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Seth MacFarlane Gives Oscar a Lift

PARADE Published: February 24, 2013
From Carson to Crystal to ... Seth MacFarlane. How the creator of Family Guy and Ted landed Hollywood's toughest job—and his hopes for a surprising Oscar night. Watch behind-the-scenes video from MacFarlane's cover photo shoot and read his PARADE cover story below.

Seth MacFarlane is hoping for a streaker. A few one-armed push-ups could work, too. Or maybe this year Steven Spielberg will proclaim himself king of the world. As he embarks on the most high-profile gig of his career, hosting the 85th Academy Awards, MacFarlane’s open to all showstoppers. “The worst thing to happen at the Oscars would be if nothing happened,” he says with a sly smile. “You want something unscripted, something to riff on, something kinda out there.”

Frankly, having MacFarlane onstage is out there enough. He’s Oscar’s least recognizable emcee in a long, distinguished line that includes Fred Astaire, Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Whoopi Goldberg, and Billy Crystal. But he surprised many with his polished turn as host of Saturday Night Live last fall, and as the creator of irreverent animated series like Fox’s Family Guy and the R-rated romp Ted, he brings with him a huge, young fan base. “Ask your kids,” he says in one of the Oscar ads introducing him.

Nobody familiar with MacFarlane’s outrageous brand of humor is expecting business as usual at this year’s awards. Announcing the nominees last month, he drew facepalms for dropping a Hitler joke and ribbing actors like Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones. Even now, over a lunch of grilled chicken in Los Angeles, he treats the nominees with less than genuflecting respect. Asked what he thinks of Les Misérables, up for eight Oscars including Best Picture, he hmmms and deadpans, “I only watched the first four and a half hours. I’ll try to get through the next three and a half tonight.”

With Family Guy characters. “Reporters say to me, ‘I love the show,’” MacFarlane says, “but no one will write that.”
Wisecracks aside, it’s a golden time for MacFarlane. Family Guy reached its 200th episode last November; its sister series, American Dad!, has been picked up for a ninth season, and Family Guy spin-off The Cleveland Show recently wrapped production on season four. All those cheeky, pear-shaped characters have made MacFarlane the highest-paid TV writer in history; the contract he signed with Fox in 2008 earned him $100 million. Meanwhile, Ted, about a potty-mouthed teddy bear (MacFarlane co­wrote, directed, coproduced, and did the talking), raked in half a billion dollars ­worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time (it also earned MacFarlane an Oscar nod for the song “Everybody Needs a Best Friend”). Says Ted’s Mark Wahlberg, set to appear at the Academy Awards with his ursine costar, “I honestly don’t know how Seth does so many things so phenomenally well. I think there might be a team of Seth MacFarlanes out there.”

It feels that way when you meet this man of many contradictions. Baby-faced at 39, he looks like the chilled-out dude next door (“I get a lot of ‘Hey, aren’t you Peter Brady?’” he says, rolling his eyes). But he’s a serious singer and musician who’s sold out New York’s Carnegie Hall and London’s Royal ­Albert Hall and whose 2011 album of standards, Music Is Better Than Words, earned two Grammy nominations. And while his characters mock almost every religion, ethnic group, public figure, physical challenge, and bodily function, MacFarlane himself can be quite sensitive to criticism. After Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker, a longtime MacFarlane critic, pooh-poohed the idea of him as Oscar host, MacFarlane called Tucker out personally on Twitter: “Please tell me how I may earn a review as glowing as the one you gave Urkel.”

“I think at times I read too much of my own press,” he admits. “I wish I was better at taking in how great my life is, but that’s surprisingly elusive. I tend to be very hard on myself and insecure about failing no matter what happens.”

Born in 1973 in tiny Kent, Conn., MacFarlane knew he wanted to be an animator from the age of 5. “If Seth wasn’t watching Fred Flintstone or Bugs Bunny, he was in his bedroom making flipbooks and drawing on anything he could get his hands on,” says his sister, Rachael, who voices the character of Hayley Smith on American Dad! How would she describe her big bro? “Ridiculously focused,” she says.

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