Multi-hyphenated creative executive and producer Seth MacFarlane struggled to explain the complicated relationship he currently has with the Fox Network on Sunday at the 13th Annual Produced By Conference.
Fox has long been home to many of MacFarlane’s iconic TV ventures, like family guy and Cosmos. The conflict stems from his feelings about Fox News, while also revealing that he had a refreshingly easy partnership with Disney after taking over several of its properties.
Speaking remotely at the conference — which, ironically, was held on the grounds of Fox Studios — alongside Erica Huggins, president of her production company, Fuzzy Door, MacFarlane took a moment to express the still ambivalent feelings he has about the network. 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 great personal relationships with. There are people I really like. But it’s a different business than it was when I started. It is very difficult for me to exactly reconcile my relationship with this company at this time.
He added: “Like a lot of people, I have a lot of issues and a lot of objections to their practices.” “Granted, the news division and the entertainment division operate relatively independently of each other, and that’s something that has helped a lot of us sleep a little better.” But he pointed to controversial former New York mayor and Trump administration insider Rudy Giuliani on the network’s hit reality competition. The Masked Singer as “distressing”.
“My general reaction – and I know I’m not the only one – to what the company does and how it communicates what it chooses to communicate and what it thinks is acceptable is that I lots of objections.”
MacFarlane noted that despite his public criticism, Fox never tried to censor often leftist content, often pushing the boundaries of a series like family guy, who featured his share of satirical comments on Fox News.
“I throw a lot at Fox, but I will say the whole time I was there nobody ever tried to politically censor the show,” he revealed. “There is a very laissez-faire attitude that worked very well for us… I was never censured and I was never forced to project a different political vision.
He added that he believed 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, in our time, an openness and a need, God help me, for a conservative media that is rational and presents an opposing view of a thoughtful way and that acknowledges the truth and acknowledges the science and acknowledges the reality of the world around us. And that doesn’t really exist.
“At one point you could argue that Fox News was headed in this direction, and they really took a right turn that it went somewhere radically different,” he added. “For me, the ideal situation would be if they could of course correct and make a conscious moral decision to try to be that, to let that be their role in the future. I don’t think there’s a chance in hell, but you never know.
Meanwhile, MacFarlane said his relationship with the famed, family-friendly Walt Disney Company has been going great since they acquitted some of his ribald intellectual property in the purchase of 21st Century Fox in 2019.
“It was awesome,” he said, noting his long and close relationship with former Fox TV executive Dana Walden, who was recently elevated to president, general entertainment content at Disney. “She is a great friend and an excellent leader, and it is an absolute pleasure to work for her. She is one of those people that you can see yourself following throughout the industry, just to work with her again and again and again.
MacFarlane found Disney to provide an “interesting comparison” to his experiences with Fox. “Society as a whole has been, for the most part, admirable — 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 highlighted the transition of his sci-fi series The Orville’ from its original network on Fox to a third season on Disney-owned Hulu as “one of the best creative experiences of my career, and the support I’ve had from Disney and Hulu when it comes to us giving the resources to do so and competing with some of the most visually ambitious shows on television has been truly rewarding. And I can’t say enough good things. I really had a blast there.
Meanwhile, MacFarlane and Huggins were pretty excited about some of the upcoming content they’re producing for Peacock as part of Fuzzy Door’s NBCU pact, including a series adaptation of its film franchise. Ted, featuring the rude teddy bear plagued by questionable lifestyle choices, which will work as a prequel to the movies.
“I’m excited to do something that no one has done before, to my knowledge, at least,” he said of producing a series in which the central character is a detailed creation rendered by CG. He noted that Peacock approached him with the idea for a series, “and I was thrilled that it was something they were even considering.”
While Ted’s CG-animated nature would pose production challenges that would require time and computing power, MacFarlane, who directed, co-wrote and voiced the titular teddy bear in both films, was more concerned with where and how to pick up the story with the participation of the human star of the films Mark Wahlberg. “If you look at the raw footage before the bear was placed there, a lot of it was Mark: he was really seeing this thing, and so the bear fit in very organically.”
MacFarlane pivoted to an origin story approach, with teenage actor Max Burkholder now in the role of Wahlberg. “Really, the only way in, to me, that seemed interesting was this idea of a prequel that’s sort of reminiscent of the ’90s, which people always seem to be excited to see again right now,” MacFarlane said. “To explore this part of his life that we’re entering, the one in the opening cut of the film, and now to dig deeper and find out how it happened, what exactly was the sequence of events that led to the character of John to be such an underachiever and such a disappointment in his adult years.