There are few shows on television as funny, scandalous and family-oriented as American Dad. The unique combination of inappropriate comedy with an underlying message of connection has allowed the program to succeed for over ten years. Recently, the show reached its 200th episode milestone and its co-creator, Matt Weitzman, and various members of the cast, Dee Bradley Baker (Klaus), Kevin Michael Richardson (Principal Lewis), Scott Grimes (Steve) and Wendy Schaal (Francine), sat down with Blast Magazine to discuss the program’s longevity and future.
Many of the jokes on the show have toed the line with being potentially too unsuitable for younger viewers. With such comedy making the cut and included in the episodes, one can only wonder what was thought to be too intolerable for audiences. Co-creator Matt Weitzman explained that he could only think of one specific joke that had been clearly too offensive to make it past the writers’ room.
“I remember way back when, we once had a joke for Patrick Stewart’s character, Deputy Director Avery Bullock, the head of the CIA. He was set to have a thing for little kids. He was actually the one who wouldn’t allow himself to say that. He personally felt uncomfortable with that storyline. Apparently our monitor is kind of off, but we’ve had definitely times when we know not to cross the line.”
However, due to the network change from Fox to TBS, there is a definitive increase in the level of freedom given to the writers. This has been particularly enjoyable for Scott Grimes and Kevin Michael Richardson, who feel that their characters have been given increasingly over-the-top storylines since the transition. Grimes noted that Richardson’s character, Principal Lewis, has been able to get away with way more than any principal on Fox ever could, explaining that “Fox might want a principal to be a little bit more principal-like but TBS has let his character go off the charts.” Richardson agreed adding that “there’s no way a black principal would get away with a quarter of the things Principal Lewis has…he’s been involved with drug cartels, world domination, prostitution…there are truly no limitations to where he can go.”
When a show is on the air for over a decade, it speaks to the talent of all parties involved. For American Dad, the actors give full praise to the writers. Grimes repeatedly explained how blown away he was by the talent and creativity of the group and acknowledge how much work went on behind the scenes before a script was ever presented to him. Schaal agreed wholeheartedly but also commended the writers’ residual message that permeates throughout the series.
“The show is about something and there is always this little moral. We sometimes have to go to the moon and back to get there and you may not realize it immediately, but at the end, they’ve all learned something. The family comes together in the end no matter what and that’s important to people.”
One of the perks of working in a fictional, animated universe is the removal of logic from any storyline. There is no need for ideas to make sense in a real-world setting as long they are enjoyable to viewers. Weitzman was especially thankful for that because of the numerous logic bumps in the show.
“In the beginning of the show, Roger was never intended to leave the house. He was always expected to stay in the house like Alf and then we discovered the idea of putting him in a wig and giving him an accent. Suddenly, the world didn’t notice that he had no nose and three toes. It’s the ability to go to those crazy places and bring everyone along for the ride that makes it fun.”
While the removal of logic is beneficial to the writers, animation’s necessity for the world to stay the same increases the risk of character confinement while also posing the challenge of making the same world relatable in every episode. Schaal noted that in the beginning, “we thought we were going to be sort of political and there was a George Bush episode, but very quickly everyone realized that by doing that, you date the show.” However, in regards to character growth, none of the actors have ever felt hampered in any way and even Grimes felt that Steve had lots to experience still as a 14 year old.
With over 200 episodes already aired, the danger of repeating similar jokes or storylines dramatically increases. However, Weitzman explained that with a new set of writers, who joined after season 8, it’s not difficult for the show to stay fresh. He is thankful for “new people with new life and new perspectives that weren’t there from the start,” but notes that in many regards, American Dad is still “mostly the same show as in the beginning.” Baker agreed, adding that there was the potential for “the show to start as one thing and then become this whole other thing where nobody knows what they’re doing, but it still feels like it was when it started, just more refined.”
The writers of American Dad thrive in their continuous flow of creativity. While there have been so many hilarious ideas throughout the years, we can expect many more in the future. Next season, Schaal told Blast, “There is an episode where instead of thinking of a completely new idea for a story, the writers thought about what they didn’t do and decided to introduce two characters that nobody realized had ever met in the last decade.” It’s that freshness and ingenuity that allows the show and its characters to continually grow and develop and is crucial in order to keep audiences connected.
Weitzman has been lucky enough to be a part of two hilarious programs, American Dad and Family Guy. His experience with the latter gave him the knowledge necessary to successfully co-create American Dad. When asked about whether he thought that the two shows catered to the same audience or not, he explained that the creative team had “discovered that American Dad had to be different than Family Guy as there is a degree of maturity that your audience gains as time goes on and you need to adjust for that laugh.” He feels that American Dad brings similar funny moments, but it is more grounded than his previous endeavor. “It comes back to heart…you want to be able to have an audience connect with your show and I think if we keep doing that, we can keep the Family Guy audience as well as have our own.”
The whole group agreed that ultimately, it’s the heart and the family core that keeps their viewers returning week after week. Baker, similar to Schaal, noted that the show “is not just about obliterating all of society and making fun of reality; in the end, there is genuine love for one another.” There are many shows on television that can make you laugh, but by always coming back to the concept of family and the original plan for the show, Weitzman has guaranteed that his audience will always feel a connection to the Smith family.