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Posted at 3:05 PM ET, 09/27/2009

Tonight's 'Cleveland Show' Debut Marks McFarlane's Domination

By Michael Cavna


"THE CLEVELAND SHOW" TRAILER:

Fox TV bills its new Sunday night lineup as Animation Domination, but tonight's debut of "The Cleveland Show" more truly marks a new phase: McFarlane Domination. And tonight's premiere (update: to view the full episode, click here) surely will touch off a new wave of debate over creator Seth McFarlane's brand of bawdy humor. (Monday night update: Tom Shales's review is now up.)

When McFarlane's "Family Guy" returned to the Fox lineup several years ago from the graveyard of would-be cancellation, its creator sought a perch similar to that of "The Simpsons' " Matt Groening, "King of the Hill's" Mike Judge or "South Park's" Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Now, what a remarkable turnaround it's been: "King of the Hill" rode off into the Texas sunset this month, opening up another Sunday night Fox slot while "The Simpsons" remains the network's granddaddy -- perceived as a funny old storyteller, but one that's lost much of its satiric teeth.

McFarlane, meanwhile, has been a master Empire-Builder. He leveraged "Family Guy's" success (at first largely buoyed by DVD sales) to launch his second Fox animation, "American Dad." His one-two punch became so popular that Fox made sure to secure its future with McFarlane with a nine-figure deal. (Prompting Seth to famously say that he gave Fox the decade of his twenties and they gave him $100 million. Quite the Foxian bargain.)

This month, "Family Guy" enjoyed a best comedy Emmy nomination -- an exceptionally rare achievement for animation. He sat with James Lipton for "Inside the Actors' Studio." And now, tonight, he has three -- count 'em, three -- animated comedies on Fox's Sunday prime-time lineup. In other words, he could reasonably stake a claim as being Hollywood's most powerful single animator.

Whether it's over a matter of taste or satiric target or non-sequitur cutaways, McFarlane continues to have his detractors -- including some TV critics and even government officials; this month Venezuela banned "Family Guy." His base audience, however, is millions strong. And his off-color one-liners may be still off-putting to some, but they are an enormous draw to that ever-loyal base. On that front, at least, I can say that (having previewed several episodes), "Cleveland" does not disappoint.

At this year's Comic-Con, the hall of thousands ate up the "Cleveland Show" session and roared at the preview footage. Seth's improvised jokes -- as he kidded with such voice-actor stars as Sanaa Lathan and Jamie Kennedy -- made him the King of the Hall. (And "Family Guy" voice Mila Kunis told Comic Riffs that she thinks Seth is "brilliant.") Now, if the viewing masses respond as enthusiastically, the McFarlane Juggernaut will be fully relaunched -- on a trajectory that shows no apex in sight.

UPDATE: The debut of "The Cleveland Show" reportedly drew more than 9 million viewers -- besting even its Fox lead-in, "The Simpsons" (8.2 mil), as well as "American Dad" (7.1 mil).

ELSEWHERE...

Universal Press Syndicate announces that each of the next four Sundays, "BALDO," is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by having four Hispanic cartoonists draw the strip, which was co-created by Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos.

Today's strip is reportedly drawn by the Miami-based Cuban American artist David LeBatard, a.k.a LEBO,.

The following Sundays will be drawn by Carlos Saladana, (Burrito Comics), Anthony Oropeza and artist Lorenzo Lizana ("Amigoman -- the Latin Avenger") and David Alvarez ("Yenny") were each invited to create a Sunday Baldo strip.

By Michael Cavna  | September 27, 2009; 3:05 PM ET
Categories:  The Animation, The Comic Strip  
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Comments

Once again, Fox proves that they are always ready to go to the depths of stupidity in the quest for more viewers. The only good thing about watching the trailer is that now I know I don't have to waste any time watching the show.

Baldo, on the other hand, has decided to turn its prime real estate on the Sunday page into a advertising billboard for a racially-segregated selection of cartoonists. At least there's a chance that there might be a few panels where the Baldo characters are NOT wearing their trademark inane open-mouth grin.

Posted by: kilby | September 27, 2009 11:22 PM | Report abuse

I just think McFarlane's work is insanely repetitive. I can't tell the difference between one season and another of Family Guy - it always seems the same and the freshness wore off a long time ago.

If you are a huge fan, then 3 different McFarlane shows are great for you. If you're not a huge fan, you just wonder how much of McFarlane's development deal eats into other development deals for other original Fox programming. Because I'd rather have 3 different Joss Whedon shows than 3 different Seth McFarlane shows.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | September 28, 2009 8:04 AM | Report abuse

Here is a link to a half-hour BBC radio item on "Calvin and Hobbes": http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00mr2fj
They do NOT have Watterson on air, but it is still very interesting. Note that the audio link is valid ONLY for about 20 more hours, so it will EXPIRE at about 6:30 am EDT on Tuesday 29 September.

Posted by: kilby | September 28, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the link, Kilby!

That's an excellent podcast about C&H, including of an interview with Watterson's editor at the syndicate (discussing Watterson and his refusal to allow the characters to be merchandised), the editor of the comic book 2000 AD (of all books!) for some professional admiration of the strip, and philosophy lecturer Nigel Warburton (discussing the strip as it relates to the historical Calvin and Hobbes and especially to Nietzsche). Well worth a listen!

Posted by: seismic-2 | September 28, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I love "Family Guy" and can tolerate "American Dad", but "Cleveland" was just plain boring.

Posted by: kcghost | September 28, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

kilby - I agree with seismic2 the Calvin & Hobbes BBC interview was delightful - interesting and informative. Nice to know that Watterson was appreciated overseas as well as here. Thanks for the link.

Posted by: elyrest | September 28, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

>> kilby:

thanks for the BBC link -- indeed, a wonderful report. I always enjoy my communications with Universal honcho Lee Salem, so am especially glad that the BBC correspondent gave Lee some real time to share insights & reminisce.

[Also: Calvin as Kurt Cobain! First time I've ever heard *that* connection attempted...]

cheers,
--M.C.

Posted by: cavnam | September 28, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Just to give credit where credit is due, I found the BBC link buried in one of those interminably long (and often excruciatingly dull) exchanges at the Comics Curmudgeon (see the link over on the right side of this page), posted there by "8th Man Fan", who saw it on Mark Evanier's newsfromme.com site, who received it from a "Greg Ehbrar" ... it's sort of like Tom Lehrer's song "I got it from Alice", finding the original source is impossible.

Posted by: kilby | September 29, 2009 4:22 AM | Report abuse

P.S. to M.C.: just to let you know that hulu.com does not permit its material to be viewed outside of the USA. All I see is a black screen with a message that boils down to "nya-nya-nya!"

Posted by: kilby | September 29, 2009 4:27 AM | Report abuse

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