There has been no shortage of drama in the entertainment industry this year, mega mergers, massive restructurings, sudden executive ousters and plummeting values for media giants on Wall Street. But from the perspective of a well-connected, well-funded, highly-motivated producer with a track record like Seth MacFarlane, business has never been better.
“It seems like as mature a landscape as it’s ever been,” the ‘Family Guy’ creator said Sunday during an extensive Q&A with Erica Huggins, president of his production banner Fuzzy. Door, which was held Sunday as part of the two one-day Produced By Conference hosted by the Producers Guild of America.
MacFarlane has taken advantage of the past half-dozen years of cutting-edge television production to greatly expand the reach of Fuzzy Door, now based at Universal Content Productions. Huggins joined the company in 2018 after years on the feature film side of Imagine Entertainment.
Huggins was recruited to help MacFarlane spread his wings, as he prefers to focus on one project at a time. “The goal of bringing Erica on board was really to reinforce what we do with someone who has a lot of experience with talent and who can take the raw material, the foundation that we’ve built and let it grow and grow. develop.”
To that end, among the active series on Fuzzy Door’s slate, which will debut on Peacock in August, is “The End is Nye.” It’s a perfect example of a series that could only exist in the age of streaming.
MacFarlane described veteran scribe Brannon Braga’s series as having something of a “Law & Order” format, revolving around science and climate change instead of case law. Nye will go through a natural or man-made disaster in the first half of each episode and die. But in the second half, Nye is back to demonstrate how science, technology and green innovations will hopefully help mitigate or prevent such environmental crises in the future.
“The End is Nye” is also an example of MacFarlane choosing projects based on his varied interests. “We look at what people are looking at, what’s popular and we look at what’s not. What don’t you find that you would like to have in front of you,” Huggins said. “The freedom to choose has been amazing at Fuzzy Door.”
MacFarlane and Huggins said UCP has been a great partner, giving them the flexibility to work within the NBCUniversal ecosystem as well as pursue entrepreneurial opportunities that are emerging in international production.
MacFarlane was pressed to see how his experience as a producer has changed over the past few years since parting ways with Fox after being aligned with the studio for three decades, as he was the 24-year-old prodigy who launched “Family Guy” in January 1999. .
But as the political climate began to change during the Obama and Trump years, MacFarlane increasingly expressed discomfort with being affiliated with the same parent company as Fox News, given the extremist views held by some of its hosts. opinion in prime time. Eventually, he voted with his feet, signing a mega-deal with Universal in January 2020.
Thanks to Hulu’s “Family Guy” and “American Dad” and “The Orville,” MacFarlane still has plenty of business with 20th Television (now part of Disney) and the Fox Corp. controlled by Murdoch, headquarters of Fox Broadcasting Co., Fox News and Fox Sports.
“It’s an incredibly complicated relationship that I have with this company,” MacFarlane said of Fox Corp. “There are people there, who 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 balance my relationship with this company at this time, like many people I have many objections to their practices.
But the controversial decision to include Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani as a contestant on Fox’s hit reality show “The Masked Singer” felt like a lightning rod for MacFarlane – a line that has been crossed. Giuliani was a key figure who pushed former President Donald Trump to challenge the 2020 election results without any credible evidence of voter fraud – a stance that would appear to disqualify him from mainstream television, especially after the shaming of the riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
“Certainly 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,” MacFarlane said. “The situation with ‘The Masked Singer’ and Rudy Giuliani was distressing. That was the first hint for me that made me wonder if I should question this.
MacFarlane was keen to add that in his many years on Fox’s payroll, he was never pressured to tone down his humor, even his politically charged beards.
“The whole time I was there, nobody ever tried to politically censor the show,” he said. “I was never censored and never pressured to project a different political view. And obviously ‘Family Guy’ tends to be more left-wing.
MacFarlane also thought there was a need for a conservative-leaning media that was more centrist than the far-right tendencies fueled in the Trump era.
“Nowadays there really is an openness and a need for – God help me – a conservative media that is rational. And it presents an opposing point of view in a way that is thoughtful, and that acknowledges science and acknowledges the reality of the world around us,” he said. “At one point, you could argue that Fox News was headed in that direction. They really took a right turn that goes somewhere radically different.
“For me, the ideal situation would be if they could course-correct and make a conscious moral decision to try to be that, let that be their role in the future,” he said, adding. “I don’t think there’s a chance in hell but…”
Other topics discussed during the hour-long conversation:
** “Ted”: Fuzzy Door adapts MacFarlane’s comedy film franchise about a guy and his rude-talking teddy bear friend into a series for Peacock. The idea came from NBCUniversal, MacFarlane said. He didn’t think it was possible to produce a series because of the visual effects needed to render Ted. “For me, what’s always exciting is doing something that’s never been done before,” MacFarlane said. “I don’t know if there’s been a TV series where a CGI character will have that level of realism and detail in rendering.” Huggins added that the company uses proprietary tools with green screen technology.
** “The Winds of War”: Fuzzy Door is in the early stages of development for a remake of the epic 1983 miniseries set against the backdrop of World War II. The project stems from MacFarlane’s love of history and the famous novels of Herman Wouk. The real story is better than any fiction and just as soapy. “It’s like watching ‘Dallas’,” MacFarlane said.
**Tips from the Trenches: In the spirit of the Produced By event, Huggins offered attendees insight into the content market and carefully packaged presentations that generate the most responses from buyers. “They’re looking for something that’s transactional today. The more you pack, the more you can put something together, the better off you will be,” she said.
(Photo: Seth MacFarlane, Erica Huggins and Variety(Cynthia Littleton)