‘Family Guy’s Triumphant Return Post-Cancellation Featured A Perfect Middle Finger to Fox

Seth MacFarlane and his writers couldn’t believe the kinds of shows that stayed on the air during their forced hiatus
‘Family Guy’s Triumphant Return Post-Cancellation Featured A Perfect Middle Finger to Fox

In 2002, Fox did the unthinkable and canceled Seth MacFarlane’s fledgling animated comedy Family Guy after just three seasons. But, nearly three years later, Family Guy was a comedy sensation, and Fox came crawling back for more. Funny how something like that never happened after the ax finally fell on That ‘80s Show.

With Family Guy now going strong a full 22 seasons into its run, it’s hard to imagine there was ever a time when the flagship franchise of one of TV’s most prolific creators ever earned labels like “cult classic” or “unjustly canceled.” However, the early history of MacFarlane’s magnum opus was fraught with scheduling complications, shaky ratings and a network that had absolutely no idea what to do with their third adult animated comedy about a white-shirt wearing patriarch in a fictional, middle-American town full of oddballs. From the first moment Family Guy premiered on Fox following the Super Bowl on January 31, 1999, Fox couldn’t decide what the hell they were going to do with the profane, punchy counterpart of the King of the Hill and Simpsons successes they already had, and, after Family Guy spent three seasons bouncing around time slots, Fox told them to close up shop.

However, a massive wave of audience interest kept Family Guy afloat in the zeitgeist due to the success of the show’s reruns and DVD releases, forcing Fox to resurrect the series in 2005. When Family finally returned with its first new episode in almost three years, the critically acclaimed “North by North Quahog,” MacFarlane and his writers stuck it to their corporate overlords by listing every piece of shit, unpopular and unwatchable show Fox chose to keep around instead of Family Guy. Every. Single. One.

Yes, in their first meta cold-open back from cancellation, Family Guy name dropped every single failed Fox show that somehow continued production during their own hiatus, listing Dark Angel, Titus, Undeclared, Action, That '80s Show, Wonderfalls, Fastlane, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Skin, Girls Club, Cracking Up, The Pitts, Firefly, Get Real, FreakyLinks, Wanda at Large, Costello, The Lone Gunmen, A Minute with Stan Hooper, Normal, Ohio, Pasadena, Harsh Realm, Keen Eddie, The $treet, The American Embassy, Cedric the Entertainer Presents, The Tick, Luis, and Greg the Bunny as all the shows that would have to fail for Family Guy to “have a shot.” In “North by North Quahog,” MacFarlane hit the bullseye.

To be fair to this list, it’s not like every single Fox show that sputtered out while Family Guy was “on hiatus” was equally awful. Firefly, of course, was a huge hit for perpetually incensed space western nerds who needed a reason to complain about unjust cancellation, The Tick was, weirdly, a smartly written critical success, and even Greg The Bunny still has its advocates on certain internet nostalgia forums — and not just Seth Green’s alt accounts, either.

Additionally, MacFarlane believed the mandatory break he and his team had between Family Guy Seasons Three and Four helped to rejuvenate the series. “It's actually good to do that because animated shows don't get hiatuses,” MacFarlane explained of the two-and-a-half year leave in a 2005 interview, “Often times, you'll find later in the season, at least with Family Guy, as the season gets later and we get more tired, you see a lot more sex jokes and (bodily function) jokes and signs of a fatigued staff that their brains are just fried.”

So, basically, every time we see Quagmire on screen, it’s because the Family Guy writers need another cancellation vacation.

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