Seth MacFarlane on Dedication and Innovation

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In May 2016, Fox Studios not only renewed Family Guy for its 14th season, Fox executives announced that Seth MacFarlane will create, produce and star in a new live action sci-fi series in 2017.

MacFarlane continues to wow the entertainment industry with his zany, hilarious, and sometimes controversial humor. It is no surprise that many consider him to be an innovator. Through his story, we can learn not only how to be innovators, but also how to follow through with our visions and achieve them through dedication, creativity and commitment.

Looking back, I’m still somewhat amazed that my company had the opportunity to do the first in-person art-signing gallery event through the Fox Animation Art Program with Family Guy creator Seth. At the time, he was only twenty-four, and was television’s youngest executive producer. Family Guy was still in its infancy.

Family Guy was new to primetime, and despite good fan support it was struggling due to its constantly changing time slot. We had a great relationship with Fox Studios, representing their Simpsons artwork. Fox had asked us if we were interested in hosting a Family Guy art event with Seth. The answer was an easy yes—we believed that what we saw in Family Guy’s “fanatic” fan base would outlast the naysayers and all the controversy to become a success.

While out to dinner with Seth, I asked him about his youth and about how he was handling all the peaks and valleys of the animated series. As he spoke, I could immediately sense his calm confidence:

“I really don’t let the ups and downs bother me. I believe in what we are doing. We have a great group of writers, voice talent, and animators. I always wanted to be on primetime, and Fox seems to be the perfect fit. My goal was always about making the characters like real people with all their imperfections.”

Seth understood the frustration his fans experienced over the series being moved from Sunday to Thursday nights. He explained, “I think Fox may have been a little too aggressive. We were on Sunday nights after The Simpsons, and within a few months they changed our time to go against the highly rated sitcom Friends on Thursday nights. People had a hard time finding us.” Moving a time slot can equal a death sentence for a TV series; however, Seth’s confidence and optimism were never in doubt.

Soon after he graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, where he studied animation, Seth joined the legendary animation studio Hanna-Barbera. He was still working with Hanna-Barbera when he had the idea for Family Guy, and confidentially approached the Fox Broadcasting Company.

They told Seth, “If you can do a pilot for us for like, fifty thousand dollars, we’ll give you a shot at a series.” (Typically, costs to produce a half-hour episode for a primetime animated show can exceed one million dollars.)

“Obviously I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it,’ not knowing whether I could or not. I spent about six months with no sleep and no life—just drawing like crazy in my kitchen and doing this pilot.”

 At the end of the six months, Seth presented the show to Fox executives and they loved it. They ordered thirteen episodes of Family Guy. Seth’s style, talent, innovation, and dedication resulted in his becoming television’s youngest executive producer.

The success of Family Guy has led to many outside projects for MacFarlane including American Dad!, and The Cleveland Show, as well as writing, directing, and producing his first live-action feature film, Ted (2012), starring Mark Wahlberg as a grown man who hangs around with his talking childhood teddy bear.  Ted is the highest-grossing original R-rated comedy of all time. The film also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.  Universal Studios released a sequel titled Ted 2 in 2015.

Seth’s dedication, innovation and commitment to his work are the qualities that helped push him towards success. He did not let any defeats or detours get in the way of going after what he believed was worth the fight—these tenacious habits no doubt contribute to his role as a contemporary innovator. We can use his life, and brilliant mind, as examples for how we too can turn our greatest innovations into realities.  As Seth MacFarlane did, work to always be on the forefront of whatever you do, innovating and functioning to be on the cutting edge of what’s to come.

Copyright 2016 Jerry Gladstone