‘Family Guy’ Team Talks Having Stewie Get ‘Canceled’ for Episode 400

Seth Green, Mike Henry, Mila Kunis, Alex Borstein, Arif Zahir, Rich Appel, Seth MacFarlane and Alec Sulkin at 'Family Guy' Celebration
Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup for 20th Television

Family Guy was sitting on a great story idea — Stewie (voiced by series creator Seth MacFarlane) gets canceled after the diabolical baby genius tweets something negative about a pop star — for a while. When the show’s 400th program started to come up, executive producers and co-showrunners Rich Appel and Alex Sulkin decided to use that particular plot for the animated series’ historic episode.

The show has addressed this particular topic before – family dog Brian (also voiced by MacFarlane) had to move out of the Griffin house after he was canceled for an insensitive tweet about why he preferred to see the Baywatch movie over the Kevin Hart flick Ride Along 3– but this time, it’s Stewie who’s facing the wrath of the Internet.

While MacFarlane stepped away from the Family Guy writers’ room quite a while ago, Appel and Sulkin say that his creative voice is still an integral part of the show. “The truth is, this was Seth’s idea,” Appel told TV Insider at a party on the Fox lot in Century City celebrating the 400th episode. “He always gives credit to the writers and the production team and says, ‘I just voice [on] the show,’ but he obviously is still connected… Every once in a while, we’ll have a great idea for an episode. This one was his.”

“Seth has an interest in these types of stories,” adds Sulkin. “He pitched the story that led to Brian being canceled [‘The D in Apartment 23,’ which aired in 2017] and now, Stewie is facing it. Seth has strong feelings about the kind of world we’re in and he wanted us to do his take on it.”

“Seth is always a fan of people thinking for themselves,” Appel points out. “That’s an undercurrent in this episode. In any endeavor, [people can] take a look at things for themselves and figure things out.”

Which comedians from the past might have better weathered social media backlash that today’s funny folks are facing? “My theory is that all of them would have,” Appel says. “If you look at Richard Pryor and George Carlin, they have current incarnations in Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock.” The showrunner can’t recall ever being approached by someone who found a Family Guy joke offensive. “Alec and I have worked on the show for a long time,” he says. “No one has ever come up to me and said, ‘I’m offended.’”

Perhaps one reason, along with the writing, of course, that Family Guy successfully pushes the envelope is because it’s animated. “Not for nothing,” Appel says, “but [some of] the longest running shows on TV are The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy and they’re all animated. There’s a certain ‘permission’ audiences feel that they have [to laugh more at] an animated character. I think that gives us some room to play.”

Over the years, Stewie has evolved from a mad scientist baby intent on achieving world domination to, at times, being more wide-eyed. “What’s great about Stewie is you can alternate between ‘evil genius’ and a baby who doesn’t know how he feels about boys and girls, politics, and his parents,” Sulkin says.

Seth MacFarlane Voices Stewie in 'Family Guy'

20th Television

“It’s fun to play with Stewie as he’s conniving to do something with a time machine and he’ll also think, ‘It’s 7:45 at night and I’ve never been up this late,’” Appel says.

As diehard Family Guy fans know the show was initially canceled not once but twice early on in its history. Fox executives re-thought the decision after DVD sales of Seasons 1 and 2 skyrocketed. “It felt great when that happened,” MacFarlane says. “We were canceled and we were brought back and that felt pretty good.”

Seth Green, who voices Chris Griffin, says he doesn’t have a favorite episode but he has enjoyed the experiences that have brought him out of the recording studio and into the world of the show’s enormous fandom. “We’ve had such awesome experiences,” Green says. “We’ve gotten to do epic things like putting a live show at the ‘Just for Laughs’ comedy festival [in Montreal, Canada] and play Carnegie Hall. We’re so isolated when we’re making it. Then, you go to live events and people know all the words to so many episodes. It’s meaningful to act with fans on that level.”

Mila Kunis voices Griffin family scapegoat Meg, who never seems to win; one notable exception was the 2011 episode titled “Seahorse Seashell Party,” in which Meg told off her family in a tour-de-force, pointing out their shortcomings. “I remember that,” Kunis says with a smile. While you’d think real-life family scapegoats would tell the actress that they can relate to Meg, Kunis chuckles that what she receives most from fans is them saying to her, “Shut up, Meg.”

Family Guy has had few cast changes over the decades, but a few years ago, Arif Zahir took over voicing the role of Peter’s pal Cleveland Brown. (Mike Henry, who originated the part, stepped down from it in June 2020.)

“That was really courageous of him,” Zahir says. “It was his baby.” Family Guy director Greg Colton saw Zahir’s YouTube videos and alerted producers of his talent. Initially, the actor says, “it was hard for me to feel like I could even step into [Mike’s] shoes.”

Zahir says he has yet to voice Cleveland’s trademark “No-No-No-No-No-Nooooo!” line but he expects that will happen eventually.

Alex Borstein concurs that the show’s 400th episode is a great one in which to showcase the subject of social media backlash. “Many of our episodes have dealt with that,” she says. “Lois has a great line coming up in one. It was something we just recorded… so you won’t see it for a while.

“This has been the most stable gig an actress could ever imagine,” Borstein adds. “It’s unheard of. Not a minute goes by where I don’t realize how lucky I am. I don’t take it for granted. I’ve got kids who are digging Family Guy now. I’m letting them watch It’s amazing how the show brings different generations together.”

Family Guy, Episode 400, Sunday, November 20, 9:30/8:30c, Fox