'Family Guy' may return
By Gary Levin, USA TODAY
Baby Stewie could be staging a comeback.
Family Guy could return with as many as 35 new episodes for January 2005.
In a sign of the growing importance of DVD sales to Hollywood, 20th Century Fox is considering a plan to resume production of Family Guy, a sometimes crude animated comedy that the Fox network took off the air more than 18 months ago.
As many as 35 new episodes could return in January 2005, marking the first time that a canceled series has been revived based on strong DVD demand and ratings in syndication.
Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman Sandy Grushow said a decision is expected soon and called the series a late-blooming phenomenon that may have aired before its time.
A DVD set of the show's first 28 episodes released in April has sold nearly 1 million copies, making it this year's top-selling TV show and the No. 4 television title ever, according to Video Store magazine. A second collection, of 22 episodes, has sold 520,000 copies. And the series is Cartoon Network's most popular among adults.
Family Guy premiered with a big audience — 22 million viewers — and some controversy after Fox's 1999 Super Bowl telecast. In the pilot episode, Stewie, a talking toddler with a clipped British accent, was openly contemptuous of his loutish dad and bent on killing his sweet-natured mother in a quest for world domination.
Creator Seth MacFarlane, then 24, wrote scripts, drew characters, provided voices and infused the show with rapid-fire sight gags, a nod to The Simpsons. But ratings faded, and the show ended with a whimper early last year.
The relatively short network run may have helped DVD sales, Video Store's Judith McCourt says. "It really speaks to something that had a following, was cut off network TV, and people said, 'What did I miss?' "
DVD and cable viewers have "created kind of a groundswell that could lead to better ratings" on Fox, Grushow says, although new episodes could end up going directly to Cartoon Network.
A decision to restart the show suggests a reversal from the old TV business model, in which a network hit predicts a profit windfall in syndication. This time, the promise of DVD and syndication gold could justify a show's return even if low network ratings didn't.
But canceled favorites aren't likely to rise from the grave en masse. Family Guy has one major advantage: With no actors and no sets, it can simply be drawn back into existence.