As Family Guy ramps up for its 21st Season, the cast and crew are rightfully getting excited about the premiere.
Rich Appel and Alec Sulkin, who has worked on the show for a while, share their behind-the-scenes look at the new Season.
They both serve as executive producers and showrunners on the show.
Both provided their insight into the show and the fun the entire crew has now that their back in the office!
Check out the interview below!
How do you keep the ideas fresh while keeping the show grounded in the classic Family Guy dynamic?
Alec: A big part is we’ve had many writers on staff here for a long time. I consider myself a newbie, and I’ve been here for 18 years.
We have people with long memories who have been here a while. When we come up with stories, we have people that can say, “we’ve done that already,” or “The Simpsons have done that already.”
We’ve been able, as the world and culture change, those changes give us stories. Our 400th episode this year is a social media story we couldn’t have told even a few years ago.
Those things give us stories, and we pull something from our lives and society.
Rich: We are very fortunate that many people working on the show have worked here for so long.
In comedy, as you know as a viewer, the line between something stupid and original or dumb and provocative is so thin that you have to feel comfortable with one another to explore all these areas.
Whenever I’ve worked at other shows, the dream is to force people to know each other better than they do on day one so they feel the freedom.
On our show, we’ve been through kids, marriages, divorces, and losses of a family member, so there’s so little inhibition which is a huge gift in a writer’s room.
The premiere is a special episode (like the Three Kings episode). How do you develop these themes for these types of episodes?
Alec: Probably once a season, we’ll say, “hey, we’re looking to do a three-parter.” Luckily we have funny and creative writers who continue to develop different things we can do with three parts.
We had a funny episode maybe six or seven years ago where we did “three directors.” We did Peter getting fired in the style of three different directors, which was great.
We decided we’d do three Oscar-winning films for this year’s premiere. We talked about that for a while, and it was very fun. We’ve got Silence of The Lambs in there with Stewie; that was a no-brainer.
Rich: We’ll kick around with everybody what we chose to do. We talk about so many others because we want to find the roles that would be funny for our characters to play.
Our three-hander in Family Guy Season 20 was the HBO shows. Everyone wanted to do Big Little Lies, but all the best parts were the women. So we put the men in those roles, which became an exchange between Lois and Peter, making it funnier!
Alec: It’s funny you bring that up; for every one we put out, there’s about half a dozen we reject. I remember specifically maybe 3-4 years ago, we had a room working for a few weeks where we had each act the Griffin Family was living in a different state in the country.
That was all because I wanted to have Peter imitating the Jeremiah Johnson GIF, where he turned around and nodded at the screen when the family lived in Alaska. Surprise, surprise, we couldn’t make an entire episode out of that.
On average, how long does it take to write an entire episode?
Rich: Well, it takes Alec 15 minutes, and it takes me like a month.
Alec: Everybody gets two weeks to write their writer’s draft. Of course, there’s a process around coming up with the story idea.
There’s breaking the story, outlining it in three acts, then the writers themselves have to write an outline for a few days. Once we look at the outline and say it looks good, we have a room full of writers pitch jokes for each scene for a couple of days.
Then that writer gets to go off for two weeks and write that first draft. Then that comes back to us. We rewrite it, table-read it, it gets animated in a crude black-and-white style, and rewrite it again. It gets sent out to be colored in, and much later, we see that rewrite it one last time, and then it goes on air! It’s quite a process.
What are you looking forward to most with this Season of Family Guy?
Alec: It’s good to be back in person now. It’s nice to see all our friends again. This Season, season 21, I think I’ll remember most for being back here in the office.
Is this the first year fully back?
Rich: It’s only been six weeks [at the time of the interview]! We were out of the office for 29 months. The artists aren’t back yet.
Luckily, because it’s animated, a lot of what they need is their specially-configured tablets. We also have editing machines in the garages of different editors. The writers are back, and while we had a great time on zoom, to our surprise, it is nice to be in person. Because sometimes our best stories are inspired by how poorly we think a writer’s dressed on a certain day!
Rich: Because you can’t tell on zoom! You can’t see the high tops. They don’t think anyone’s going to notice!
Alec: We managed pretty well. It would’ve been challenging to start a new show or a show in the second Season.
Since so many of us had worked together for so many years, we understood each other’s shorthand over zoom, so it was an easier process.
Peter and the whole Griffin family can get into some pretty out-there stuff. How do you balance that by ensuring it’s still grounded in reality, because unless it’s a special episode, it’s not a fantasy show?
Rich: That’s a good question. We have this unwritten assumption or goal for ourselves when we’re breaking a story to think: could this story be told, in its own way, on Modern Family? Could it be told on: a fill-in-the-blank sitcom?
If it’s a story with an emotional through-line or something at stake, like on Everybody Love’s Raymond, even if it’s tiny. It’s one of the best sitcoms, and the stakes were small. Once we have that story, we lay onto it some of the stuff that Family Guy from the day Seth [Macfarlane] created the show is known for.
So watching it won’t feel like anything other than a Family Guy episode, with the cutaways or specific excursions Peter might go on. Then you hope you’re coming back to a through-line where you can say, “oh right, I get this; it was a spousal disagreement or an assignment of labor.” Just told the Family Guy way. An assignment of labor is always the funniest area.
Alec: I think you found your headline!
So Fanatics, what do you think?
Are you looking forward to the new Season of Family Guy?
Let us know if you are excited about their monumental 400th episode in the comments below!
Michael Stack is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.