'Family Guy' Channels Abortion Controversy Onstage With Live Reading in L.A.

Fox has declined to air two episodes of "Family Guy" during the show's history. Creator Seth MacFarlane led a reading of the nixed abortion episode on Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Fox has declined to air two episodes of "Family Guy" during the show's history. Creator Seth MacFarlane led a reading of the nixed abortion episode on Wednesday in Los Angeles. (Fox Via Associated Press)
By Emily Yahr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 14, 2009

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 13 -- Several weeks after "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane announced that the Fox network refuses to air an abortion-themed episode -- on a series best known for combining controversial topics with off-color jokes -- the puzzle remained: How offensive could it possibly be?

"It's not as bad as you think," MacFarlane promised a group of reporters and TV Academy members Wednesday night at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre in Hollywood, right before he and his cast members, including Mila Kunis and Alex Borstein, launched into a live table reading of what he called the "infamous abortion episode."

There's been a mystique surrounding MacFarlane's unaired opus -- that it would violate taste boundaries that even Fox, which once let loose "Osbournes: Reloaded" and "Temptation Island," had never dared to cross. But MacFarlane's shrugging assessment proved largely on the mark. Only a few jokes, all very much unprintable, caused audible gasps and demonstrated the episode is not TV-safe.

Otherwise, the crowd laughed, applauded and groaned in all the predictable "Family Guy" places. Cases in point: Peter asking a couple unable to conceive, "Which one of you has something horribly wrong with you?"; an antiabortion advertisement implying that if abortion didn't exist, the Three Stooges might have found a fourth; and some Hitler and Osama bin Laden attention-getters.

The episode, in which Griffin matriarch Lois becomes a surrogate mom for a college friend and her husband, really focuses on the "will she/won't she" abortion question only in the third act, after the couple dies in a car accident. What follows is a trip to a family-planning center, where Peter, initially encouraging his wife to end the pregnancy (and thus avoid her crazy-while-pregnant phase), is stopped by a group of antiabortion activists who try to change his mind with a video featuring Ziggy the Zygote, who just wants a hug.

A rousing family debate takes place, including baby Stewie and dog Brian. Lois makes an impassioned speech about the importance of bringing children into the world no matter the circumstances, and Peter abruptly cuts her off with, "We had the abortion." Cue credits.

The event, held to stir Emmy buzz after the show became the second animated series in history to be nominated for best comedy, also took a swipe at censorship. This, after all, marks the second time that Fox decided not to air a "Family Guy" episode; the first was back in 2000, involving "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein," about Peter trying to convert his son to Judaism. In between the first and second acts of the table reading, MacFarlane sang a rendition of the show's Season 4 song about the FCC, including the lyrics: "They're as stuffy as the stuffiest of special-interest groups/Make a joke about your bowels, and they order in the troops."

During the post-reading Q&A, audience members seemed unfazed by the episode's central provocation, asking no questions about the issue. The closest anyone got was, "Have you ever found a line you couldn't cross? And if you have, what was it?"

MacFarlane hesitated before answering: "Obviously, you know, it took a long time before we would even mention the phrase '9/11.' . . . We do try to be as careful as we can, but at the end of the day, sometimes you have to make a decision one way or another." Then, after another pause, he added, "What a dry [expletive] answer."

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