In one of the biggest mega-corpo-gobble-ups of the new century, Disney spent $71 billion to acquire 21st Century Fox’s film and TV assets. That gave the Mouse House ownership of such franchises as X-Men, Avatar, The Simpsons, and, yep, Family Guy. If you were expecting Family Guy to let this financially historic moment pass without comedic comment, well, you really don’t know the Griffins.
The Oct. 20 episode of the Seth MacFarlane-created comedy will mock this massive merger by going meta once again. In “Disney’s The Reboot,” the network overlords, now under Disney rule, decree that Family Guy could use a freshening-up for today’s times and commission three new reboots of Fox’s long-running animated series. “One of them is Family Gal — it’s Lois-centric, very timely and pandering,” executive producer Rich Appel tells EW. “Another is our version of something like Riverdale or a teen-angst drama, called The Q. And the final one is After Family Guy, which, as we explain, is starring the only actors who didn’t go on to bigger movie careers. The premise is Chris is now married to Tricia Takanawa, and they’re raising Joe.”
Each of these Family Guy pilots is then subjected to focus-group hell, and behind the glass, the Griffins — Peter in particular — watch in dismay as the criticisms start piling up. “Peter storms in angry at the focus group and they say, ‘I don’t get who Family Guy is for,’” teases executive producer Alec Sulkin. “And he says, ‘It’s easy! You just have to be a teenager, but born in the ’80s.’” (Family Guy could spend the next 18 seasons in search of the perfect self-own, but it will be hard-pressed to top that gem.)
How soon after the Disney deal was announced did the writers decide to turn this acquisition into material? “I’d say about 20 minutes,” deadpans Appel. “It just seemed to give new life to an idea of how to make Family Guy fresh, and a new reason to think we’d have the always-helpful focus group to guide us.” He says the writers had such fun crafting the new pilots — you’ll see a flurry of other ideas in the episode, too — that “we’re trying not to fall in love with the new versions of Family Guy that would make us feel like, ‘Oh my God, Seth is wrong — we should have done The Q with the teens.’”
“It’s always fun to have an episode that breaks the fourth wall,” adds Sulkin. “We do that fairly regularly, but we rarely do it sustained for an entire episode. It was fun to be in that space, looking at the show from a different place.”
While “Disney’s The Reboot” doesn’t take direct shots at the parent company, Sulkin notes that characters who fall into the Disneyverse may factor into future episodes, “so we’re just trying to test the waters in terms of what we can and can’t do.” While there has been an uptick in have-you-run-this-by-our-new-bosses? emails, the producers haven’t had to make “one iota of change” in terms of tone and story content, says Appel, mostly because the show’s producing studio, 20th Century Fox TV, remains the same. “We haven’t run into too many brick walls, but we see the bricks,” says Appel with a laugh. “The only thing that we’re aware of is various random characters we might throw over a cliff now apparently might have a Disney parachute.”
Might this corporate coming-together even open up synergistic opportunities for the show? “Unfortunately that’s not quite the case, although this is not us getting annoyed at Disney because clearly they know what they’re doing,” Sulkin says. “Part of their M.O. — and it’s obviously worked very well for them — is to be protective of their different brands and in a way to keep them separate. So if we went to them and said, ‘Hey, we want to do a Marvel–Star Wars crossover episode,’ I think that would probably be the fastest ‘no’ we’ve heard around here in awhile. Which seems at odds with 10 years ago, we’re doing Star Wars episodes with the full endorsement of Lucasfilm. But Disney acquired all these properties, and they have a vision for where they want them to go, and where they want them to go is not making poop jokes on Family Guy.” Adds Appel: “That said, Chris takes Moana to prom next season, and we’re very, very excited.”
And how do the producers think their new overlords will receive this episode? “They’ll see it as .0004% of the content for Disney++ to be launched in 2031,” says Appel, “so I think they’ll be fine.”