Seth MacFarlane: Integrity Lost?

Seth MacFarlane is a talented chap. That is a fact that is very hard to deny. From his roots working on Cartoon Network shows to his meteoric rise to superstardom, he’s worked hard at what he’s done and he at least deserves credit for what he’s achieved thus far.

Having said that, a recent post over on ToonBarn espouses how he’s lost his integrity as of late by way of debasing the original nature of his shows and by making much more overt his political and philosophical leanings in his shows. While the nature of his leanings isn’t necessarily in question in the ToonBarn post, the fact that MacFarlane is doing it to existing, beloved shows is.

That’s a tough claim to make, especially in light of the fact that they are his shows and he is free to take them in any direction he wishes. However, it does speak volumes about how he is allowed to run his shows.

Two examples can be used as a comparison. The first is The Simpsons and the second is Ren & Stimpy.

Looking at the first, it is tough to argue that Matt Groening has lost his integrity when it comes to the Simpsons. After all, he is still the nerdy underground comic artist he was then, the only difference is that he also created and is still involved with, two hit TV shows. All the same, it is impossible to win the argument that says the Simpsons as it currently stands is the same as it was in the mid-90s. Can Groening be blamed for this? Hardly, he was only a small piece in the larger puzzle that is the Simpsons organization.

How about Ren & Stimpy creator John K.? He stuck to his artistic guns and was eventually fired by Nickelodeon because of it. His integrity wasn’t in question then; a position that hasn’t changed since.

So where does that leave MacFarlane? He is undoubtedly the same person now as he was when Family Guy was first broadcast so it’s hard to say whether that is the case. His shows are all the same basic structure (family-based with two characters who shouldn’t talk but do anyway) and have stayed surprisingly close to their original premise compared to other hit shows.

Nope, MacFarlane as a person still has his integrity intact. What’s changed is the network he deals with, FOX.

Although it was well established when Family Guy was conceived, the FOX network was still only about 10 years old at the time and still a relative upstart compared to the same network of today. The spirit of underdog was still prevalent when Family Guy and cousin Futurama were ordered but the business conservationism that defined the other three networks was slowly creeping in, thus even though the shows were new and edgy, they didn’t really push that many boundaries.

Fast forward to today, and Family Guy has gone through a re-incarnation after fans rightfully demanded that it be brought back. The difference this time is that it’s now been on the air for over 10 years, a time frame that puts it in very rarefied company indeed, and will need to be replaced someday soon.

The only problem is that networks hate having to replace moneymaking shows because it means rolling the dice and potentially losing a lot of dough. Cue the cheaper solution of letting shows run as necessary but by giving the creators significant leeway to experiment. Thus we have Family Guy descend to a lower levels of audience intelligence in the never-ending pursuit of eyeballs.

FOX could step in at any time and stop the rot, but they haven’t, and it is on this fact that they are the ones who can be said to have lost their integrity. MacFarlane was always going to make the show that he saw fit and how Family Guy has progressed is simply evidence of that. In stark contrast, Nickelodeon saw falling standards and they did not hesitate to act. As a result both John K. and the show suffered in the short term but have ultimately gained in the long term as the high standards have stood the test of time

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