‘Family Guy’ Producers May Take Whack at ‘Empire Strikes Back’ Next
September 24, 2007 12:30 PM
Sunday night’s one-hour “Star Wars” parody episode of Fox’s “Family Guy” was such a ratings success that producers are considering devoting an episode to “The Empire Strikes Back” next year.
The season premiere featured characters from “Family Guy” performing a compressed re-enactment of the 1977 film, using the original sound effects and John Williams’ musical score.
Posting a 5.5 preliminary rating among adults 18 to 49, the episode was the highest-rated “Family Guy” since the show returned to Fox in 2005 (full weekend ratings will be posted soon). A spokesman for 20th Century Fox Television said there’s no official announcement on a sequel, but doing “Empire” next year “seems likely.”
In an interview conducted before the episode aired, executive producer Chris Sheridan said the staff wants to do “Empire” if Sunday’s episode performed well. The parodies could give “Family Guy” an annual format-breaking event like “The Simpsons’” popular Halloween episodes.
But if you missed last night’s episode (titled “Blue Harvest”—the production code name of “Return of the Jedi”), future viewing opportunities are scarce. The day after airing, “Family Guy” episodes typically are available on Fox’s video player, or for purchase on Xbox 360 and other electronic retailers. For the time being, Fox is holding back “Blue Harvest” and has no current plans for an encore presentation. Fox also kept the episode off iTunes, where it uploaded premiere episodes for several other shows last week. (Note: A reader pointed out in the blog comments that Adult Swim airs "Family Guy" encores. According to the network's Web site, "Blue Harvest" is slated for Oct. 14 at 11 p.m.).
The parody was produced with the full cooperation of George Lucas. The unusual partnership between the envelope-pushing cartoon and the famously protective “Star Wars” creator was part corporate synergy, part creative respect.
“This is a relationship that’s built over time,” Sheridan says. “There are a lot of ‘Star Wars’ fans on staff. We do ‘Star Wars’ references on the show. Lucasfilm has been a fan.”
Parody doesn’t necessarily require the permission of a copyright owner. When “Family Guy” had the idea to do a full “Star Wars” parody, with some scenes matching shot-for-shot the original film, producers sought out Lucas for a couple of reasons. First, Fox distributes the “Star Wars” films, so there’s an existing relationship to protect. Second, “Family Guy” wanted access to the film’s original sound effects and music.
Then things got a little tricky. “Family Guy” writers wanted to retain the show’s wicked (and sometime lurid) sense of humor, without alienating Lucas.
“‘Family Guy’ is a pretty edgy show. There was some thought of [what Lucas might think] in the process, but we wanted to stay true to our show,” Sheridan says.
There were a few minor concessions, such as getting rid of some double-layered incest humor between Luke Skywalker (played in the show by the family’s teenage son) and his sister Princess Leia (played in the episode by Chris’ mom).
“There was a couple things that they wanted us to tone down, but we’re used to getting those kind of notes from Standards,” Sheridan says.
UPDATE: Why is Fox being stingy about making "Blue Harvest" available online? Because 20th Century Fox Television is fast-tracking a special DVD of the episode, sources say. The DVD will feature an extended cut of "Harvest," possibly include an interview with George Lucas and other features. Running time and release date are not nailed down.