The TV Column - Lisa de Moraes: Microsoft is incompatible with Seth MacFarlane

"ALMOST LIVE" OR DEAD FOR NOW? Alex Borstein and Seth MacFarlane on the Fox variety show formerly sponsored by Microsoft.
"ALMOST LIVE" OR DEAD FOR NOW? Alex Borstein and Seth MacFarlane on the Fox variety show formerly sponsored by Microsoft. (Michael Becker - Fox)
By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

While Poor Little Fox is now out on the street looking for another corporate sponsor to pay for its upcoming Seth MacFarlane comedy special, the watchdog group Parents Television Council on Tuesday twirled its mustache and threatened that any advertiser stepping in to save Poor Little Fox would pay a heavy price.

Fox's troubles started last weekend when Microsoft suits woke up and realized that a Seth MacFarlane comedy special would feature Seth MacFarlane comedy. MacFarlane -- the creator of "Family Guy," "American Dad" and "The Cleveland Show" -- hails from the school that believes we have not even begun to tap the wellspring of comedy to be had from the subject of feminine hygiene. And he's never met a Holocaust joke he didn't like.

Even so, a few weeks ago, Microsoft and Fox had joined hands and announced that Microsoft's new Windows 7 would be the exclusive sponsor of an upcoming television "event devoted to the comedy of Seth MacFarlane," which the network would air Nov. 7, during the month-long ratings derby known as sweeps.

There would be no commercials in the half-hour "Family Guy Presents: Seth & Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show" (Alex Borstein does the voice of Lois in "Family Guy").

Instead, plugs for the Windows 7 operating system would be worked right into the show. When the show was not shilling for Windows 7, it would "highlight the comedy duo's subversive and unique humor with original animation, live action performances of 'Family Guy's' most memorable musical numbers, comedy sketches and surprise celebrity guests," Fox and Microsoft said in their announcement.

Young men eat MacFarlane humor with a spoon. Microsoft wants Windows 7 to be used by young men. It seemed a match made in heaven.

Naive technology reporters likened it to the 1950s-era Milton Berle-hosted variety show "Texaco Star Theater." But nervous, fingernail-biting TV-trade reporters tried to warn Microsoft consumer engagement/advertising general manager Gayle Troberman that MacFarlane's humor was maybe a bit edgy for stuffy old Microsoft.

"Pshaw!" she harrumphed.

Actually, what she said, to Variety, was that Microsoft was not worried because it was working closely with MacFarlane "in crafting the brand's message, " adding that Microsoft was an old pro at doing "branded entertainment."

The "Almost Live Comedy Show" was taped Friday in front of an audience of Fox staffers, MacFarlane's posse, Microsoft suits and some press, among others. MacFarlane was at the top of his game, according to news reports of the taping. He served up a priceless gag about incest, and one about deaf people for good measure.

Then, Monday, Microsoft announced that "after reviewing an early version of the variety show it became clear the content was not a fit with the Windows brand."

Fox reacted to Microsoft's announcement with saintlike silence.

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