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.