she’s such a pleasure to work for. She is one of those people that you can follow throughout the industry just to work with her over and over again.”
MacFarlane thought Disney provided an “interesting comparison” to his Fox experience. “The company as a whole has been admirable for the most part — not always, but for the most part,” he said. “They try to be culturally aware. They try to be ethically responsible. And creatively, my relationship with them has been great.”
He pointed out that his science fiction series would be changed the Orville’ from its original network home on Fox to a Disney-owned third season on Hulu, as “one of the best creative experiences of my career and the support I’ve had from Disney and Hulu in giving us the resources to do it up against and competing with some of the most visually ambitious shows on TV has been really satisfying. And I can’t say enough good things. I really had a great time there.”
Meanwhile, MacFarlane and Huggins have been excited about some of the upcoming content they are producing for Peacock as part of Fuzzy Door’s NBCU pact, including a series adaptation of his film franchise ted, with the foul-mouthed teddy bear full of questionable habits that will act as a prequel to the films.
“I’m thrilled to be doing something no one has done before, at least to my knowledge,” he said of producing a series in which the central character is a detailed, CG-rendered creation. He noted that Peacock approached him with the idea for a series, “and I was delighted that they were even considering it.”
While Ted’s CG-animated nature would present production challenges that would require time and processing power, MacFarlane, who directed, co-wrote and voiced the titular Teddy in both films, was more concerned about where and how he would develop the story with the Participation could pick up from the film’s human star, Mark Wahlberg. “If you look at the raw footage, before the bear was placed in it, a lot of it was Mark: he really saw the thing, and so the bear just fell into place naturally.”
MacFarlane turned to an origin story approach, with teenage actor Max Burkholder now taking on the Wahlberg role. “The only entry point that seemed really interesting to me was this idea of a prequel going back to the ’90s that people are keen to revisit right now,” MacFarlane said. “To explore that part of his life that we enter, the one in the film’s opening montage, and now to delve deeper and find out how that happened, which was exactly the sequence of events that led to the character of John existing such an underachiever and such a disappointment in his adult years.”