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'American Dad' Touchdown

Janet Hetherington chats with Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman, who along with Seth MacFarlane, are the co-creators of FOXs newest cheeky animated series, American Dad.

CIA agent Stan Smiths job is to save the country in FOXs new series American Dad, but he faces the daunting task of making peace with his liberal daughter on the home front. All images © 20th Century Fox.

Stan Smith, rock-jawed CIA agent, is an all-American dad. In fact, he is the American Dad, the star of 20th Century Fox Televisions newest animated prime-time offering. The series pilot touches down on FOX on Feb. 6, 2005, making its debut in the enviable spot right after Super Bowl XXXIX and a new episode of The Simpsons.

Like another Family Guy before him, this American Dad is the creation of animator Seth MacFarlane, along with co-creators Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman (who both worked on Family Guy). Barker and Weitzman are also exec producers with MacFarlane.

About a year and a half ago, Seth called and asked if Matt and I would be interested in working on a show about a right-wing CIA agent and his liberal daughter, Barker recalls. It was right up our alley, and everything just fell into place.

While American Dad enjoys some obvious similarities to Family Guy like Seth MacFarlanes distinctive character design style as well as the antics of a suburban nuclear family the co-creators insist that the new show is no mere clone.

In the pilot, youll see that there is not one single replication of personality, Weitzman says. While were always pushing the envelope, were working hard at not going to the same comedic well. Stan (American Dad) is a tad smarter than Peter (Family Guy), and Stan is dedicated to saving this county right or wrong!

Seth MacFarlane created, produces and voices American Dad.

Secret Agent Man

In American Dad, Stan Smith (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) is a CIA agent based in Langley Falls, Virginia, who is constantly on the alert for terrorist activity. Stan, a weapons expert, will go to extremes to keep his homeland secure. His refrigerator features a terror-alert dial and Stan is not above shooting holes in the toaster when hes surprised by a piece of toast popping up.

In the Smith household, father does not always know best. Stans ultra-conservative views are not shared by his liberal-minded, 18-year-old daughter Hayley (voiced by Rachael MacFarlane), who is forced to go through an airport-style security check every time she comes home from community college. Hayleys 13-year-old brother Steve (voiced by Scott Grimes) is a geeky kid on the verge of puberty.

Stans wife, Francine (voiced by Wendy Schaal) tries to hide her party-girl personality for the sake of her conservative husband. However, Francine proves more than a match for Stan when duty calls.

Unlikely Houseguests

One of the Smith familys unlikely houseguests is a lascivious, German-speaking goldfish named Klaus (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker), who has an unhealthy crush on Francine.

Co-creator Weitzman says that Klaus was originally to be French, not German, which spawned the notion that the amorous fish would want to pursue Francine. The talking goldfish comes from the wonderfully twisted mind of Seth MacFarlane, notes Weitzman, but the idea of the fish being the result of a failed CIA experiment was the result of us developing some `grounding back story for Klaus, and the character evolving.

Another member of the Smith household is a sarcastic space alien named Roger (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), who was rescued from Area 51. The alien lives in the Smiths attic, consuming Chockadiles and Chardonnay; however, Roger resents the fact that he must stay inside the house and watch I Love the `80s marathons, especially when he wants to run to the Circle K for a pack of smokes.

American Dad Talking

In 2000, Seth MacFarlane received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance for his role as Stewie Griffin in Family Guy. For American Dad, MacFarlane is again taking on the key voice roles of Stan Smith and Roger the alien. However, other guest voices are also planned for the series.

We have Carmen Electra, Martin Mull and Beau Bridges all doing voices, Barker says. But fans will be interested in learning that Patrick Stewart will voice Stans boss, the head of the CIA. He not only sounds like Patrick Stewart, he looks like Patrick Stewart. Theyve really done an amazing job.

Barker himself is providing a voice in the series -- a gay newscaster that Stan doesnt realize is gay. I get to do that with Seth, so its really a lot of fun, he says.

Guppy Love: The chaotic American Dad household includes a German-speaking goldfish named Klaus (left), who has an unhealthy crush on Stans wife, Francine.

Production Values

American Dad currently has 13 episodes in production, and six more scripts have been ordered. The pilot for American Dad was written by Weitzman, Barker and MacFarlane. The show has reflected our point of view from the start, Barker says. Everything goes through us. We now have a staff of 17 writers, so its a big undertaking.

As might be expected, Seth MacFarlane played a lead role in the animated character designs for American Dad. Its all very bright, very easy on the eyes, Weitzman comments.

Fifty or so animators from the Fox animation group are also involved, Barker advises. A lot is done in-house poses, models, props, all storyboards and timing. We couldnt have made it all happen without them. Ron Hughart (Family Guy) is the supervising director.

The animation is colored and detailed overseas, Barker continues. Sun Woo of Korea is handling that end of the work.

Matt and I have been writing for TV for a long time, Barker says.

The Amazing MacFarlane Super Happy Animation Fun Hour on FOX features two MacFarlane creations back to back: Family Guy (above) and American Dad.  © 2001 FOX Broadcasting.

Working on animated shows like American Dad and Family Guy is such a breath of fresh air. You dont have to worry about sets and such that you have to worry about for live-action. Animation can give you more freedom.

Still, all television animated shows included is the subject of stringent scrutiny by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Today, even animated butts are being pixelated. As reported by media in January, FOX blurred the naked posterior of a Family Guy cartoon character during a rerun, even though the image was seen five years ago when the episode originally aired.

And, while his politics may be conservative, American Dad Stan Smith is not. He likes to run around shooting guns and ogling himself in the mirror while wearing only his underpants.

Times have changed, Barker admits. We wont necessarily get away with what we had been getting away with in the past. But we still have an edgy, relevant show, and it just means we have to write a bit more cleverly. I dont feel weve been hobbled in any way.

Will butts be pixilated in American Dad as in Family Guy? The FCC might be watching closely as Stan Smith likes to ogle himself in the mirror clad in his underpants.

Times have changed, Barker admits. We wont necessarily get away with what we had been getting away with in the past. But we still have an edgy, relevant show, and it just means we have to write a bit more cleverly. I dont feel weve been hobbled in any way.

Our goal is to show as many butts as we can, quips Weitzman.

Pixelating butts is so ridiculous, comments Barker. Its a cartoon, for goodness sake!

The Amazing McFarlane Super Happy Animation Fun Hour

American Dad makes his first cheeky appearance (underpants and all) on Super Bowl Sunday, and his ongoing patriotic adventures begin the evening of May 1, immediately following the return of Family Guy on the same night.

The official American Dad Website is calling this animated double bill The Amazing McFarlane Super Happy Animation Fun Hour. Thats one night, two shows and a full hour of animated glory, trumpets the site. Come the fifth month of the year two thousand and five, Sunday nights will have a whole new meaning which is kinda like a meaning it had a couple years back except more and better.

Its really a good match-up, Weitzman says, adding, We hope people will enjoy the main course and stay for dessert.

And hopefully, they wont get too full! Barker laughs.

Janet Hetherington is an award-winning writer and cartoonist living in Ottawa, Canada, where she shares a studio with artist Ronn Sutton. A regular contributor to Animation World Network, Janet also scripts Elvira, Mistress of the Dark for Claypool Comics.