Family Guy producer reveals plans for Adam West's character
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
Do you have a favorite memory of Adam?
It’s hanging on the wall of our writers’ room. When we had our 100th episode [party], we invited him and all the cast. I believe he lived, at the time, in Idaho. And he wasn’t going to make it to the party. So, instead, he RSVP-ed by sending us a handwritten fax to our office. [Retrieves the RSVP fax.] It’s dated Oct. 25, 2007. It says, “To Sethmaster and gang, Congratulations on your 100th birthday. You just don’t look it. I’d like to be there, but I’m in the far mountains of Idaho trying to emulate Into the Wild. There in spirit, Mayor West.” It was just such a hilariously, but so specifically Adam West-y way to respond — to RSVP to the 100th episode party with a handwritten fax. It was full of jokes and good humor and congratulations. It just summed up who he was: sweet, warm, kind, supportive, and a little bit oddball-y in an endearing way…. It just makes me smile when I look at it.
Because you work so far ahead in animation, how many episodes did Adam record lines for that haven’t aired yet?
Mayor West will be in five more episodes of the show that are scheduled to air this coming season.
Was there ever any discussion of whether or not you should run these episodes?
No. He’s such an integral part of the series that it never even occurred to us to take that out. I would almost feel like that was somehow not properly honoring him. I think the proper way to honor him is to keep the character in the show. There were two or three episodes where his character had been written in, but he hadn’t yet recorded those, so obviously we’ve made accommodations for that. There was one scene where he was officiating a wedding, and it was easy enough to just have a different character do that. I [wouldn’t] even consider having someone come in and try to imitate his voice.
Sometimes, after someone passes away, some of the jokes don’t seem appropriate anymore. Did he actually record even more than the five episodes, but some of it won’t be used?
He recorded these five and there was nothing at any point that we watched and thought, “Oh, we can’t put that on the air because it doesn’t feel appropriate.”… Nothing really fell into the category for us where we felt like that would be uncomfortable to watch on TV. It’s just him being his regular silly, goofy self.
How will you address his death on the show? What will happen to the character?
We haven’t exactly decided how we’re going to address the departure of Adam West’s character from the series. In fact, this is something that we’ve been dealing with concerning the loss of Carrie Fisher [who was a recurring guest voice]. But what I can say is that both of their departures from the show will certainly reflect the importance that each of those characters — and actors — had within our series.
Has there been any talk of keeping the mayor’s office vacant in his memory?
That is something we’ve only barely started to talk about. In a very real, emotional way, I feel like we’re all still kind of going through our own grieving process. We haven’t really even had a full conversation about it. He just seems so irreplaceable. I don’t know who could fill those shoes. If we do replace him, it would probably be a character that is very different, or maybe Quahog just goes without a mayor for a little while. There could very well be a situation where we leave that office empty as a tribute for at least some period of time. It’s been a little too painful for us really get too deep into that conversation just yet.
What can we expect from Mayor West in these coming episodes?
At one point, Mayor West comes into possession of the $1 bill as he is hover-boarding through town with a rat in his pocket. Mayor West riding a hoverboard with a rat in his pocket — that’s certainly something to look forward to…. Later in the season, Mayor West is called upon to preside over a ceremony for a group of millennials. It does not go well.
What do you hope that fans think about when they watch these new episodes with Adam?
I hope that they just really appreciate what a fun and funny character he has been to the series all these years. And how much we’ll miss him, everyone here at Family Guy. We were very lucky to be able to work with him as long as we did, and to benefit from his tremendous sense of humor, but also his warmth and kindness. What I hope people take from it is just a real appreciation for how much he brought to the series all these years, and how hard it’s going to be to fill the vacancy that he’s leaving.
You can’t fill it.
You really can’t. But he’s as funny in these upcoming episodes as he’s been. And what else I love about the character is that there’s a bit of lunacy, but sort of sweetness to it, too. He’s always such a positive, upbeat kook that you can’t help but love him because there’s no malice or anything in that character. I love that character so much because he could just be this fun-loving crazy guy. And it was always a joy to watch on screen — and to watch the actor himself deliver those lines in the booth.
Season 15 of Family Guy debuts Oct. 1.