A special-interest group of one--a man who was also the high school headmaster of "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane--has launched a campaign to get the Fox series yanked. The reason: MacFarlane refused to change the name of the sitcom family, which is the same name as that of the headmaster's personal assistant.
The Rev. Richardson Schell--headmaster, Episcopal priest and sole member of ProudSponsors USA--has so far got such advertising behemoths as Philip Morris and Kentucky Fried Chicken to pull their commercials from the animated series.
In a letter sent out in April, ProudSponsors (that would be Schell) warned advertisers that the series' animated characters "swear, urinate and fart" and "are depicted in the toilet." The show "trivialized alcoholism and child abuse and is demeaning to the handicapped and persons living with AIDS," the letter said. "We intend to do everything in our power to have this program removed from the air," the letter continued.
The letter warned advertisers not to "allow the First Amendment, which we all revere, to be used against children and the vulnerable in our society."
According to Fox executives, who insisted they not be named, just before "Family Guy" was to premiere in January, after the Super Bowl, Schell contacted MacFarlane. He wanted the 25-year-old, who graduated from Schell's Kent School in '91, to change the name of the cartoon family from Griffin, the family name of Schell's assistant. It should be noted that the show is not set in Kent, Conn., where Kent School is based; it's set in the make-believe town of Quahog, R.I.
The executives at Fox also said that Schell took his request to another member of MacFarlane's family, but would not name names.
Schell did not return our phone calls.
MacFarlane's mom worked for Schell's school for more than a decade; she recently resigned.
MacFarlane and 20th Century Fox TV, which produces the show, did not heed Schell's request. Immediately after the second episode of "Family Guy" aired, which wasn't until April, Schell launched his letter-writing campaign. Along with his ProudSponsors USA missive, he included a review of the show by The Washington Post's Tom Shales; Shales describes the show as "an utterly excremental animated comedy" and "just another tiny drop of toxic waste in the festering Love Canal of the Air."
To date, Fox execs say Schell's letter has cost them three or four advertisers on the show. These advertisers apparently live under a rock and were unaware that before there was ProudSponsors USA, a slew of special-interest groups consisting of more than one member--as well as a bevy of TV critics--expressed dismay over the show, which makes fun of everything from Adolf Hitler to Canadians to the assassinations of JFK and RFK.
Philip Morris USA, after receiving Schell's letter, decided that "Family Guy" "is not consistent with our values," according to spokeswoman Mary Carnovale. That would be the values of a company that manufactures and distributes cigarettes.
So now Philip Morris is running its ads to discourage teen smoking on tamer fare, such as professional wrestling (recently scandalized by a $100 million sexual harassment suit and the death of a wrestler during a televised event), on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (the season finale of which was pulled over concerns about its depiction of teen violence) and on "Dawson's Creek" (which had conservative groups up in arms recently when one of the lead characters announced he was homosexual).
Earlier this week, when Schell was still returning phone calls, he acknowledged to Advertising Age that there's no such organization as ProudSponsors USA and that he's acting on behalf of himself alone. He described his one-man campaign as "a moral matter."
MacFarlane did not return our phone call.
Eddie Murphy was so mad at Fox's decision not to put his animated show "The PJs" on the fall schedule that he walked off the show. But, after two episodes were produced using another actor's voice in the lead role, it looks like Murphy is coming back, sources say.
The former "Saturday Night Live" star provided the voice of building supervisor Thurgood Stubbs on the first season of the Fox half-hour series about life in a big-city housing project. He's also listed as one of the show's executive producers. Because it takes so long to produce an animated show, Fox greenlighted 22 episodes for next season way back in February--an order size that indicates a fall start.
But in May, during schedule-setting, network brass decided to hold the show for mid-season. By then, Murphy had already recorded the voice of Stubbs for eight episodes. After getting the news, he refused to do any more episodes for the coming season.
So Imagine TV, which produces the show, contacted Phil Morris, the actor best known for playing slick attorney Jackie Chiles on "Seinfeld." Morris recorded two episodes and, according to one source, it's tough to tell his voice from Murphy's. "It's unbelievable," the source said.
The voices may be nearly indistinguishable, but there's no comparison between the promotability of movie star Murphy and Morris. So Imagine has been trying hard to smooth things over with Murphy and get him to return. They've apparently succeeded, pending one or two promises from Fox, said a source, who declined to elaborate.
Imagine declined to comment, as did Fox.
CAPTION: "Family Guy's" Peter, left, and Brian.