''Family Guy,'' Fox Entertainment, and Renny Harlin made TV news this week

By Joe Flint
May 21, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Family values?
Every network claims there are lines it doesn’t cross, but when it comes to Fox’s Family Guy, it’s hard to figure out just where the net won’t go.

Take the May 2 episode, which centered on dim-bulb dad Peter’s jealousy over his family’s admiration for a disabled neighbor. Amid the usual tasteless cracks (”You’re not supposed to admire wheelchair people, you’re supposed to feel sorry for them!”), there’s a particularly gratuitous scene in which the head of a John F. Kennedy Pez dispenser is shot off during a robbery. ”Good thing I still have my Bobby Kennedy Pez dispenser!” chirps the kid left holding the decapitated Pez.

It was amusing in the most shocking way, but was it necessary? The show, when it’s not ripping off The Simpsons, already gets away with boorish sex jokes and numerous Hitler references. Fox censors (now, there’s an oxymoron at the net responsible for faked reality) no doubt figure enough time has passed since JFK’s assassination to make such cracks acceptable. They declined to comment, but Fox Entertainment prez Doug Herzog offered this oddly contradictory defense: ”I won’t argue. That particular joke might be seen as tasteless. Our intention is not to offend, although I can see why people might be offended.”

Family exec producer David Zuckerman says he took heat for the joke from everyone, including his lawyer and agent. (Lord knows, if you offend an agent you probably have gone too far.) ”Maybe they’re right, [but] we stand by the joke,” he says. Like Herzog — former prexy of Comedy Central, bastion of envelope pushing — Zuckerman seems to feel humor needs to border on bad taste to get noticed.

Don’t look for Family Guy‘s tone to change. While Zuckerman promises fewer Hitler nods (”We went to that well too often”), the show is currently battling Fox over a Pope-related episode — probably something implying pedophilia.

And so on
Big-screen director Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Cutthroat Island) is crossing over to the small side, exec-producing a half-hour pilot for Fox called Terror T.R.A.X. (Trace, Research, Analyze, Exterminate). The series, which chronicles a special police unit tracking paranormal evil, will likely debut in 2000 if picked up.

(Additional reporting by Dan Snierson)

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