By Robert Isenberg
Special to MSN TV
To a lot of people, the name Seth MacFarlane equals "Family Guy." They know him only as the creator of Quahog and the voice behind Peter Griffin. Next week, FOX airs the 200th episode of "Family Guy," one of the most iconoclastic comedies in prime-time history. And if that were his only achievement, MacFarlane would still astonish fans and foes alike.
But MacFarlane is a Renaissance man, the kind of energetic prodigy who can't stop working on multiple projects at once. He couples his talent for writing, singing and animating with a wicked sense of humor, a no-holds-barred wit that has both changed the face of comedy and horrified the Parents Television Council.
So who is Seth MacFarlane? Where did this creative polymath come from? The man is hard to summarize, and his personality is full of surprises. Here, to celebrate the longevity of "Family Guy," we offer some highlights from MacFarlane's eventful life:
1973: MacFarlane is born in Kent, Conn. Like the Griffins, MacFarlane is a native New Englander with largely Irish ancestry.
1975: At 2 years old, MacFarlane starts sketching cartoon characters. Early on, he already knows his life's mission: to become an animator. He also cultivates a love for "Stars Wars," "Star Trek" and Broadway musicals.
1984: At 11 years old, MacFarlane draws a cartoon strip that pokes fun of Catholic Communion. His local newspaper publishes the strip, and town parishioners are outraged.
1991: MacFarlane graduates high school and receives an 8mm camera as a gift. He enrolls in the Rhode Island School of Design. There he meets Mike Henry, who will later voice "Family Guy" character Cleveland Brown and collaborate extensively with MacFarlane. He also encounters a local security guard, whose peculiar voice will one day inspire Peter Griffin's.
1995: For his senior thesis, MacFarlane writes, animates and stars in "The Life of Larry," a short film. This 10-minute comedy, and its sequel, "Larry and Steve," is a direct predecessor to "Family Guy" (dopey father, wife named Lois, talking dog and even a store called Stewie's).
Mid-90s: MacFarlane begins his career with Hanna-Barbera, writing and storyboarding for a variety of programs, from "Dexter's Laboratory" to "Johnny Bravo." During freelance stints for Disney, he contributes script work to "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective."
1996: The "Larry" shorts catch the attention of Cartoon Network, which broadcasts both films on its "World Premiere Toons" series. Executives at FOX notice the films and contact MacFarlane for a potential prime-time series.
1999: After a protracted series of pitches and negotiations, MacFarlane finally has his chance with FOX: He creates "Family Guy," the story of an overweight Rhode Island father, his devoted wife, their awkward kids, their homicidal baby and their conversational dog. Like "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill," the animated show is a satire of suburban American life. However, "Family Guy" startles audiences with its surreal humor, unconventional cutaways, widespread pop culture references and off-color jabs. The pilot premieres just after Super Bowl XXXIII, attracting millions of viewers.
2001: Disheartened by mixed reviews and unpredictable viewership, FOX cancels "Family Guy." (Frequently shifting the show's timeslot didn't help). Some fans believe that FOX caved to critics, who often found the show offensive. Ironically, "Family Guy" also wins an Emmy for Outstanding Music and Lyrics.
2001: After a series of mishaps, MacFarlane misses his plane from Boston to New York. His original flight is hijacked and hits the Twin Towers. MacFarlane recognizes his brush with death but resolves not to dwell on it.
2001-2004: Astonishingly, "Family Guy" becomes a DVD sensation, selling millions of copies of the original three seasons. The show also debuts on "Adult Swim," garnering incredible ratings. MacFarlane enters negotiations to revive the series.
2004: After a three-year hiatus, "Family Guy" returns to FOX with 35 new episodes. The show's popularity explodes, evolving from a cult hit to a billion-dollar franchise.
2005: Bolstered by newfound popularity, FOX green-lights "American Dad!," about a hyper-conservative CIA agent and his dysfunctional family. The show is a gradual success. Because MacFarlane writes for the series and voices several "American Dad!" characters as well, his workload doubles.
2006: MacFarlane co-produces "The Winner," a sitcom about a successful man who nostalgically recalls his 1980s youth. The show is canceled after six episodes.
2007: When the Writers Guild of America goes on strike, MacFarlane joins the picket lines. Many other TV celebrities continue with their work, but MacFarlane weathers the full three months. MacFarlane is also a vocal advocate for gay rights and the Democratic Party.
2007: Bourne Co. Music Publishers sues MacFarlane (among others) for the "Family Guy" song "I Need a Jew," which parodies "When You Wish Upon a Star." The suit is eventually thrown out.
2009: "The Cleveland Show" begins as a spin-off to "Family Guy," following the life of Cleveland Brown as he leaves Quahog and starts a new life in Stoolbend, Va. Despite its less enthusiastic following, "Cleveland" still airs.
2011: In tune with his affection for Broadway, MacFarlane records "Music Is Better Than Words," an album of show-tunes and standards. The collection is nominated for two Grammy Awards.
2012: In a striking departure, MacFarlane co-writes and directs "Ted," a live-action film about a Boston dude and his anthropomorphic teddy bear. The movie impresses many critics and becomes the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time. MacFarlane expands his media repertoire with lifelike CGI.
2012: An even more surprising turn: MacFarlane donates a collection of Carl Sagan manuscripts -- 800 boxes of papers -- to the Library of Congress. MacFarlane is a longtime fan of Sagan and astronomical endeavors, and he plans to produce an updated version of Sagan's "Cosmos" series in 2014.
2012: FOX airs the 200th episode of "Family Guy," and the show shows no signs of slowing down.
Robert Isenberg is a writer and actor based in Pittsburgh.
The 200th episode of "Family Guy" airs Sunday, Nov. 11, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.
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