Seth MacFarlane seals megadeal
Lengthy negotiations prove fruitful for 'Family Guy' creator
May 4, 2008
The pact, which could be worth more than $100 million, will keep MacFarlane at 20th TV through 2012. It covers his services on "Guy" and his other two animated series for 20th TV and Fox -- "American Dad!" and the upcoming "Guy" spinoff "The Cleveland Show" -- as well as his TV development, including a multicamera comedy with "Guy" writer Gary Janetti. It also encompasses new-media projects related to MacFarlane's TV series as well as DVD and merchandising revenue from them. ("Guy" alone has grown into a $1 billion franchise with red-hot DVD and merchandise sales.) Additionally, the deal is said to include advances towards MacFarlane's back end, which is expected to increase under the new deal.
"I get a lot of pleasure out of making shows," MacFarlane said. "It's a bonus to be getting paid well for it, and it's a double bonus to be getting paid exorbitantly for it."
Neither side would comment on the size of the deal, with 20th TV chairman Dana Walden noting only that "no one will ever have to offer Seth a handout of any kind."
MacFarlane's deal is expected to eclipse the $60 million five-year feature/TV pact J.J. Abrams inked with Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. TV in 2006.
The deal is retroactive, as MacFarlane's previous pact with 20th TV expired more than a year ago.
"It's a relief to have it done," 20th TV chairman Gary Newman said.
Added Walden, "Today marks the first time in a long time (20th TV top business affairs execs) Howard Kurtzman and Neal Baseman did not have their shoulders up to their ears with anxiety."
Just as "Guy's" winding path to success was full of roadblocks -- Fox canceled the show twice before it triumphantly returned to become the network's top-rated comedy -- the road to MacFarlane's new deal was a long and bumpy one.
At one point in October 2006, when the negotiations had stalled, 20th TV delayed the start of production on the sixth season of "Guy" by two and a half months.
Still, throughout the process, 20th TV brass never considered letting MacFarlane go.
"I'd rather lose a limb," 20th TV chairman Newman quipped.
MacFarlane, who also voices most of the characters on "Guy," admits the thought of going to another studio crossed his mind during the drawn-out negotiations.
"But it didn't seem like anything was worth leaving 'Family Guy,' " he said. "And despite all the statements to the contrary, with the lawyers getting at each other's throats, deep down I knew it would eventually be resolved in a positive way."
The talks came to a halt during the WGA strike, when MacFarlane was very outspoken against the studios. He also publicly objected to 20th TV and Fox's decision to complete episodes of "Guy" without his blessing.
Both sides stressed that the events during the strike didn't effect the negotiations.
"No one can afford for the strike to permanently affect the relationship with the studio that you work for," MacFarlane said. "And on some level, you have to pretend it didn't happen, and at the same time continue to press ahead."
Ten years ago, fresh out of college, he pitched to Fox an idea for an animated comedy based on characters from his thesis and his sequel to it.
The network and 20th TV gave him $50,000 to make a presentation. After working day and night for six months doing virtually all the animation and drawing in his home, he created "Family Guy." The network picked it up, and at 24, MacFarlane became the youngest executive producer/showrunner ever.
Soon thereafter, before "Guy" even premiered, 20th TV signed him in a multimillion longterm overall deal. The studio also helped keep "Guy" alive after it was canceled by Fox.
"I'm lucky to be at a place that creatively had been nothing less than 100% supportive," MacFarlane said. "Signing such a long contract is something I can feel good and relaxed about because I know they have tight purse strings, but they certainly give you a lot of creative freedom.
MacFarlane's main priority at the moment is getting "Cleveland," which he created with Rich Appel and Mike Henry, up and running. Eventually, he envisions his Fuzzy Door production company as an incubator for writing talent.
MacFarlane is repped by Endeavor, attorneys Jim Jackoway and Karl and manager John Jacobs.