Saturday, November 12, 2005

Family Guy Pilot Pitch

I recently purchased the Family Guy Volume Two Season 3 DVD boxset. On the back of the DVD box jacket, under Bonus Features, is advertised "Original Series Pitch (Cut Down of Pilot Episode)." So, I threw the DVD into my Sony PlayStation 2 and watched this pilot pitch. It appeared to be a rather primitive version of the premiere episode entitled "Death Has a Shadow" which aired on Fox Network on January 31, 1999, immediately following Super Bowl 1999. After this short clip, I was surprised to see that there were absolutely NO CREDITS whatsoever. What happened to these credits?

Jim Keeshen's Family Guy Pilot Episode for Seth MacFarlane and FoxCasablanca Parody from Family Guy Pilot Episode

Curiosity got the best of me, so I went on
Google and did a little investigative reporting. Family Guy Universe gave the following information about the Family Guy Pilot:

Ah, the famed pilot episode. Some people say it doesn't exist. They are dead wrong, but some people still say it. The pilot episode was created when fox gave good ol' Seth a small budget to create a short episode of Family Guy. He was able to create almost a full episode to their surprise and fox gave him the job. Many people don't know that the pilot episode is almost the exact same thing as 101 - Death Has A Shadow.

The site also alleges that "the animation is much rougher" as Seth "MacFarlane had to draw late into the night for 6 months." The stills on this website were definitely from the pilot I viewed on the DVD. Another
site states that Seth "had $40,000 to create the family guy pilot." In a Cinescape interview with Seth MacFarlane, he claims that Fox "basically offered me a budget of $50,000 to do a 15-minute pilot, which is nothing given the fact that an animation pilot, a half-hour, costs close to a million." He also claims that he "spent about six months animating this thing out of my house." Seth further alleges that Fox and he "re-did that story as the pilot with more professional animation. It’s actually on the DVD set." So, I now confirmed that this pilot pitch was the basis for the premiere episode. Still, no mention of the credits. Did Seth MacFarlane create the entire pilot by himself? I found that hard to believe.

Seth also states in his interview with Cinescape:

I was working with a group of writers and artists who were such fantastic people, not only talented people but really great friends. We’re all very close and we’ve all kept [in touch], we all still hang out together. It’s a very close knit staff which you really don’t see a lot. Staff will break up and move on to other jobs but the Family Guy staff, we’re a very tightly knit group of people.

Who were these people? If they were such "great friends" as Seth claims, then why were they not given credits on this pilot pitch? So, I went back to Google and dug deeper to the answers to my burning questions...

Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network News alleges that Fox executives pressed Seth MacFarlane to create a series. The site states, "In a partnership with Jim Keeshen Productions, MacFarlane produced, wrote, animated, directed and performed all the male voices for what would become 'Family Guy'." So, I now knew that Seth MacFarlane worked with another company to create the pilot pitch and that Fox "quickly signed him to a multimillion-dollar deal to create more series." But what about Jim Keeshen Productions?

Animation World News claims in its October 1998 issue of Animation World Magazine that "Jim Keeshen has joined Film Roman as a director on the animated series, Family Guy. This spring, his company Jim Keeshen Productions produced the show's pilot with creator Seth MacFarlane." Despite this information, Jim Keeshen never directed or produced any of the Family Guy episodes which aired on Fox. What happened? Family Guy Wiki credits Jim Keeshen as one of the individuals who did the storyboards for the episode "Mind Over Murder" which aired on April 25, 1999. I found no other credits. However, in the Animation Industry Database, Jim Keeshen Productions states under its credits that it "Created Family Guy pilot that sold the series/Fox." According to Jim Keeshen's biography, "In 1998, Jim Keeshen Productions completed an original 14-minute pilot for 'Family Guy,' which sold the show as a new prime-time animated comedy to the Fox Network."

I decided to write Jim Keeshen an email on November 3, 2005. I followed up in person on November 7, 2005 and he stated that "Fox wanted to make it seem like that Seth was the wonder boy and he did everything on his own." He told me to email Fox and ask them why no one received credit. Apparently, Jim Keeshen and Jim Keeshen Productions produced the pilot pitch with Seth MacFarlane as the executive producer.

Courthouse from Family Guy Pilot EpisodeMoney Doesn't Grow on Trees from Family Guy Pilot Episode

Something, somewhere, went terribly wrong in this partnership. In fact, both Jim Keeshen and Jim Keeshen Productions, Inc. not only sued Seth MacFarlane and Fox Broadcasting Company but also The Irv Schechter Company and John Goldsmith. (Los Angeles Superior Court case no. BC211205) according to the
Entertainment Law Digest. LASC civil records online confirm that Keeshen did in fact file suit on or about June 1, 1999. The case was dismissed on or about December 28, 2000. So much for MacFarlane's great friendship with Keeshen. Regardless of the outcome of the case, the question of the missing credits remains unanswered. Clearly, neither MacFarlane nor Keeshen worked on this pilot by themselves. They had a crew of talented individuals who brought this show to life.

I will continue to dig deeper into this mystery in future blogs with court documents from the lawsuit filed by Jim Keeshen as well as the list of credits from everyone who worked hard on this pilot.

-- Des Manttari
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2005: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

(Editor's Note: I have added relevant links and images to this article. -- January 18, 2006)

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At 12:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was on this crew, I did multiple parts of the show, there are many things people don't know, many.

At 12:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and i have the original pilot with the credits and computer cell print outs...


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