Who Is Seth MacFarlane?
Born in Connecticut in 1973, Seth MacFarlane began working in animation in the mid-1990s. He debuted the animated hit Family Guy in 1999, leading to the creation of another long-running cartoon series, American Dad!, and the opportunity to direct feature films like Ted and A Million Ways to Die in the West. MacFarlane has also released multiple Grammy-nominated albums featuring his covers of selections from the Great American Songbook.
Early Life and Animation Career
Seth Woodbury MacFarlane was born in Kent, Connecticut, on October 26, 1973. His father, Ronald, was a teacher, and his mother, Ann, was an academic administrator.
The soon-to-be animator was drawing beloved cartoons like Woody Woodpecker and Fred Flintstone at the age of two, and inquiring about the mechanics of animation as soon as he could talk. MacFarlane remembers, "When I was old enough to ask the question, I was asking, 'How are cartoons made? How do I do one of these?'" He got his first paying job at age nine, when he began publishing his own comic strip in the local Kent newspaper.
MacFarlane continued drawing and animating throughout high school, and then enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) to study video and animation. Though his career ambitions were initially focused on Disney, MacFarlane caught the attention of Hanna-Barbera Productions with his thesis film, Life of Larry, which contained the beginnings of what would later become Family Guy.
Following his graduation in 1995, MacFarlane made the journey west and moved to Los Angeles to begin his career. At Hanna-Barbera, MacFarlane worked as both animator and writer on Johnny Bravo (1997) and Cow and Chicken (1995), though his heart was still with Life of Larry. He continued to work on it, fine-tuning and revamping it into a comedy short with the new name Larry & Steve.
Executives at Fox got a glimpse of MacFarlane's talent and offered him a deal to work on MadTV. Although the deal eventually fell through, it cemented the animator's relationship with Fox.
Soon, the studio offered him a small amount of money to craft a pilot, hoping it would lead to a prime-time series headed by MacFarlane. It was a harried time of creation and anxiety for MacFarlane, who recounts, "I spent about six months with no sleep and no life, just drawing like crazy in my kitchen and doing this pilot." Despite his limited budget, he managed to convey the overall thrust of the show and to hook studio executives with his edgy humor. Fox bought Family Guy in 1998 and slated its debut for the beginning of 1999. MacFarlane was only twenty-four and already an executive producer.
MacFarlane became the voice of three of Family Guy's main characters: Peter, Stewie and Brian Griffin. The show, a satire of the American family, plays out with cutting precision in the zany dysfunction of the Griffins from Quahog, Rhode Island. Though MacFarlane cites Woody Allen and Jackie Gleason as inspirations and precursors, his own brand of humor shines through, and Family Guy quickly garnered a loyal cult following.
Of the show's belly-laugh appeal, MacFarlane has said, "Particularly now, with the current landscape of sitcoms, we're out to make jokes. I think that gets lost in a lot of sitcoms that get caught up in things like story and character development and emotional storytelling. That stuff is important, but at the end of the day, 'job one' in sitcoms is you've got to keep people laughing."
Family Guy was canceled in 2002, but runaway DVD sales, big rerun ratings, and a large number of complaining fans were enough to gain the attention of studio executives. After serious negotiations, Fox decided to resurrect Family Guy and thereby cash in on its moneymaking potential for the foreseeable future. Unsurprisingly, considering its tendency toward physical humor and political digs, Family Guy has not entirely avoided controversy. MacFarlane is a favorite target of conservative and family watchdog groups, who continuously take him to task for alleged indecency. Despite the political minefields, the show and MacFarlane have received numerous accolades.
'American Dad!' and 'The Cleveland Show'
MacFarlane continued to expand his horizons beyond the Griffins and in 2005 revealed another would-be hit series, American Dad!, which he co-created with Matt Weitzman and Mike Barker. Even more political in tone, the show follows and satirizes its main character, Stan Smith, a politically and socially conservative CIA officer.
In 2009, MacFarlane debuted the Family Guy spinoff The Cleveland Show, about the life of Peter Griffin's friend Cleveland Brown. The Cleveland Show enjoyed some success, earning an Emmy nomination, but it lacked the staying power of MacFarlane's previous animated efforts and ended its run after four seasons.
Acting, Directing and Producing
Following the initial success of Family Guy, MacFarlane began appearing on television shows such as The Gilmore Girls, The War at Home, and Star Trek: Enterprise. On the big screen, he voiced the character of Johann Kraus for Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), and appeared in the Dwayne Johnson comedy Tooth Fairy (2010).
In 2012, MacFarlane released his first live-action feature film, Ted, starring Mark Wahlberg. The movie tells the story of a grown man and his childhood teddy bear, who has been brought to life. Along with writing, directing and producing the film, MacFarlane voiced its titular talking bear and also wrote the lyrics to its Academy Award-nominated theme song, "Everybody Needs a Best Friend."
'A Million Ways to Die in the West,' 'Ted 2'
On the heels of Ted's success, MacFarlane moved forward with writing, directing and starring in A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014). True to its creator's style, the comedy featured plenty of raunchy jokes, but it also drew mixed reviews despite a talented cast that included Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson and Neil Patrick Harris. MacFarlane then returned with Ted 2 (2015), which failed to match the success of its predecessor but still topped $200 million at the global box office.
MacFarlane went in a different direction with his next project, The Orville. The Star Trek-inspired comedy-drama features MacFarlane as Captain Ed Mercer, who commands an exploratory ship alongside his ex-wife, played by Adrianne Palicki. Following an uneven first season in 2017, The Orville was praised for finding its footing in season 2. After two seasons on Fox, it was announced that season 3 would air on Hulu in 2020.
MacFarlane has also hosted the Comedy Central roasts of David Hasselhoff, Charlie Sheen and Donald Trump, as well as the 2013 Academy Awards. Additionally, he has been involved in numerous projects as an executive producer, including the sitcoms The Winner, Dads and Blunt Talk; the docuseries Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey; and the 2015 environmental documentary This Changes Everything.
Music and Albums
Outside of his television and film work, Seth MacFarlane has found time to cultivate his love for singing. A lifelong fan of big band tunes and retro-style full orchestras, he sang in 2009 at the BBC Proms with a set list of old favorites such as "Singin' in the Rain," and released his Grammy-nominated debut album, Music Is Better Than Words, in 2011.
Showing that his desire to record was more than a fad, MacFarlane delivered the albums Holiday for Swing (2014), No One Ever Tells You (2015), In Full Swing (2017) and Once in a While (2019), collaborating with artists like Norah Jones and Sara Bareilles and picking up two more Grammy nominations along the way.
Regarding his musical passion, MacFarlane says, "I love and am fascinated by exciting orchestration—what you can do with a band that size—and I think in many ways it's a lost art."
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