TV Column by Lisa de Moraes: The 'Family Guy' Abortion Episode

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

TV Academy members and The Reporters Who Cover Television are in for a treat on Wednesday night: They will get to hear the controversial "abortion episode" of the animated series "Family Guy" that Fox network has declined to air.

Originally Twentieth Century Fox TV, the division of Fox network parent NewsCorp that produces the show, had rented the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre in Hollywood for a reading of an unspecified "Family Guy" episode that had aired during the eligibility period for consideration for the Primetime Emmy Award for best comedy series. Last month, the academy nominated the primetime cartoon in that category -- only the second time an animated show has been nominated for best comedy series -- and Fox wanted to show Emmy voters how deserving of the trophy "Family Guy" was.

But then the studio decided it would be more fun for the academy members to hear the "abortion episode" that show creator and 800-pound gorilla Seth MacFarlane had penned, about which few details are known, except that the Fox network has chosen not to air it -- a development that shocked . . . well, no one.

In announcing the news last month at Comic-Con, MacFarlane feigned shock and horror, telling his fans, "Twentieth Century Fox, as always, allowed us to produce the episode and then said: 'You know what? We're scared to [expletive] death of this!' "

But anyone who's been covering TV for more than a week knows that the unaired episode is destined to become extra material for the DVD boxed set.

The Reporters Who Cover Television have harrumphed that fear of advertiser pullout in a lousy ad market caused the Fox network to run screaming like little girls from the episode. But Fox suits say they were supportive of MacFarlane exploring the theme -- until they saw the actual "animatic" (a cartoon in sketch form with dialogue). Then they decided it was not an appropriate episode for broadcast TV on Sundays at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Central and Mountain time), though they would defend to the death Twentieth Century Fox's right to continue to produce it and distribute it somewhere else -- on DVD, maybe?

All we know at this point is that in the episode, family matriarch Lois Griffin agrees to act as a surrogate for an infertile couple who are then killed in a car accident, leaving Lois to decide whether to have the baby or not, and hilarity ensues. At the very end of the episode, her husband tells viewers she had the abortion. One company source said the episode has an antiabortion message and, while "hilarious," is "pretty rough" stuff.

So what does the table reading of this particular episode have to do with TV Academy members' deciding who deserves the Primetime Emmy for best comedy?

Absolutely nothing.

What does this table reading have to do with ginning up more press for MacFarlane and a bigger market for the DVD? Take a guess.

Leno Oh-Shucks Smiley

Jay Leno took his lean, mean self to PBS this week to bat Tavis Smiley around a bit and plug his new NBC primetime show.

"There is so much riding on this -- do you feel this pressure?" Smiley emotes at the top of a two-night interview.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company