12 Facts About Family Guy

FOX Broadcasting
FOX Broadcasting

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 20 years, it’s likely you have heard one thing or another about the hit animated TV series Family Guy. For example, most fans know the story of the show’s early cancellation and subsequent revival after massive DVD sales and re-run ratings convinced Fox to give it another shot. This comes as no surprise as, for 17 seasons now, Family Guy has regularly been the center of a larger conversation—from the show’s many controversies, to its eight Emmy Awards, to its undeniable influence over today’s pop culture.

On the 20th anniversary of its premiere, here are some facts about Family Guy and its creator, Seth MacFarlane, that you might not already know.

1. Seth MacFarlane began his animation career at Hanna-Barbera.

Two weeks before graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Seth MacFarlane received a surprise job offer: famed animation studio Hanna-Barbera wanted him to move to Los Angeles and join their team. As it turns out, unbeknownst to MacFarlane, a professor at RISD had submitted MacFarlane’s thesis film, The Life Of Larry, to a student film competition orchestrated by the company. As the winner of the competition, MacFarlane’s wit and storytelling ability caught Hanna-Barbera’s attention, so much so that they offered him a writer’s position. With Hanna-Barbera, MacFarlane would go on to contribute to several classic ‘90s animated TV shows including Johnny Bravo, Dexter’s Laboratory, and Cow and Chicken.

2. Larry & Steve, a precursor to Family Guy, aired on Cartoon Network in the late 1990s.

Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

While working at Hanna-Barbera, MacFarlane followed up his The Life of Larry short with a second: Larry & Steve. Utilizing the same characters as before, Larry & Steve takes the story back to the beginning, revealing how Larry (whose voice is reminiscent of Family Guy’s Peter) adopted his talking dog Steve (a la Brian from Family Guy) from the pound. The short aired on Cartoon Network in 1997 as part of its “What A Cartoon!” series.

3. Family Guy was originally supposed to be a series of shorts for MADtv.

Riding on the wave of success from Larry & Steve, MacFarlane next turned his attention to where any budding animator would naturally look: primetime. A Saturday night sketch comedy show with occasional animated segments, MADtv seemed like the perfect home for MacFarlane’s next project, yet it never came to fruition. “Family Guy was supposed to be a series of shorts on MADtv, in the way that The Simpsons began on Tracey Ullman,” MacFarlane told IGN in 2003. “It just came down to a budgetary thing. They didn't really have the budget to do any kind of animation at that point.”

4. Family Guy owes some thanks to King of the Hill.

MacFarlane first pitched Family Guy to Fox around the same time that Mike Judge was signing a deal for King of the Hill. Uncertain of how King of the Hill would fare with viewers, Fox executives were hesitant to add another new animated comedy to their lineup. Because of this, they decided to pass on Family Guy.

One year later, MacFarlane followed up with Fox to see if Family Guy was still dead in the water. As it turns out, the success of King of the Hill was a key factor in Fox’s decision to take on another new animated comedy. They gave MacFarlane $50,000 to create an episode; he spent six months creating a seven-minute pilot, which was enough to convince Fox to order Family Guy to series.

5. South Park's creators (and others) have SOME beef with Family Guy's comedic style.

During South Park's 10th season, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone decided to vocalize their disdain for Family Guy’s humor in the form of a two-part episode titled “Cartoon Wars." In the episode, it is revealed to the characters in South Park that the writing staff of Family Guy is actually a group of manatees, and their ideas for cutaway jokes are generated by randomly pairing “idea” balls.

As Business Insider reported on the feud,

"South Park co-creator Trey Parker explained in the DVD commentary that he and co-creator Matt Stone 'don't respect [Family Guy] in terms of writing.' He added that much of Hollywood felt the same way, with producers from The Simpsons sending them flowers after the episode and people at King of the Hill expressing thanks (despite both shows being on Fox). 'There was this animation solidarity moment, where everyone did come together over their hatred of Family Guy,' said [Parker].

MacFarlane defended Family Guy’s cutaway gags, claiming they are the hardest parts of the show to write. “When you’re dealing with story-based comedy it’s almost easier. With the cutaways, you need to develop a brand new premise, storyline, arc, all in just a few seconds.”

6. Family Guy ignited a controversy by killing off a fan-favorite character.

FOX

In the 2013 episode “The Life of Brian,” Family Guy decided to shake things up by killing off Brian, the Griffins' outspoken, talking dog. To add insult to injury, Brian was immediately replaced by a new dog, Vinny, in the very same episode. While many fans cried that it was a ratings grab, others feared that Brian’s removal from the opening credits signified a permanent change. Some distraught fans quickly flocked to a Change.org petition, calling for Brian to be brought back to the show. In the end, Brian returned to his rightful place in the Griffin home only two episodes later, not due to public outcry but by design of the publicity stunt.

“We were all very surprised, in a good way, that people still cared enough about that character to be that angry,” MacFarlane said. “We thought it would create a little bit of a stir, but the rage wasn’t something we counted on."

7. William H. Macy auditioned for the role of Brian.

“It was the fact that they had heard Brian that way [MacFarlane’s voicing] in the initial pilot, and at that point they were used to hearing him that way,” MacFarlane explained of why Fox executives decided to have the creator voice the character instead of bringing Oscar nominee William H. Macy into the Griffin family fold. “I think they just didn't want to mess with it.”

8. Four different actresses have been hired throughout the show's history to play Meg.

Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

While most viewers immediately recognize Mila Kunis as the definitive voice of Meg, she wasn’t the first person to portray the Griffins’ outcast daughter. During the first season, the voice of Meg was provided by Lacey Chabert, best known for playing Claudia Salinger on Party of Five and Gretchen Wieners in Mean Girls. So why didn’t Chabert come back for the second season? While rumors of being fired or having a falling out with the show’s producers over religious beliefs have circulated widely around the Internet, Chabert set the record straight in 2006: “I actually left the show of my own accord. And only because I was in school and doing Party of Five at the time.”

“I think there was a mistake in her contract,” MacFarlane further clarified, “and I guess she had not intended to be involved for, like, the full run of the show."

As for the other two Megs? Cree Summer, best known as the voice of Elmyra in Tiny Toon Adventures, was originally hired to voice Meg in the pilot. But before she recorded her lines, Summer was fired by producers for unexplained reasons (according to whatculture.com, Summer stated that, “Seth MacFarlane didn’t think a black actress would be right for Meg’s voice”). As a last resort, MacFarlane turned to his sister Rachael to provide Meg’s voice for the pilot.

9. Peter Griffin was inspired by a real person.

In countless interviews, MacFarlane has claimed that the basis for Family Guy’s patriarch, Peter Griffin, was a security guard he once knew while attending RISD. MacFarlane described the man as having a “big thick Rhode Island accent, everything was said at this volume, absolutely no self editing whatsoever.” As it turns out, in 2013, ABC 6 news was able to identify Paul Timmins, the former director of public safety at RISD, as MacFarlane’s inspiration for the character. “I'm very proud of it," Timmins joked, still wearing his signature white button-up and glasses. "I am clearly the visual of Peter because the character of Peter is an idiot."

10. Alex Borstein was almost replaced in the beginning of the series.

Rich Fury, Getty Images

Alex Borstein, who provides the iconic voice of Lois, had to fight to keep her role after portraying the family’s matriarch in the pilot. After ordering a 13-episode first season, Fox decided that they wanted to take her character’s voice in a different direction. “The network wanted to get rid of me,” Borstein said. “So I had to fight to keep my job. I had to re-audition for it, along with every female that ever stepped off a bus in Hollywood. And I got very lucky and I got to keep it and I was thrilled, because it was some of the funniest stuff that I had ever read.”

While Borstein continues to provide the voice of Lois, she's also gained further recognition for her live-action work playing scrappy up-and-coming talent agent Susie Myerson on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. At the 2018 Emmy Awards, Borstein one a pair of statuettes—one for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Mrs. Maisel, and the other for Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance for Family Guy.

11. Carrie Fisher voiced a recurring character.

Carrie Fisher began voicing the character of Angela, Peter’s hard-nosed boss at the Pawtucket Brewery, in 2005. She also provided the voice of Mon Mothma in Family Guy’s Star Wars parody, “It’s a Trap!” The beloved actress contributed to more than two dozen episodes before her passing in 2016.

12. George Lucas gave his blessing for the Family Guy Star Wars parody trilogy.

As the story goes, MacFarlane quickly realized that with each new episode of Family Guy, they were creating more and more Star Wars jokes. Fearing a lawsuit, Fox’s legal team decided to clear the jokes with Lucasfilm first. Much to MacFarlane’s surprise, Lucas approved of the gags. But he had one condition: the characters had to look exactly like they did in the movies. This spawned the idea for the Family Guy Star Wars trilogy. After the completion of “Blue Harvest,” the first in the trilogy, Lucas actually invited MacFarlane and the Family Guy team to watch the film with him and his son at their ranch.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2016.

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

Amazon
Amazon

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If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

Amazon

Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

Amazon

Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

Buy it: Amazon

8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

Buy it: Amazon

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How It's a Wonderful Life Went From Box Office Dud to Accidental Christmas Tradition

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Director Frank Capra's 1946 classic It's a Wonderful Life is sacred in the holiday movie pantheon. It's not as quotable as A Christmas Story (1983) or as lyrical as 1966's How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, but the story of George Bailey has a universal message behind it that endures more than 70 years later. Though the movie is the quintessential Christmas tale today, when it was first released in 1946, audiences and critics were lukewarm toward the picture, resulting in a box office disappointment that killed Capra's nascent production company, Liberty Films. In a strange twist, decades after it was first released, an unlikely clerical screw-up managed to turn It's a Wonderful Life into the Christmastime staple we know today.

In the 1930s, Capra became a magnet for Academy Awards, directing movies like the screwball comedy It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). After Pearl Harbor, Capra knew he could contribute something to the war effort, so he took a post in Washington overseeing the development of U.S. propaganda films for the government—most notably the award-winning Why We Fight series of documentaries.

Upon returning from Washington in 1945, Capra—along with other wartime directors William Wyler and George Stevens—helped finance Liberty Films, an independent production company poised to give filmmakers the one thing they all dreamed of: freedom. The company's first film would be an adaption of a short story titled "The Greatest Gift," which would also appear in Good Housekeeping under the title "The Man Who Was Never Born," and would be adapted for the screen as It's a Wonderful Life. It's one of the few movies Capra also received a screenwriting credit for, and with a proposed budget of $2 million, it was a huge gamble for Liberty.

Something akin to a nightmare

In the book Five Came Back, writer Mark Harris describes It's a Wonderful Life's production process as something akin to a nightmare. Script rewrites, a bloated shooting schedule, and an ever-changing crew cost the studio nearly all of the original $2 million budget—well before filming was even wrapped. The spending became such a concern for Capra's partners at Liberty that George Stevens remarked, "Why the hell couldn't it be springtime?" when he saw how much it cost the production to produce fake snow for shots. Capra bet Liberty's future on audiences looking for some comforting nostalgia after the war, but he was about to see firsthand just how much the world had changed since he came back.

The original plan was to release It's a Wonderful Life in January 1947, after the Oscar deadlines, but when RKO—the film's distributor—needed a movie to release in time for Christmas, Capra's project was the easy solution. It opened just weeks after William Wyler's major studio film The Best Years of Our Lives, a hard-hitting drama about a U.S. soldier coming home after the war to pick up his life again. The two films couldn't be any more different, and the reviews reflected that.

Even at nearly three hours long, The Best Years of Our Lives was an absolute hit with critics and at the box office, recouping its budget multiple times over. It's a Wonderful Life, with its inflated budget and saccharine tale touting old-timey values, was met with a whimper, making only an estimated $3.3 million against a $3.7 million budget. Wyler beat Capra in every way: reviews, box office, and awards. The Best Years of Our Lives won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, while It's a Wonderful Life received only a lone technical award—ironically for the fake snow Stevens loathed.

Liberty Films had borrowed more than $1.5 million to make the film, and with such a disappointing box office return, the production company was soon sold off to Paramount. Capra only directed five feature films afterwards, none of which ever reached the heights of his pre-war work. As unlikely as it seems today, It's a Wonderful Life was seen as a flat disappointment destined for anonymity—until a clerical error changed its fate.

A Wonderful free-for-all

In 1974, the movie entered the public domain after the film's copyright holder simply forgot to file for a renewal. This meant that TV stations everywhere could play It's a Wonderful Life all day and all night and not have to pay a cent for it. Networks aren't necessarily shy about exploiting free Christmas content, and the film's reemergence on television gave Capra's story new life. While a post-World War II crowd may have rejected the movie's sentiment, subsequent generations seem to revel in the opportunity to visit the nostalgic whimsy of it all.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” Capra once told The Wall Street Journal about the film's revival. “The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud ... but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

Legalities rewrote the history of It's a Wonderful Life yet again in 1993. The Supreme Court's previous ruling in Stewart v. Abend established a precedent that allowed the film's original copyright owner—Republic Pictures—to regain its ownership of the movie. The ruling claimed that since Republic owned the copyright on the original short story which the movie was based on, and the score for the film, they, in essence, still owned the movie. So what was once a near barrage of networks airing It's a Wonderful Life has since been pared down to just one: NBC.

The network paid for exclusive rights to air the movie, which is why you'll only see It's a Wonderful Life on TV once or twice during the holidays. But the movie's modern appeal exists because of that scarcity. The film that killed a production company 70 years ago is now an annual television event and part of countless family traditions around the globe. It turns out Capra always knew what audiences wanted, he just needed to wait for the right clerical error to prove it.

This story has been updated for 2020.