Adam West may have died earlier this month, but his legacy — and tenure — as Mayor of Quahog will live on during the next season of Family Guy.
The late actor — who died at the age of 88 on June 9 — is, of course, best and forever known for starring as Batman in the 1960s TV series. (He also shined in Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel’s 1991 NBC comedy pilot Lookwell.) But he had a significant and delightful recurring role on Family Guy, appearing in more than 100 episodes as Mayor Adam West, the sonorously-toned and downright delusional politician who once tried to marry his hand (and, at another time, sought revenge on the ocean by trying to stab it). His most recent appearance came just last month, but, as it turns out, that won’t be West’s last on-air contribution to the show. Before he died, West had also recorded lines for several episodes slated for next season, and EW has learned that the producers of the animated Fox comedy have decided that they will honor West and his legacy by airing those episodes. (The show paid tribute to him on June 18 with a title card before a rebroadcast of the March episode “The Dating Game,” and earlier this month, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane saluted him on Twitter, concluding with, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have given, Mr. Mayor. You’re irreplaceable.”)
In the following interview, Family Guy executive producer Steve Callaghan — who wrote the first episode featuring West, which aired back in 2000 — remembers the late actor, his contributions to the show, and the plan to keep his memory alive by giving you more West in the coming year. “He’s gone,” says Callaghan, “but we can still enjoy his tremendous work for a while longer.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How much of a shock was Adam’s death to everyone at Family Guy? I understand that his battle with leukemia wasn’t very long.
STEVE CALLAGHAN: It came as a complete shock. If I get emotional in this conversation, I apologize. It was very shocking, which seems like such an odd thing to say about someone who is in their late 80s. But, the thing about Adam West is that every time he would come to record, he was just vital and healthy and had so much energy and happiness — no one that you would ever think wouldn’t be with you much longer. So it was very shocking, and it wasn’t that long ago… that he was here. We will miss him a lot. He brought so much to the show, and, of course, we’ll miss the character because it’s such a funny character. But we’ll just miss having his presence here in the office. There are not enough positive adjectives in the language to use to describe Adam West. He’s just such a wonderful, sweet, hilarious, kind guy. It’s a real blow to the show, but to us personally — those of us who have known him so long and have had the good fortune to work with him for so long.
How would you sum up what he meant to the show?
I’ve worked on pretty much every episode and it just so happened, luck of the draw, my very first episode writing for the show was the [season 2 episode, “Fifteen Minutes of Shame”] that introduced his character. It was an episode that started out with Quahog Clam Day — we were inventing this fictional event that happened in town every year, a day centered on clams, just because it seemed so idiotic — and Seth was the one who suggested, “Well, we need to have the mayor there to introduce this town-wide event.” So, we’re kicking around who would that be and what would the character of the mayor be, and I remember Seth saying, “What about Adam West?” And I [said], “Oh, he could be funny. What would the mayor’s name be or what would the character be?” And he said, “No, just Adam West. Like, he’s the mayor of the town.” I laughed and I thought, “Well, I don’t get it.” And he said, “Yeah, it would just be Adam West, and we’ll just never mention Batman, and it’s just a given that he’s the mayor.” We all just really laughed and sparked to that idea. And Seth had had a past working relationship with him because—
He worked with him on Johnny Bravo.
Seth had such a great time working with him and it turned out to be such a perfect choice. So he came in and did the part, and from the first record, we knew this is going to be a great asset to the show. He was such a valuable part of the universe, because not only did he have some sort of utility in that there are storylines that can benefit from having a mayor driving the story, but just as a comedic engine — he has almost virtually no straight lines. Because almost everything that comes out of that guy’s mouth is a joke. And it’s pretty remarkable, even on a show like ours. Even Peter Griffin has to have a fair number of straight lines.
Mayor Adam West was just an almost endless source of comedy, and you could very reliably go to him to get you out of a scene, or to add comedy whenever and wherever you needed it. So, he meant a lot to us in terms of being a principle character on the series for so long, but [also as] just a very reliable place to go to for laughs. And then, as the series progressed, he became even more meaningful to the series because in addition to just being the mayor, we had a whole episode dedicated to him meeting and falling in love with Lois’s sister, so he became Peter’s brother-in-law. I think that’s just a reflection of how much we love weaving that character into episodes, because he was always so fun to be a part of the show. It made natural, evolutionary sense to have him move from being just the mayor to being the mayor and someone who shows up at Thanksgiving dinner with a bowl of marshmallow Peeps. He was just a great character to have around, and it will certainly take some getting used to figure out how we are going to go forward without this great character to rely upon.
What was a recording session with him like? Did he ad-lib a lot?
I used to always look forward to any chance I got to direct Adam. I was a huge, huge fan of Batman when I was growing up. They would show reruns after school when I would get home. And I was such a fan, that as a kindergartner, I cajoled my mother into stitching me a Batman costume that I wore to school. Not on Halloween, mind you, just on a regular Thursday. And if 6-year-old me would have ever imagined that years later I would have a personal friendship, or work relationship at least, it would have blown my mind. And I always loved recording him. It was just like seeing an old friend, and there was always the some amount of catching up and chatting and finally one of us would say, “Well, I guess we should get to work here.” He always had such a blast and was very game for anything, which was so nice. I can think of one example in all the years when he asked, “Can we change this line a little bit?”
We would put anything in front of him. There’s a ridiculous line from an episode years ago where he’s standing on a street corner saying to a passing woman, he says, “Hey, baby. Wanna take a gander at some Adam West penis?” And he’s like, “Okay, I’ll do it.” He just was such a good sport. Always really funny. So easy to work with, easy to take direction, and sometimes he’d ad-lib or expand on something or go, “How about if I do it this way?” And he’d do something that was invariably funnier than what we had on the page, and was just a really good sport with a great sense of humor.
The one other thing that I definitely, definitely felt from him was such appreciation. He was so happy and thankful to be a part of Family Guy. And he, on more than one occasion with me, would marvel at the fact that he now had fans who knew him only as the mayor of Quahog, and didn’t even know him as Batman — younger fans, of course. He would remark that he would go out in the world and he liked that people would come up to him and talk to him about how much they enjoyed his performances on the show, and that that meant a lot to him and made him feel good. He was very appreciative for that… I think he really loved being part of the show as much as we loved having him.
NEXT PAGE: Callaghan on the decision to keep Mayor West on the show, what to expect