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March 10, 2010

'Family Guy'

Smacfarlane By James Hibberd

Who did Seth MacFarlane want to replace Cleveland Brown after the character left "Family Guy" for a spinoff?

Mr. T.

"It would be like Mr. T was in the show as Mr. T, and he's just the fourth guy in the group," MacFarlane told fans at PaleyFest on Tuesday evening.

Except, MacFarlane said, Mr. T is a born-again Christian, so it "didn't really work out."

The political and crude content of "Family Guy" was a frequent topic at MacFarlane's PaleyFest event. The evening was moderated by Bill Maher, whose HBO talk show "Real Time" featured MacFarlane as a guest for its recent season premiere.

"Animation is one of the few remaining television genres where you can really touch on politics," said MacFarlane, characteristically sipping a glass of booze throughout the event. "A live-action sitcom can't really go there."

Despite recently drawing nationwide headlines by offending former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, MacFarlane said religion -- not politics -- is the trickier subject matter.

"It's a hard fucking pill for them to swallow -- religion," said MacFarlane, noting he recently had to change a line from "Oh Jesus" to "Oh God" despite the character reverently quoting a line from the movie "War Games."

If MacFarlane could have one word uncensored in a season of "Family Guy," he said it wouldn't be any of the major four-letter words, but rather the use of "goddamnit" and "Jesus Christ" as expletives.

"In a second, I would pick [those two]," he said. "Especially in New England [where the show is set], that's just how those guys talk."

MacFarlane repeatedly praised, of all people, the censors at Fox, suggesting the network tends to be more skittish (and less accurately so) about what sort of content will offend viewers.

"Ironically, the one thing about the censors at Fox, they've got their finger on the pulse of what the average American is gonna get bent out of shape about better than anybody else at the network," MacFarlane said. "You could make the argument that over the past 10 years our biggest defenders at the network have been the censors -- believe it or not."

Yet there's one piece of quasi-profanity that some viewers mistakenly believe is in  every episode. During the show's theme song in the opening credits, a line sounds like, "all the things that make us effin' cry."

"It's laugh and cry," MacFarlane said, clearing it up for Maher and many in the audience. "It's the accent."

Maher praised the show's lack of predictability, the way you can never be sure where a narrative will take you, even if it means having characters make seemingly permanent changes.

"That's the highest compliment you can give us," MacFarlane said. "All my favorite shows are like that. I know if I watch a cop show or a medical show I'm going to see the disease of the week. I used to like 'The Twilight Zone' or 'Star Trek,' shows where you turn it on and not have any idea what you were going to get that week."

That said, MacFarlane acknowledged that it is possible to take the famed, and sometimes derided, loose "Family Guy" story structure too far.

"There are times when it's possible to be too crazy," he said, citing an episode in which Stewie spends the entire time in a robot suit. "But if something is funny enough, with animation you can always find a way to buy it back."

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