The tapping of “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane to host the next Academy Awards doesn’t come out of left field as much as out of Quahog – which seemingly is about as far from Hollywood as you can get.
But after recent years of lackluster broadcasts on what’s supposed to be Tinseltown’s night to shine, we’re eager for Oscar to meet “Ted.”
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The bold choice of MacFarlane, no doubt, is likely to rankle Hollywood old-school types ready to instantly dismiss the writer, animator and voice behind various offensive cartoon characters (Peter Griffin and Glenn Quagmire) and talking animals (Brian Griffin and Ted, the pot-puffing, profanity-spewing teddy bear) as unworthy of a key role previously handled to general acclaim by Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal.
Others likely will see the irreverent MacFarlane as a much-needed impudent infusion of youth – making up for the treacle-and-somnambulance-tainted blood transfusion that failed in 2011 when Anne Hathaway and James Franco succeeded only in draining more life out of the Oscars. But that’s just part of the point of exposing a worldwide audience to a live broadcast featuring the man who sang (in triplicate) about “The Freaking FCC
”: With MacFarlane, viewers will get unpredictability, as well as a dose of both the new and the old.
MacFarlane, in his own twisted way, is a throwback to Hollywood’s glory days. He’s a multi-threat performer: a talented mimic, singer and comedian who has displayed quick wit in interviews with everyone from Larry King to Bill Maher. He’s earned laughs hosting Comedy Central Roasts (including last year’s skewering of Charlie Sheen) and, more recently, last month’s season premiere
of “Saturday Night Live.”
Behind his seeming disdain for all things Hollywood, MacFarlane is clearly immersed in popular culture that far predates his birth nearly 39 year ago. Would-be world-conquering baby Stewie Griffin, after all, sounds like Rex Harrison. Some of the best “Family Guy” episodes have been Hope-Crosby “Road” movie takeoffs – including the “Road to Multiverse” installment featuring a Disney spoof that’s both scathing and brimming with backhanded Mouse House worship. MacFarlane also is a latter-day Rat Pack wannabe, as evidenced by the album of standards he released last year and guest shots by Frank Sinatra, Jr. on “Family Guy.”
Perhaps the most legitimate knock on MacFarlane as an Oscars host is that his face isn’t familiar to international audiences. Still, there’s evidence his bawdy brand of humor enjoys wide appeal. Fox’ “Family Guy” has been broadcast – and banned – in many countries. More significantly, “Ted,” which pulled in more than $430 million
, made nearly as much money abroad as in the U.S.
The surprise summer success of “Ted” solidified MacFarlane’s place as part of the popular culture his work satirizes – and, whether, Hollywood likes it or not, as a movie force. Meanwhile, “Family Guy,” which has weathered cancellation and controversy since its 1999 debut, is approaching its 200th episode – likely to air in the weeks before the Feb. 24 broadcast of the 85th Academy Awards on ABC.
Whether you arrive at the Oscars by limousine, by Petercopter or simply by flipping on the TV, it’s a good bet you’ll leave on the wings of an over-the-top comic culture clash. We’ll see if Hollywood shares a sense of humor with the gang in Quahog and the rest of the world.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.