Road to NATPE: ‘Guy’ Marking New Territory

Nov 28, 2005  •  Post A Comment

As Peter Griffin, one of the main characters in Twentieth Television’s animated half-hour “Family Guy,” might say, his show’s comeback story from creation to the eve of syndication is “frickin’ sweet.”

“Family Guy,” which has endured cancellations, major breaks between airings and a resurrection driven by its popularity on DVD-a format that wasn’t even considered a factor in a series’ success just a few years ago-is close to having more than 100 completed episodes.

“Family Guy’s” entry into syndication is a new frontier for the television business, since it is the first show to make it to the crucial 100-plus-episode mark based on its DVD success.

While several off-network half-hours have already been sold into syndication for fall 2006 and fall 2007 launches, Twentieth has yet to set a date for a “Family Guy” rollout, said Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of the company.

“It’s not through growing,” Mr. Cook said, noting that waiting until the right moment to announce “Family Guy’s” availability in syndication can greatly impact the show’s value when it comes to making deals with stations.

When Twentieth does take “Family” to market, the series is bound to become a test case, said Bill Carroll, VP and director of television for Katz Television Group. With so many of the episodes already in the hands of the most avid “Family Guy” viewers, one of the biggest questions the sale could answer is whether hard-core fans will drive viewership in syndication.

“It raises awareness, but the ‘Family Guy’ loyalists already own the DVD, but that seems not to stop them watching [the program] on Sunday night when it’s [in] broadcast,” Mr. Carroll said. “We won’t know the answer of how that plays into the mix for a while.”

It’s logical to assume it will be as successful in a syndication format, considering how well it has done elsewhere, said John Rash, senior VP and director of broadcast operations for ad agency Campbell Mithun.

“No matter what venue it’s placed in, it has found an audience, made money, and [it] will undoubtedly find more viewers in syndication,” Mr. Rash said.

Looking at the show’s performance on Fox the past few months, Mr. Cook dismissed concerns that “Family Guy” might suffer from overexposure with a syndication run.

“Our experience is people buy [the DVDs] to collect them and it doesn’t infringe on viewing patterns,” he said.

A modestly rated cult favorite when it first aired on Fox in 1999, “Family Guy” features the misadventures of a quirky middle-class New England family. The series bounced around the network’s schedule before fading off the air in 2002. But the series found a new audience once the first two seasons aired on cable and were sold on DVD in 2003.

Cable ratings and DVD sales were so good the studio put the show back in production in 2004. With Fox relaunching “Family Guy” this past May, the show has performed on Sunday night, particularly with young men.

Aside from keeping a watch on the show’s ratings performance on Fox, Twentieth is looking at the ad market, the stations’ financial performance and the overall state of the economy as an indicator for any potential “Family Guy” sale, said Paul Franklin, Twentieth’s executive VP and general sales manager of broadcast.

“We’re monitoring all that,” he said. “When you strike with something like this, you want the marketplace to be healthy.”

Twentieth’s own Fox station group is a natural contender for “Family Guy,” considering the stations already carry fellow Fox animated fare “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill.” Tribune may also make a competitive play for the series if it feels it needs its own animated series to compete against “The Simpsons.”

One top 10 station executive said an all-Fox deal for “Family Guy” may be a given.

“They may have better offers, but they may not get the show anyway because of Fox favoritism,” the executive said.

But at the same time, the Fox stations may be tapped out in terms of time periods. Thanks to a more-than-a-decade-old deal, “The Simpsons” (which was initially viewed with suspicion from stations) is sold with no barter, making it highly profitable to run several times a day, sucking up multiple time periods.

“It could be Fox has too much animation,” the station executive said.

Rise, fall and rise of ‘Family Guy’

December 1997: The Fox Network asks a young Hanna-Barbera animator, Seth MacFarlane, to develop an animated pilot for “Family Guy” based on his script. Mr. MacFarlane spends six months preparing the presentation and provides all the male voices.

May 1998: Fox gives a 13-episode order to “Family Guy” after viewing a seven-minute pilot on Mr. MacFarlane’s laptop computer. The order makes Mr. MacFarlane, then 24, one of the youngest TV series creators.

January 1999: “Family Guy” gets a special premiere following the Super Bowl telecast.

April 1999: The show begins airing on Sundays to solid ratings. It finishes its first season in May.

September 1999: For the 1999-2000 season, “Family Guy” moves to Thursdays, where its ratings performance is poor. Within months, Fox decides not to produce any more episodes.

March 2000: Gail Berman joins Fox as entertainment president and as one of her first actions orders 13 episodes of “Family Guy” for a summer 2001 run.

September 2000: Mr. MacFarlane wins an Emmy for outstanding voice-over performance.

July 2001: Season three premieres and runs for 13 episodes. By the end of the season the show is canceled, with what appeared to be the last episode airing Feb. 14, 2002.

April 2003: Comedy Central runs “Family Guy” reruns in its Adult Swim evening block, generating big ratings. Seasons one and two are released on DVD and sell 400,000 boxed sets in a month.

March 2004: 20th Century Fox announces it will produce at least a season’s worth of new episodes for Cartoon Network and Fox.

July 2004: TBS double-runs “Family Guy” reruns in prime time.

May 2005: “Family Guy” returns to Fox on Sundays and performs to solid ratings, resulting in a fifth full-season order.

October 2005: Fox releases the direct-to-DVD “Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin-The Untold Story,” which makes more than $40 million in two weeks. “Stewie” is the second-biggest DVD premiere of the year, according to DVD Exclusive magazine.