“Family Guy” Breaks Windows

Microsoft's pullout as sponsor of raunchy special shows risks of melding comedy with commercials. Call it the Peter (Griffin) Principal…

For Microsoft, it turns out that agreeing to sponsor a special by "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane may have been as bad an idea as Windows Vista.
Microsoft, as Variety reports, pulled out as the sole backer of “Family Guy Presents: Seth and Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show," which was shaping up as a comedic virtual infomercial for Windows 7. The computer giant balked after learning there would be incest and Holocaust jokes amid touts for its new operating system.

Whatever you think of MacFarlane's brand of raunchy humor, give him some credit for not toning down his shtick in the name of commerce. As for Microsoft executives, did they really expect restraint from the guy who built a “Family Guy” episode around Peter being injected with a “gay gene?”

The split, which comes less than two weeks before the scheduled Nov. 8 airing of the ostensibly interruption-free special, is a case study in the risks of marrying edgy content to advertising. Call it the Peter (Griffin) Principle.

The sponsorship deal was announced earlier this month at a time when the networks face shrinking audiences and ad revenues amid competition from the Internet and more DVR users fast-forwarding through commercials.

The networks are getting creative in trying to keep audiences from reaching for the remote. NBC and ABC are experimenting with integrating storylines into commercials. A couple weeks ago, Anheuser-Busch was the sole national sponsor of “Saturday Night Live,” with ads for the new Bud Light Golden Wheat beer featuring rare “SNL” clips.

The MacFarlane-Microsoft deal originally was spun as a throwback to TV’s early days, where product pitches were integrated into shows such as Milton Berle’s “Texaco Star Theater.” Uncle Miltie, though, never got any more risqué than donning a dress – at least not on the air.

While the bawdy humor of “Family Guy” turns off some, the show's fans might be offended by Stewie and Brian pushing Windows 7 in a series of spots (which, by the way, are still up on the Windows 7 site). MacFarlane and FOX, meanwhile, are said to be looking for a new sponsor for the special.

“Family Guy” remains willing to sell out, but on MacFarlane’s terms. For Microsoft, the price apparently was too high.

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.

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