Interview with Steve Callaghan and Rich Appel from "Family Guy" on FOX - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

 Steve Callaghan and Rich Appel

Interview with Steve Callaghan and Rich Appel from "Family Guy" on FOX 4/28/15

It was wonderful to speak with these guys. We've watched the show for many years. It was very interesting to hear all about the upcoming season.

Final Transcript
April 28, 2015/1:00 p.m. PDT

Alyssa McGovern
Steve Callaghan
Rich Appel


Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by, and welcome to the Family Guy conference call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode, and shortly here, we will conduct a question-and-answer session, and instructions will be given at that time. (Operator instructions.) As a reminder, today’s call is being recorded.

I’ll now turn it over to your host, Alyssa McGovern, for some opening remarks. Please go ahead.

Alyssa: Hello and thank you for joining today’s conference call with executive producers, Steve Callaghan and Rich Appel, in support of Family Guy. The milestone 250th episode airs Sunday, May 3rd, at 9:00/8:00 Central on FOX, and the season finale will air Sunday, May 17th. I will now turn over the line to Steve and Rich for your questions. Thank you.

Moderator: (Operator instructions.) We’ll go the line of Suzanne Lanoue from The TV MegaSite.

Suzanne: Oh, good morning.

Rich: Good morning. Hi.

Suzanne: Hi. Just wanted to let you know, my husband and I have watched this show since the very beginning.

Rich: We love that. Thank you so much.

Suzanne: Sure. I was wondering, with the 250th coming up, do the writers do anything special? Do they save special jokes for it or do they just treat it like any other episode?

Rich: Well, we were hoping that Fox would get us a coffee card or something to celebrate, but we’re still waiting. So, honestly, when we were plotting it, and this is Rich speaking, when we were plotting out the season, we knew, obviously, which episode would be the 250th, and we had a couple in mind that we thought would be good ones for it, not just stories that we thought were funny, but potential, as in this case, a role for a guest star like Liam Neeson, and then we waited, honestly, to see how they played to the table and to see how they came back from the first round of animation to make sure the episode felt special enough.

The writers do, I mean, to be quite serious, always do their best for every episode, and if we fall short of our own standards, that’s our fault, not anyone else’s. But we wanted to make sure that the episode we slotted into this position was one we thought turned out great, and we do think it did turn out really well.

Suzanne: Alright. Thanks very much.

Rich: No followup?

Suzanne: Well, I’ll leave some time for someone else.

Rich: Okay, thanks.

Steve: Thanks for watching.

Suzanne: Thanks.

Moderator: We’ll go next to the line of Joe Hummel of Pop Culture Madness. Please go ahead.

Joe: Hi, guys. I’m a big fan, too.

Steve: Thanks. Great.

Joe: It’s a pleasure to talk to you. My question’s kind of a followup. At what point do you say, “Oh, my gosh, it’s number 250?” and what were both of your initial thoughts to say, ‘”Oh, well, what can we do?”

Steve: Well, can you ask the question one more time?

Joe: Sure. At what point did you say, “Oh my gosh—” I got that. At what point did you look at the schedule and say, “Oh, wow, it is 250?” And for each of you, did you each have any idea that, “Oh, I want to do this as a special thing,” or any idea like that?

Steve: This is Steve, by the way. It’s sort of like Rich said. We just wanted to do something that felt really special. We write these shows, actually, much farther in advance than I think most people realize. We do them about a year ahead of time, so we had all these conversations about a year ago when it first dawned on us that we were coming up to this milestone. And so, one advantage of doing it so far in advance is that it gave us lots of time to plan and sort of pick a really great episode, and once we had Liam Neeson on board and once we saw how well the table read had gone and how well some of the early screenings had gone, we just thought, this has all the makings of a milestone episode.

Other reason why it seemed so good is that the opening of the show concerns something called Quagfest, where Quagmire throws a street fair in commemoration of his 1000th sexual conquest. So, since Quagmire was having a milestone, it felt fitting that we use it for our milestone episode.

Rich: And as Steve says, we have to start writing these shows so far in advance. I believe when we were contemplating what episode would be our 250th, there were advertisements congratulating The Simpsons on their 500th, and that keeps you humble.

Joe: I guess my followup is this: A lot of people don’t know, what does a producer do, an executive producer?

Steve: Well, Rich and I are both executives producers and show runners of the show, which means that we are in charge of every aspect of the show, really—hiring writers. We oversee every re-write.

Rich: We determine which snacks are available in the kitchen. It’s a very powerful position.

Steve: We direct the actors. We do casting, editing, I mean, just about every part of the process you can imagine, including picking snacks.

Rich: But I’ll tell you that it’s a question that I always think people are interested to know the answer to, because in TV, I used to watch, before I ever became a comedy writer, shows like The Simpsons, and I would see all these—story editor, and I thought that meant the person who approved every single story, and producer was the one who figured out who to hire the artists and the guys who lock up at night.

And in television, it’s all just different labels for the hierarchy of writers as you spend more years in the business, and you start out as a staff writer, story editor, co-producer, producer, supervising producer. And as you get up the ranks, the idea being you’re more experienced at doing all the things that the writers are expected to do, and then start to take on some additional responsibilities that might include directing some of the actors or editing some of the footage, whether it’s an animated show or a live-action show.

So, the titles with the more senior sounding names just mean that they’re writers who’ve been around a little longer and might be expected to do things beyond just writing that week’s episode.

Steve: And I should also say, just to tack on to that, all of our episodes, and this is the case for most television comedy, is written very collaboratively. We have a staff of writers, and every writer contributes to every episode. Well, Rich and I are the ones who oversee and set. So, Rich and Seth and I work together to oversee the writing of every episode. So, though each episode might have a particular writer’s name on it, that writer wrote the first draft, but everyone on our staff contributes to all the episodes and we, sort of, guide that process.

Rich: And I remember when I had written my first episode for a television comedy, and all these senior, experienced, hilarious people were pitching jokes for it that were going in the episode with my name slapped on it, I thought, “I can do this.”

Joe: Okay. Thank you for that.

Steve: Thank you.

Rich: Thank you.

Moderator: We’ll go next to the line of Sean Daly with

Sean: Hi there, gentlemen, how are you?

Rich: Good.

Steve: Great.

Sean: Nice to speak with you and congratulations on 250, a milestone that, I suppose, maybe you didn’t even dream about when the show started out.

Steve: Never in a million years. I actually started on this show in day one, and lived through all the cancellations and resurrections, and if you’d told me, my much younger self, that we’d be celebrating 250 episodes, I would’ve told you that, I don’t know.

Rich: And I agreed to come when it was an established hit.

Sean: Well, you guys have had a lot of ground that you’ve covered in 250 episodes, a lot of things that were controversial, a few things that seemed that they were off limits. There’s been a clip circulating on the internet, you’ve probably seen it come back in the last couple of weeks, where Stewie and Brian are having a conversation about whether Bruce Jenner is a man or a woman. It’s kind of topical this week, so I’ll ask you if you could revisit maybe that particular joke, if you recall it, and if it takes on any sort of new significance in light of what’s in the news now.

Rich: I remember a different gag there.

Steve: Here’s the thing. And I’m not saying—it was before I came to the show, but I can't right off the bat think of the content—you can describe it to us—but one think I will say, without any self-consciousness, I watched that interview, and I was quite—I think like a lot of people—quite surprised by it and by how moving it was and how sincere and articulate Bruce Jenner was about his life and the struggles he’s faced.

And I think that in comedy writing, especially for shows that are “edgy” and try to push the envelope, context matters. And when something seems to be, and putting Bruce Jenner to one side, but when a joke seems to be poking fun at someone’s potential vanity, it’s one thing. When you find out something about a person that makes you realize if you make a joke about them, it’s poking fun at some kind of genuine emotional struggle that has caused a person great pain, I think many people would say, well, that’s less funny. And I think over the course of time, as you learn different things about different people, they become more or less the subject of comedy.

Look at Hillary Clinton. I think there are things about Hillary Clinton that will always be the subject of comedy, and then there are some things you probably wouldn’t go to, and if something were to happen to someone in her family, I don’t know if you’d make a joke about the healthcare debacle that she—so, the reality of what’s going on in the world definitely does affect, I think, what you target.

Sean: Right. I mean, I’m not trying to pass judgement either way. I just find it kind of coincidental that the joke has Stewie saying, “I can’t believe that came out of Bruce Jenner’s vagina,” and then Brian says, “Bruce Jenner’s a man,” and then Stewie says, “No, Brian, that’s just what the press would have you believe. He’s a woman.” So, I don’t know. I just found it to be kind of topical and thought maybe you’d have some—

Steve: And that’s interesting.

Sean: Is that a joke that you would remove from future episodes?

Steve: We might have that conversation. I don’t know.

Sean: Hello?

Rich: We’re here. I mean, if it’s what you just said, I can't remember the gag, but what you just said, there’s nothing about that that strikes me—I don’t know if it seems—you know, I was concerned that there might be something else that you would say—I don’t know. But, to me, it’s funny. I don’t know if, did you watch the interview with Diane Sawyer?

Moderator: I think that Mr. Daly was having some issues with his line.

Rich: Well, I don’t know if anyone else is listening, but I was just thinking, when I watched that interview, they interspersed all sorts of clips of late night comedians from Conan O’Brien to David Letterman, etc., etc., telling Bruce Jenner jokes, and they take on a different cast in the context of this heart-rending and heart-felt confessional conversation. It’s like something ten years ago feels different than it would feel tomorrow.

Steve: Absolutely.

Moderator: We’ll go next to the line of Bruno Martins with Newspaper Metro.

Bruno: Yes, hi guys, it’s really good to be talking with you. It’s a great pleasure. So, I would like to know, it’s a curiosity, how do you guys keep it fresh and interesting after 250 episodes? What is the formula that you guys are going to have for the next 250 episodes?

Steve: Well, I think it’s always a challenge, but we are blessed to have a very talented staff and crew here, and we take our job very seriously and, especially so, because we want to do right by our fans. Those are the fans who brought our show back from the dead. And so, we just really dedicate ourselves every day to raising the bar, and I can honestly say, I feel like the episodes we’re doing now in seasons 12 and 13 are as good, if not better, than ones we’ve done in the past.

Rich: And I think one of the virtues, the many virtues of the show that Seth created and these characters are you don’t need to think of an insane redefining storytelling story to make a great episode of Family Guy, and sometimes, just to pick one example, one of the writers just said the one line, “Joe writes a children’s book about a character called The Hopeful Squirrel,” and it just seemed like such a funny idea that Joe Swanson would be writing a children’s book and have created this little cartoonish character.

And we then turned it into a story where Peter takes credit for it. And once you have the template of what is really a small story, the reality of the Family Guy universe is such that it’s such a challenge and an opportunity for these writers to come up with these hilarious, off-topic bits, or even on-topic character reactions to these things.

Steve: I think some of our best and most successful episodes have been ones with actually very simple stories told in a way that only Family Guy could do. And like Rich said, the characters are such that we keep finding new layers to them and new aspects to them, and so I feel like the show still has many, many more years to go. And I’m excited for all the story that we have yet to tell.

Rich: A show like Family Guy and The Simpsons, they have the same burden and the same virtue, which is our characters never age, and it’s a challenge because at some point you’re thinking of your 251st story for a man who’s 40. I mean, there will never be a 50th birthday, certain mid-life crises stories, but the virtue is that you get to know these characters so well, and they don’t change in ways that suddenly—you know, Stewie will never go through an awkward puberty and turn into a teen star who can't act anymore and has terrible acne.

Steve: Unless he uses the time machine.

Rich: Right. There’s a real nice certainty that we have this tremendous character that we know Seth will voice the same way he always has and that there’s a security in that. We know the pieces we’re playing with.

Bruno: Just a followup question. Liam is a guest for this 250 milestone episode. Bringing new guests for the show and for some new episodes is something that we are going to see more often? It’s something that you guys have been doing for a lot of years, but it’s something that you are going to start to see more often?

Steve: I don’t think any more or less often than we’ve done in the past. It worked out great for this episode being such a special episode, and we have many, many guest stars coming. Glenn Close was just here to record for an upcoming episode. But I think it’s something that we’ll do with about the same frequency that we’ve been doing it. We like to do it every now and then, but we don’t think of it as something that defines our show.

Rich: And in fact, I think, from the head down, Seth’s take always has been a lot of famous movie stars are terrific actors, and if they’re right for the role, that’s great, but he’s always been reluctant to take advantage of someone who’s famous who might want to do the show to put into the show. I can't think of an example where that happened.

It’s really—Liam Neeson, obviously, Seth worked with on his A Million Ways to Die in the West, and is a terrific actor and a very funny actor, and that’s why we thought let’s write this part for him. And same thing with Glenn Close; we wrote Glenn Close in as a character—in fact, an episode that Steve wrote. So, that’s how she came to the show, and we’d love to have her back playing someone other than herself.

But it really is if there’s a part that we then think, oh, that’s perfect for a certain actor out there, that’s how we would do it, rather than this mega-celebrity wants to do the show, we’d better figure out a way to write a part.

Bruno: Okay. Thank you very much.

Steve: Thank you.

Rich: Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you. We’ll go next to the line of David Martindale of the Fort Worth Star.

David: Hi, guys. Thanks for doing the call. Given the history of the Family Guy, the way that you all survived cancellation and came back stronger than ever, did that change the way you all approach your work then? Did you ever start thinking, “Oh, we’re bulletproof; we can handle cancellation again if it comes on,” or do you just approach it all the same way?

Steve: No, that’s a great question, but no. I think the moment you start believing that you’re bulletproof, then you’re dead in the water. In fact, if anything, I, as I mentioned before, I’ve been here since the beginning, so I lived through all the cancellations and resurrections, and I still am a little bit like a—I have a little PTSD from that, because I still am not ready to really fully mentally embrace the fact that people actually know the show and like the show. It was only about two months ago that I stopped saying, when people would ask where I worked or what I did, I used to say, “Well, I work for this show called Family Guy,” and only recently did people in my life say, “You don’t have to say that. You can just say—

David: Yes. I know what you mean. One time somebody called me for an interview and she goes, “My name is Stephanie Powers,” and I said, “You do not have to say, ‘My name is Stephanie.’”

Steve: Exact same thing. So, I think it’s healthy to have a fair dose of humility and anxiety even about the future of your show. It keeps you on your toes and keeps you working hard.

Rich: Yes, I thought I was bulletproof in my marriage, and that didn’t work out, so I’ve learned my lesson.

David: Got you. Okay. What stands out for each of you as your favorite tent-pole moment of the show throughout all of these? I know I’m asking you to pick your favorite child or your favorite dog, but a favorite episode, a favorite storyline, a favorite joke that just still tickles you to this day.

Steve: Oh my gosh, there’s so many. I just love working on the show, and it’s because there are so many fun moments. One that comes to mind is our 100th episode, which I thought was really special, in which— it was called “Stewie Kills Lois,” and it was a two-part episode, and the second part was called “Lois Kills Stewie.” I thought we really sort of went all out with this premise that had been underlying one of the main characters for so long. That was a fun episode.

“PTV” was a really fun one. Just in terms of sheer laugh-out-loud gags, there’s an episode—this is from several seasons ago—but it’s where a few of the characters decide they’re going to have a contest where they all drink ipecac to see who can go the longest without vomiting, and it’s such a rudimentary joke, but I still laugh when I think about it.

Rich: And I would second all of that, and I think to give credit where credit is due, sometimes for me, and I know for Steve as well, we struggle with the script pages so many times, so many different layers from the outline to the first draft to the draft we read at table, that we know the words so well, and it’s always those moments when we see these really talented artists who are our directors who bring something that we didn’t anticipate, some physical action. There’s famous bits that are—

Steve: Like Peter with the frog.

Rich: That’s exactly what I was thinking. It was directed by—God, it will come to me in a second—but directors like Dom Bianchi and Joe Vaux and Peter Shin, who just—if you look at the crossover episode we did with The Simpsons that Peter Shin directed, so much in that seven-minute fight between Peter and Homer, we scripted a lot of the action, but then Peter came up with other things. And I think it’s partly because whatever is new to you and great, rather than something that you sweat over time and time again, and by the ninth time you see it, it loses something.

David: True.

Rich: So, it’s always a treat when you see the things that the directors bring that you hadn’t anticipated.

David: Okay, cool. Thank you very much.

Steve: Thank you.

Moderator: And we do have time for one more questions. That will come from the line of Alexandros Romanos of Lizardos. Please go ahead.

Alexandros: Thank you for giving me the opportunity of asking some questions. I would like to ask you, after 250 episodes, do you think that that’s the real time for a movie, for a real movie, I mean? You know, like Simpsons did it almost five years ago, so is it a great timing?

Steve: Well, we’ve been wanting to do a movie, a Family Guy movie, for a long time, and in fact, there’s been a fair amount of talk about what the story for that movie would be. There was some, a little bit of work done on it a few years ago. But the trick of it is, you know, Seth is such an integral part of everything we do here creatively, vocally, musically, everything, that he’s at a point right now where he has a lot on his plate. So, I know it’s something that he still wants to do and it’s a priority for him, but between directing movies and recording albums and hosting the Oscars and a couple of TV shows, it’s tough to find the time to do it.

So, I think it’s safe to say that it will happen at some point but probably not imminently. Probably be a few years before we are able to make that a reality.

Alexandros: I have two more questions. If you could erase an awkward or unpleasant moment from Family Guy, which one would that be?

Steve: I’m sorry. Could you repeat it?

Alexandros: Of course. If you could erase an awkward or an unpleasant moment from Family Guy, which one would that be?

Steve: Getting canceled two times.

Rich: I will tell you this, we’re very lucky that a few of our writers, including Steve, are funny in the recording booth, and Seth has cast them. And we have a number of writers, John Viener, Alec Sulkin—Mike Henry was a writer at Family Guy, and he does Cleveland—Steve does voices, Danny Smith. And I have the authority, if I wanted, to cast myself, but I can’t do it.

So, one time I’d like to erase is when I wrote my first script. Seth cast me as a significant part at the table read, and I didn’t want to do it, and I told him I didn’t want to do it, and I did it poorly, and then I had the unfortunate circumstance of him awkwardly and embarrassingly just cutting me from the record schedule, and I thought, I didn’t want this, I didn’t need this. I knew I would do it badly. So that’s the one I would erase.

Alexandros: Okay. And I have heard that it takes around $500 to become a secondary character on Game of Thrones. How much money do you want to make me a character on the TV series?

Steve: Well, you know it’s so funny. Let’s just—$14.

Alexandros: That sounds fine. And I think that we can arrange that. Thank you, really, so much for your time. It’s really a TV series which I really, really adore. And thank you so much for the time.

Steve: Thank you.

Rich: Thank you.

Moderator: And ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude your conference for today. Thank you for your participation and using AT&T Executive TeleConference. You may now disconnect.

Steve: Thank you.

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