'Simpsons' and 'Family Guy' creators Matt Groening and Seth MacFarlane talk crossover episode, movies, rivalry
They are two of the most famous creators in the universe. Their work is quoted almost as often as Scripture. They have turned their pens into ATMs, making them richer than the creator of the universe. They have given rise to—and remain the symbolic deities of—two sides of a pop culture debate that is being fervidly argued out on some message board as you read this. But on this toasty summer afternoon in L.A., dressed in white shirts, jeans, and sneakers, Matt Groening, the 60-year-old creator/exec producer of The Simpsons (and Futurama), and Seth MacFarlane, the 40-year-old creator/exec producer/vocal star of Family Guy (and American Dad), are just two dudes in a room, talking ‘toons.
Kicking back in Groening’s Simpsons office on the Fox lot, the pair shoot the breeze about all things animation; the rivalrous relationship between their shows, both built around a slothful, sophomoric patriarch; and that ultra-anticipated hour-long Family Guy season premiere that will combine the franchises in a true display of animation domination. Yes, on Sept. 28 at 9 p.m. on Fox, “The Simpsons Guy” aims to do something that fans thought unpossible: Take two shows with 37 combined seasons of comedy—the revered elder statesman/pioneer of modern prime-time animated humor/marathon champ and its edgier, so-cultishly-beloved-that-Fox-uncanceled-it, bratty-fratty descendant—and create a giant episode that is more “Holy crap!” than “D’oh!” (For more information on the episode, click here.)
The extravaganza is as self-deprecating as it is self-aware, winking at criticism that Family Guy ripped off The Simpsons, nodding at crossover cynicism, toying with both shows’ signature gags (Stewie saying, “Eat my shorts”), and sneaking in cameos (Bob from Bob’s Burgers!). The plot? The road-tripping Griffins accidentally wind up in Springfield, where they are befriended by the Simpsons. Stewie is in awe of Bart, and Lisa tries to build Meg’s self-confidence, while Homer and Peter bond over doughnuts before bickering over beer and throwing down in a nuclear chicken fight.
But the real meeting of the minds is taking place right here, as Groening and MacFarlane squeeze onto the same couch for their first joint in-depth interview.
EW: Seth, is there anything you were hoping to find in Matt’s office? Anything you’d like to steal?
MACFARLANE: [Looking around] Holy s—. That’s a really awesome dual-cassette player. I need one of those.
GROENING: Journey to the past! [Walks over to cassette player behind his desk] I want to see what cassettes are in there. [Checks] There are no cassettes.
MACFARLANE: If I need to make a tape of one of my CDs, will that do it for me?
EW: [Noticing jar with floating embryonic Bart] Hey, Matt, is that a Bart fetus in a jar?
GROENING: Yeah, I guess it is. Somebody sent us that.
MACFARLANE: Are those awards? Can I touch one? I’ve never…
GROENING: You must have all this crap, right?
MACFARLANE: You’re much better at saving stuff than I am. Most of it is in the backseat of my car.
GROENING: You’ve never been in this office before?
MACFARLANE: No, I haven’t. I think Dads was over here during the episode and a half it was on the air…. Is that a dual-VHS player?
GROENING: Nothing changes.
EW: We have Duff beer right over there. Are we allowed to crack that open?
GROENING: That is unauthorized beer. The real beer is coming out. Real Duff beer.
EW: Is Pawtucket Patriot Ale coming?
MACFARLANE: I had heard something about it, but I don’t know if it’s happening.
GROENING: What? You don’t have your own beer?
MACFARLANE: They don’t trust me around alcohol.
GROENING: The show has got to have its own beer, man! That’s when you know you’ve made it!
MACFARLANE: I know. We have to follow in the footsteps of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Ale.
EW: What do you remember thinking the first time you saw each other’s show?
MACFARLANE: [Pointing at Groening] His show redirected the course of where I wanted my professional life to go. I wanted to be a Disney animator, and then The Simpsons came out, and in every way—writing-wise, production-wise, timing-wise, animation-wise—it just rewrote the rulebook. Suddenly I was laughing out loud at cartoons. We all love the Bugs Bunny cartoons and the Road Runner cartoons, and you acknowledge how great they are and how hilarious they are, but how often are you really laughing? The Simpsons made me laugh. I was doing stand-up at the time and I loved it, and I thought, “It’s too bad there isn’t a way to do adult humor in cartoons.” And they just opened that door for everybody. That show came out and I remember thinking, “Oh my God, this is what I want to do.” It’s like All in the Family. It’s that degree of altering the landscape.
GROENING: And I had gotten into animation because of Family Guy. It’s the exact same story! [Laughs] In my mind, growing up, watching animation, I didn’t think there would ever be anything good, because it just seemed like in the history of TV animation, things got worse and worse. There were some good shows [when I was] growing up, but then in the ‘70s and ‘80s, animation just got so bad on TV, for the most part.
MACFARLANE: You guys literally single-handedly reversed that trend.
GROENING: I saw the pilot episode of Dennis the Menace, and I was so excited that there was a show about a menace that had an animated opening of him as a cyclone a la the Tasmanian Devil. I thought “Oh my god! A kid that I can relate to!” And then it was Jay North and he’s a nice guy… and he had a slingshot in his back pocket, but he never used it. The feeling I got from watching that cyclone in the opening title, that’s what I wanted to see on TV. So, when I got a chance in 1987 to do cartoons for The Tracey Ullman Show, I was originally going to do the Life In Hell rabbits—I’d been drawing this comic strip. Then I thought, “You know, bunnies… it’s not going to make it. It’s gotta be humans.”
MACFARLANE: He never once used the slingshot?
GROENING: Oh, I don’t know. Maybe he did.
MACFARLANE: I used to get pissed when I watched Silver Spoons that he never played the video games.
EW: That was such a cool home arcade.
MACFARLANE: He had, like, Dragon’s Lair, and he just never went near them. It didn’t occur to me, “Oh, that would not be a good episode of television just watching a kid play…”
GROENING: See, now, I think this is the major difference between us. My reference is to the 1960s and yours is… I don’t even know what Silver Spoons is. It’s ‘80s, right? I didn’t watch TV in the ‘80s. That’s why I never get your show. (They laugh.)
MACFARLANE: Believe me, you’re just fine. Don’t go looking for Silver Spoons. That way lies madness.
EW: So, Matt, you see Seth’s show for the first time. What are your thoughts?
GROENING: Here’s the thing: You understand that there are shows that come in your footsteps, right? But generally they’re on a competitive network.
MACFARLANE: That’s one thing we’ve always tried to do, is come in The Simpsons’ footsteps.
GROENING: No, no, wait! Let me back up. First of all, I thought if The Simpsons hit—and I thought it would be a hit—my worry was that adults wouldn’t watch because it’s a cartoon and there were no good cartoons on for adults. When that hit, I knew there would be new shows following, and ultimately there are all these shows out there now that are creator-driven—that is, they’re a vision of somebody who can draw. It’s amazing what’s happening in animation now… But getting to Seth, my first take was: Oh my God, we got competition. And they’re outflanking us. This show is wilder and harsher and nastier. We used to get in trouble. We used to be the cause of the downfall of the United States.
MACFARLANE: I remember what used to make people mad when The Simpsons first came out was that Bart is talking disrespectfully to his parents. Remember the outrage?
GROENING: We got in trouble for Bart wearing an “Underachiever and Proud of It, Man” T-shirt. That’s because cartoons up until The Simpsons had been aimed at children. One of the smartest things that we did was insist that it’s for adults, with the idea that there are a lot of smart kids out there who will get jokes that grown-ups get. Anyway, so for a little while, we were like: We gotta chase your tail! Then you got canceled. Phew!
MACFARLANE: [Laughs] So everything worked out.
GROENING: You guys have completely your own style. At the very beginning you were accused of copying us, and we were accused of copying you. So I stopped watching your show just because I didn’t want it to be in my head.
MACFARLANE: I’m the first person to say, stylistically, absolutely, we took 100 cues from The Simpsons. Look at when All in the Family came out. Suddenly it created a whole new style of doing things. The timing style of Family Guy was directly influenced by The Simpsons because it worked. They cracked that nut.
EW: Let’s talk about where your pop-culture influences intersect on a Venn diagram, whether it’s your love of a cartoon or classic comedy like All in the Family.
GROENING: (to MacFarlane) Well, I’ve heard you talk about All in the Family a lot. Of course, that was big for me.
MACFARLANE: I’m such a huge fan of Jackie Gleason. At least with Peter, I always catch myself from time to time slipping into those cadences. But I will say one of the other things—and we forget this—that The Simpsons made acceptable was using actual pop-culture references in their real form….In a way, it made those characters feel like they were more in the real world than anyone on TV. Why I remember this, I have no f—ing clue. I remember seeing an episode of Kate & Allie where Susan St. James made a reference to Punky Brewster. And I was like, “How do you know about other TV shows? You’re on a TV show!” It occurred to me that that’s strange. And yet it oddly makes the characters seem like they’re not in this fictionalized TV land; they’re in the same world that I’m in. That was something I noticed when The Simpsons came out.
EW: The Simpsons showed its characters watching TV.
GROENING: You know where that came from? As a kid, watching the movie 101 Dalmatians, the puppies were watching a Western on TV and they’re watching a commercial and I went, “Oh my god! The cartoon dogs are watching TV just like I do!” The idea of a cartoon within a cartoon, that’s something that always stuck with me. Itchy & Scratchy—we have to take it one step further. I want Itchy & Scratchy to watch a cartoon. But we haven’t done that…. As a kid, I said, “The Munsters and The Addams Family—they should get together! Pugsley Addams and Eddie Munster—(to MacFarlane) sort of our counterparts—should be pals!” So, in a way, the Family Guy–Simpsons crossover—that’s going to blow some minds.
SM: It’ll cause some problems. (They laugh.)
EW: Matt, are your kids Team Simpson or Team Griffin?
GROENING: When my son Abe was 14, he came home from school and said, “You know, everybody at school loves Family Guy. And they say Simpsons is over.” He was taunting me. I said, “We were here before Family Guy!” I got really defensive, and he’s like, “Yeah, well, Family Guy is what everybody likes.” I said, “Yeah, tell Family Guy to buy you an Xbox.” He said, “I wish Seth MacFarlane was my dad!” That was a joke, and I thought, “That was good for a 14-year-old.”
MACFARLANE: At the time I was what, maybe 28? That would’ve just been weird.
EW: Your shows have taken jabs at each other over the years. Peter was wanted for plagiarism in a Simpsons episode. And Family Guy had a DVD joke in which Stewie sings about “the guy who watched The Simpsons back in 1994 and won’t admit the damn thing isn’t funny anymore.” But it seems like the rivalry has grown friendlier. Last season Dan Castellaneta and Hank Azaria did cameos on Family Guy, and Seth, you guest-starred on The Simpsons. How competitive did it get between the staffs? Has this all been blown out of proportion?
MACFARLANE: I think that was you guys [in the media]. You guys loved that s—. I don’t ever remember being anything but a fan of The Simpsons. When Family Guy came out and it found its audience eventually, these were two animated shows that were sort of the only shows of their kind on TV. So I think there’s a natural desire to stir up trouble on the part of the media. I continue to have such regard for that Simpsons writing staff. I always felt that way.
GROENING: I never felt any [animosity]. I have more in common with Seth than I do with everybody I work with. [Laughs] We both created a show, you know? I like cartoons. I want there to be more cartoons. Both shows make fun of stuff, so we have to make fun of the guy next door. If you can make the person who disagrees with the joke laugh, then it’s good. If it’s just preaching to the choir, then I don’t like it as much. That’s my measure for doing political jokes on the show: Can we make a Republican laugh?
MACFARLANE: We abide by the same rules. We would never want to upset Sarah Palin.
EW: Let’s talk about the crossover. People are joking that hell is freezing over.
GROENING: That’s the title, isn’t it?
EW: Was that one of the many reasons to do it? Did you just want to make fanboys’ dreams come true?
MACFARLANE: I think it’s a more practical thing. It’s: Who was going to be the person to initiate it? Because both shows are busy and it’s a big undertaking. Rich Appel, who wrote for The Simpsons, ran King of the Hill, and is now co-running Family Guy—he was the one guy who had lived in both worlds and really spearheaded this.
GROENING: Let’s be honest, we both wanted to do King of the Hill crossovers.
MACFARLANE: You need somebody who can be in that room and say with experience, “No, no, I wrote for this show—that’s not something Homer would say.”
EW: There’s that meta joke at the beginning of the episode where Chris is watching a crossover and says, “A crossover always bring out the best in each show! It certainly doesn’t smack of desperation! The priorities are always creative and not driven by marketing…”
MACFARLANE: You never know what you’re going to get. That Flintstones/Jetsons crossover was never as thrilling as I think I had hoped it would be when I saw it as a kid, but this feels like it will be very satisfying to fans of both shows.
EW: So what is the key to a good crossover episode?
MACFARLANE: It’s really about the character interaction. People want to see Peter interact with Homer. They want to see Bart interact with Stewie. In a way, the story in a crossover episode, while it has to be there, is never quite as important as how the characters interact with each other. There’s that Deep Space Nine episode where they go back in time to the old Star Trek. It was an amazing piece of production where they took the characters from that series and greenscreened them flawlessly—and this was like the early ’90s—into the “The Trouble with Tribbles” episode of the original Star Trek and it was, like, mind-blowing. And the story was kind of flimsy because there were so many characters to deal with, but it was exciting to see the characters interact with each other.
GROENING: In this case, it’s two really vivid shows and seeing what they can do together. You want to see them having a good time and you want to see Peter Griffin and Homer Simpson duke it out.
MACFARLANE: It does help too that Family Guy emerged from a world that The Simpsons created in the animation industry. Family Guy began as a show that set out to speak the same language, in a way that every sitcom of the ’70s set out to speak the language of All in the Family. So, when you put them in that world, you’re not dealing with something that’s all that foreign.
EW: What was it like for you to see these characters interact, especially when they start saying each other’s punchlines and borrowing each other’s bits?
MACFARLANE: The extreme to me of that is Stewie calling up Moe, which I’m sure the Huffington Post and even your magazine will attack us for. But in context, it’s pretty funny. [After watching Bart make a prank call to Moe, Stewie asks Bart if he can try it, calling back and saying, “Hello, Moe? Your sister’s being raped!” before hanging up and asking a speechless Bart, “Is that…is that one?”]
EW: What did you think of that joke, Matt?
GROENING: First of all, we’ve run out of prank phone calls, so the fact that you can visit that well, that’s something we haven’t done in a long time. That’s pretty good.
EW: Seth, was there one thing where you said to the writers, “I want to see this happen in the episode”?
MACFARLANE: The only thing that I remember saying is “You gotta have Stewie go after Nelson.” Because Stewie idolizes Bart in the episode. It’s a way for Nelson to get his comeuppance undeniably. [There’s] this kind of Taken scene where he’s got him bound and gagged and he’s going to exact vengeance for Bart. My thing was: Get each character interacting with their counterpart.
EW: The episode pokes fun at the idea that Family Guy is derivative of The Simpsons and The Simpsons is old and not funny anymore.
GROENING: Wait a second, they say we’re not funny anymore? I’m sorry—this crossover is canceled!
EW: Do those opinions and message-board comments from fans that both shows aren’t what they used to be get under your skin at all?
GROENING: I think we can both say without fear of contradiction that we live by comments and our mood is completely dictated by strangers.
MACFARLANE: With an animated show, because nobody ages and you’re not confined by sets, I think you can go longer than a live-action show and really survive. I don’t know any show that I’ve ever seen that had its best years after season 7. If you’re being honest with yourself, a show that is in season 12 or season 20, you start to confront that. You can either just kind of coast or you can continue to try to surprise your audience. Regardless of how they’re perceived, I do feel like both shows are continuously trying to surprise their audiences. That was why we killed Brian for three episodes.
GROENING: And could you believe that people fell for it?
MACFARLANE: There was a lot of anger. A lot of anger. The comments that I read were “You caved to fans—that’s why you brought him back.” I realized, You don’t know how the shows are produced, do you? It takes a year to do each one.
GROENING: I like the idea that there are fans out there who are like, “I will never watch another episode of The Simpsons.” And now they have to. [Laughs] Just so they can rail against it.
EW: The episode has an epic chicken fight between Homer and Peter. Tell us honestly: Who’d win an arm wrestling match?
MACFARLANE: These are two guys who are not in shape. That’s a very tough call. You’d have to get them both off the couch.
GROENING: They both would cheat, right?
MACFARLANE: Probably. They’d both be too intoxicated to get their elbows up.
EW: Matt, if you could steal one character from Family Guy and import him/her to the Simpsons universe, who would you take? Seth, I’ll ask you the same thing.
GROENING: Well, I’m really jealous of the chicken—the whole chicken-fight thing. But I guess Stewie. Just comedy gold.
MACFARLANE: Oh gosh, I would probably take Mr. Burns. That’s a character that just always amused me.
EW: You can see him in Stewie.
MACFARLANE: Stewie comes from Rex Harrison first and foremost, but I would be lying [if I said] there wasn’t a shred of Mr. Burns’ influence. He was just always a character that got a nice big laugh out of me when he emerged and throughout his run. If I couldn’t have Mr. Burns, I’d take Leonard Nimoy.
EW: There are a lot of great animated shows on TV now. Which impress you most?
GROENING: I like Bob’s Burgers, because it’s just got a different pace to it and a different tone. And it does something where the characters actually have some of the rhythms of real speech. Family Guy does too. Your characters stammer sometimes. We hardly ever do that on The Simpsons. And on Bob’s Burgers, it feels like there’s more of an improvisatory feeling in the recording… My other favorite show, Adventure Time, has a very oddball look to it, as do Regular Show and Rick and Morty.
MACFARLANE: I would give the same answer, because [Bob’s] is the first animated show to come along in prime-time in ages that gets what the flavor of a prime-time animated show is. I’ve seen a lot of shows come and go that just look really slick. It’s a problem. The Simpsons had this wonderful, underground look to it when it first came out. That stylistic choice was so revolutionary. Family Guy took a cue from that, and King of the Hill must have taken a cue from that. Look at South Park—these are all shows where their movement and the animation are very sophisticated, but the design style has this underground kind of feel to it. That’s the thing that these shows that come and go miss every time to me. And Bob’s Burgers got it.
GROENING: That’s a really good observation. My heart breaks because doing any animated show, even if it doesn’t work, is really hard. You hate to see people get the tone wrong from the very beginning, and I think you’re right about it being too slick.
MACFARLANE: Do you hate it or is just another kid that’s not going to knock us off? (laughter, then mock-serious) I hate it too.
EW: Animation is where you can find some of the edgiest, most inventive comedy in prime-time, and it has influenced live-action sitcoms. Do you feel like animation is finally getting its due or is it has it still not gotten the credit it deserves?
MACFARLANE: No, I don’t think it gets the credit it deserves at all. One of the biggest tragedies is that The Simpsons never won an Emmy for best comedy. It’s one of the biggest things that is a black mark of shame for the Academy because anyone who appreciates great television comedy puts that show up there with All in the Family as a revolutionary piece of work. Every time I make this comparison, I get attacked, but it’s an analogy. Sammy Davis was a great performer, but he wasn’t allowed in the casino for obvious reasons, back in the ’60s. Let me say for the people who do not understand context—I’m not equating the Emmys to racism, I’m making an analogy. Garden hose is to waterfall as kitten is to tiger. So let’s be clear about that, because unfortunately in this day and age that needs to be said. But it’s this attitude of second-class citizenry. There’s no justification for it. There’s no defense for it. It’s interesting, comedy writers in Hollywood revere The Simpsons, they grew up with The Simpsons, they’re like, “Oh my god, that’s some of the best writing on TV! I mean, I would never vote for it for the Emmys, but it’s some of the best writing on TV!”
EW: Would winning that Emmy be the moment that equaled out everything? You guys tried, with Family Guy. [In 2009, Family Guy submitted itself for consideration in the Outstanding Comedy Series category and became the first animated show to earn a nomination since The Flintstones in 1961, but ultimately lost to 30 Rock.]
MACFARLANE: In a different era we tried. I think if The Simpsons tried now, they would have the same luck that we did.
GROENING: Back in the day, when we first started, they said we weren’t eligible for best comedy. We fought to get it and then we didn’t get nominated, so we gave up. I don’t care so much about The Simpsons not winning a comedy Emmy. I feel bad for the other animated shows in the animation category because there are so many different kinds of animation and there should be a category for adult animation, prime-time animation, and there should be something else for cable and for kids, because they’ll never win.
MACFARLANE: But single camera and multi-camera comedies compete against each other. Why not animated comedies? A show with an audience, a show without an audience, those are two very different flavors of comedy, there’s a different feel to each style of show—same thing with animation. It’s amazing that that has not happened yet. It makes the whole thing kind of a joke to me.
GROENING: (deadpan) But you’ve never been to the Creative Arts Emmys.
MACFARLANE: It’s grueling. It’s about nine-and-a-half hours long—and you have to bring eight flasks.
EW: Matt, do you agree with what he’s saying?
GROENING: Awards? Eh, I don’t think too hard about it. The Simpsons won plenty of Emmys in its niche. And you see it on the shelf, and people can’t tell.
MACFARLANE: That’s a good point.
GROENING: Animation is not glamorous. Back when The Simpsons first started on the Fox network, we sailed under the radar because no executive wanted to come down and look over the shoulder of animators. They love to go stand on sets and critique actors and actresses.
MACFARLANE: I think among writers now, that has changed. If you said to a writer, “Hey, do you want to go work on The Simpsons, do you want to go work on Family Guy? Or do you want to go work on this new live-action comedy that just premiered on ABC?”, I think you’d have a lot of people—
GROENING: But I think there’s also a lot of people that say “You mean I could be the next Conan O’Brien?” It is a springboard. (To MacFarlane) In the same way Family Guy has been kind of a good springboard for you.
MACFARLANE: (deadpan) Yeah, it’s been all right….
EW: There is a fun hat tip to The Flintstones in the crossover, acknowledging its place in history. Where does The Flintstones rank for you in terms of animated comedy?
MACFARLANE: The Flintstones is a classic. I learned to draw by watching Fred Flintstone. There’s no question, it’s the first animated sitcom of all time. It paved the way for everybody. But again, the shows that I look at, when I compare The Simpsons to its predecessors, I compare it to All in the Family. This goes back to the idea of a comedy show is a comedy show, regardless of the medium. When I look at Peter Griffin, I’m seeing more of Jackie Gleason than Fred Flintstone. There are sources of influence that affect these shows that exist outside the confines of other animated shows.
GROENING: I have to admit that Homer Simpson’s beard line was influenced by Fred Flintstone’s beard line. Although back at the very beginning of The Simpsons, one of my friends’ mother said, “I can’t believe you gave that character those giant brown lips!” She thought that was a lip line and that was Homer’s lips. For me, the big influence—I watched all those Hanna-Barbera shows, I loved the voices and the music on those shows—was Rocky and Bullwinkle.
GROENING: Rocky and Bullwinkle actually showed the way for me. My ticket into animation is: It wasn’t the quality of the animation because Rocky and Bullwinkle is pretty primitive, but it had really good writing, really good voices, really good music. I thought , “Okay, that seems like a challenge…”
EW: What do you say to fans who’ve been waiting for this [crossover] that they thought they’d maybe never see?
MACFARLANE: My fear is that nothing we do will be able to live up to the expectation that’s in everyone’s heads, but I hope we’ve at least come close. The directors, the board artists, the writers, producers—everyone has just busted their asses, so what you’re seeing is the result of a lot of time, a lot of sweat, and a lot of love. We hope that people will really enjoy it, because it is a gift to the fans.
GROENING: It’s a reward for paying attention if you followed both shows. If don’t follow both shows, I think it’s still very entertaining, but if you know both shows, there’s a lot to make you laugh.
MACFARLANE: You try to put yourself back in the mindset you were in when you started. If my college self knew this was happening, I would probably never stop s—ting myself.
GROENING: That’s so sweet.
MACFARLANE: I do have to try and capture that emotion in my mind. It’s a pretty astonishing, special thing, to have characters that I created sharing our programming with The Simpsons. I can become a meth addict now, because things won’t get any better than this.
GROENING: Just make sure when you write this, you write, “He said humbly,” not “He gloated, ‘I can afford meth now!'” I always thought in Hollywood the definition of sanity is if you can afford to pay for your craziness. If you can’t afford it, then you’re nuts. But if you can afford it, then you’re someone to be envied.
MACFARLANE: That’s the only thing separating us from Gary Busey.
GROENING: He’s done The Simpsons. Has he done Family Guy?
MACFARLANE: Possibly late at night when no one was there.
EW: Seth, you’re off directing movies like Ted 2. Which will come to theaters sooner, a second Simpsons movie or a first Family Guy movie?
MACFARLANE: [To Groening] Are you guys doing a second one?
GROENING: Maybe someday. We haven’t recovered from the first one yet.
MACFARLANE: You haven’t recovered from being injured by the piles of money that hit you in the head?
GROENING: The problem was there’s no bench team waiting to run in and do the work. It was the same people doing the show as doing the movie.
MACFARLANE: That is the biggest problem. I don’t know how you guys did that.
GROENING: We thought it was going to be two years and like virtually every other animated movie, it took four years and it killed us…. Are you doing a Family Guy movie?
MACFARLANE: Eventually I gotta figure we will. I have an idea of what it would be, but I just never had the time. I spent so many years working on the show seven days a week that the urge to try other things was so strong. It’s not on my immediate list of things to do, but I would be shocked if it never happened.
EW: How fleshed out is your idea?
MACFARLANE: Fairly fleshed out.
EW: Can you give us one cryptic clue?
MACFARLANE: Something you couldn’t do on TV.
GROENING: That’s what you gotta do. Otherwise, why should they go? That’s why we showed Bart’s penis in The Simpsons Movie.
EW: Seth, will movies be taking more of your focus away from animation? Or do you see yourself always being tethered to animation?
MACFARLANE: Professionally I find that I’m oftentimes anxious to do whatever it is I’m not doing. I still have an interest in animation. Recently I’ve had an interest in going back to television because you just exercise different muscles. I was watching an episode of TV Funhouse this morning, that Robert Smigel show, which just always f—ing killed me, and I was laughing my ass off. I was like, “God, I forgot how funny this is.” It’s the kind of thing that reminds me what I was doing while I was on Family Guy, and I do miss that. Both media are a lot of fun in different ways, so I always want to keep a hand in each, if I can.
EW: Matt, what do you think about live-action? Is that something you’re interested in exploring?
GROENING: Yeah. I was really excited by Louie. The last couple seasons in particular were fantastic. Also, there’s a Canadian show that keeps coming back, Trailer Park Boys. It’s a very loose show but really, really funny. (To MacFarlane] There’s a Danish show called Klown—it ran from 2005 to 2009, it’s sort of a Danish Curb Your Enthusiasm-style show—that I think you’d like. They actually made a feature called Klown. You would like that movie. And I think about getting into movies, because the problem with a TV show is in theory, if it’s successful, it doesn’t end. The Simpsons hasn’t ended. I’ve been working on The Simpsons since 1987. Futurama lasted over a decade. Who knows, that may come back some day. But a movie is finite. There’s a beginning and there’s an end, and then you do the next one. And I’ve got this idea about a stuffed bear….