ABC's Bill Weir Goes Easy on Religion-bashing 'Family Guy'

ABC reporter Bill Weir didn't exactly grill "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane when he interviewed him for "Nightline's" ongoing "Seriously Funny" segment on Monday. The journalist failed to bring up some of the most egregious examples of MacFarlane's cartoon vulgarity, including a March 8 episode that featured bestiality jokes, a gay-hating Jesus Christ and an 11-way gay orgy.

Instead, Weir only vaguely alluded to such instances and asserted, "But, like those other cartoons, his shows raise the most ire with religious and parental watchdog groups. If there is a taboo line, chances are MacFarlane has leaped over it." He did read off a list of topics the show has skewered and then wondered, "Where is the line for you? Is there a line or is that the point?" Once again, however, Weir had no specifics to follow-up. Did he ask about the October 19, 2008 episode in which the program's baby character, Stewie Griffin dressed up as a Nazi and wore a McCain/Palin button? No. MacFarlane, a Barack Obama supporter and liberal Democrat, wasn't forced to talk about that particular low blow.

At one point, after MacFarlane admitted that "Family Guy" is in terrible taste, Weir simply laughed and mildly added, "They [conservative groups] make the argument it's - with an animated show a kid going to stop the remote." More often, however, he simply allowed MacFarlane to ruminate, uninterrupted about the minor restrictions the show does operate under, such as not being able to say "Jesus Christ" as an expletive. He elaborated:

SETH MACFARLANE: If they said to me you can have one phrase that you can use that's not allowed on TV as an expletive, it would be Jesus Christ. Because I'm from New England, people go, "Oh Jesus Christ." You know, it's, it's just how people talk. And that's the most frustrating for me is that there are times when Peter has to say damn it and it just doesn't have the extra punch, as, you know, the New England guy shouting "God damn it," you know?

And this comment from MacFarlane elicited only a laugh, but no shock: "You can't say Jesus Christ as an expletive, but if you say it, and you widen to him [Jesus], you know, in bed with a hooker and then it's fine." Weir simply followed up by querying, "Do you think under a, a Democratic administration you're gonna be able to get away with more?"

A partial transcript of the April 6 segment, which aired at 11:55pm, follows:

BILL WEIR: Then there are the animation purists who dismiss his work as crudely drawn and derivative. Some hate his tangents- [Brief "Family Guy" clip] -when a story line veers off into a meaningless chicken fight. The debate has even sparked a kind of cartoon war with other shows.

SIMPSONS CLIP: If you don't want to see crude, lowbrow programming disappear from the airwaves, please call now. [Turns off TV with "Family Guy" on it.]

MACFARLANE: "The Simpsons" took a few shots at us and we lobbed one back. Really, Matt Groening is a friend of mine. I, I have nothing but warm feelings about that show.

WEIR: What about "South Park"?

MACFARLANE: They can go to hell.

[Brief "South Park" clip.]

MACFARLANE: I sense there - maybe there's some anger there.

WEIR: But, like those other cartoons, his shows raise the most ire with religious and parental watchdog groups. If there is a taboo line, chances are MacFarlane has leaped over it.

FAMILY GUY CLIP: You have AIDS. Not HIV, but full blown AIDS.

WEIR: I just started jotting some of the topics covered and some of the jokes made at the expense of paraplegics, the deaf, pedophilia, bestiality, AIDS. You've got an opera version of the Nicole Simpson murders.

MACFARLANE: Yeah.

WEIR: The JFK Pez dispenser where candy comes out of his wounds.

MACFARLANE: Yeah. Yeah.

WEIR: Where is the line for you? Is there a line or is that the point?

MACFARLANE: The, the JFK Pez dispenser I wish we had never done.

WEIR: Really?

MACFARLANE: Yeah. That, that, that was just over the line. When you're nose deep in this stuff, you're gonna cross the line occasionally.

WEIR: This board in his writer's room carries a list of topics they try not to cover too often. [Board reads: "Asians, Jodie Foster rape, blacks, Jews, Persians, logs in bathroom toilet, long hallways, gays." Underneath: "On the bubble: Mexicans, AIDS, 9/11."] But because his show is rated inappropriate for kids under 14, he is unapologetic about most of his material.

MACFARLANE: It's not like television is a God-given right. You hear the Parents Television Council raving about "Family Guy" did this, nobody is forcing you to watch this show. They say is this taste. No, it's not, it's terrible taste. That's what's funny. I mean-

WEIR: [laughs] They make the argument it's - with an animated show a kid going to stop the remote.

MACFARLANE: But, animation when it was conceived in, in, what, the '20's, it was, it was marketed to adults.

WEIR: Yeah.

MACFARLANE: And you can't hold a whole medium hostage because you think this is who it, it, it might appeal to.

FAMILY GUY CLIP: Joke about your bowels and they order in the troops Any baby with a brain could tell them everybody poops.

WEIR: What's been your biggest battle with the FCC?

MACFARLANE: Poop jokes are the single biggest offender, which is - which shocks the hell out of me. Your tax dollars at work, America.

FAMILY GUY CLIP: You'll never win by messing with the fellows at the freaking FCC.

MACFARLANE: If they said to me you can have one phrase that you can use that's not allowed on TV as an expletive, it would be Jesus Christ. Because I'm from New England, people go, "Oh Jesus Christ." You know, it's, it's just how people talk. And that's the most frustrating for me is that there are times when Peter has to say damn it and it just doesn't have the extra punch, as, you know, the New England guy shouting "God damn it," you know?

WEIR: Is it true that if you use Jesus Christ as an exclamation, you then have to show-

MACFARLANE: He has to be in the room. Yeah.

WEIR: He has to be there?

MACFARLANE: Yeah. Yeah. You can't say Jesus Christ as an expletive, but if you say it, and you widen to him, you know, in bed with a hooker and then it's fine.

WEIR: Do you think under a, a Democratic administration you're gonna be able to get away with more?

MACFARLANE: No. There's nothing to be politically gained by stepping forth and saying I'm going to be the more poop jokes on TV candidate, you know?

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org