Alumnus reveals exploits of Stewie and the gang on the hit cartoon show

Section: Cap Region,  Page: C1

Date: Sunday, May 31, 2009

SCHENECTADY -- On his cell phone, Chris Sheridan keeps a drawing that his five-year-daughter, Lily, made of Stewie, the megalomaniacal baby on the animated television show "Family Guy." But she's never seen the show that her father helps write, and he is not sure when she will.

Sheridan returned to Union College on Saturday for his 20th class reunion, where he shared a behind-the-scenes look with fans of the sometimes raunchy, often hilarious cartoon.

"Oh, great, I am horrified to see children here today," deadpanned Sheridan, just before he aired a video segment of the show's still-to-be released seventh season premiere, but not before delivering a parental warning about a coming flash of non-pixelated animated nudity.

(Spoiler alert: The episode deals with Peter, the often-dimwitted, impulsive father of the fictional Rhode Island clan, developing an unnatural affection for a promotional cardboard cutout of a 1990s supermodel. Pixelation to obscure the nudity will be added when the episode airs in September.)

"My daughter knows about the show. She knows the characters, and owns the figures. But I explain to her that it is a show for mommies and daddies," said Sheridan, a soft-spoken, polite 42-year-old New Hampshire native who graduated with an English degree.

Now the executive producer, Sheridan has been with the show since the beginning, including two cancellations by Fox in 2000 and 2002 when ratings were low. The show was resurrected again and turned into a hit in 2005, after Cartoon Network starting airing the 50 original episodes and a DVD sold in the millions.

The Griffin family includes wife Lois, a vampish heiress and the show's sole voice of reason; son, Chris, a somewhat oafish lump; daughter Meg, an unattractive girl always seeking recognition that never comes; and baby Stewie, whose polysyllabic rants about taking over the world are understandable only to erudite Brian, the family dog who sips martinis and listens to jazz.

More than a 100 fans -- including some of Sheridan's contemporaries with their children -- piled into Union's Reamer Auditorium to hear him talk about what goes into making the show, and what has sometimes crossed a line with the censors at Fox.

What the show might be most well-know for are its quick "cutaway" jokes -- tangential vignettes that last for a few seconds before the main plot resumes. Sheridan showed some examples, like Thomas Edison refusing to share electricity with his neighbors, and a caveman and his wife fighting over erotic cave paintings.

And another cutaway drew heated criticism from conservatives during the last election campaign when Stewie and Brian, transported back in time to Nazi Germany, emerge disguised as German officers. Stewie looks closely as his jacket, and sees a McCain/Palin campaign button, remarking, "Uh, that's weird." Sheridan said the shows writers are always pushing at the line, and debating among themselves about what is beyond joking. He recalled a joke about a certain celebrity having a harelip. "I fought to cut that out and lost," he said. "I prefer to make fun of someone's choices in their lives, like their religion, rather than something that they were born with," he said.

When Sheridan came to Union from the small New Hampshire town of Gilford, on the southern shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, he ended up joining a campus fraternity of Chis Psi. Initially, his nickname was Mr. Nice Guy," a tag he worked to undo. "I think my time in the fraternity helped prepare me as a writer. Being in the frat house really thickened my skin, and that's something that you have to have when you are working in a room full of writers."

So far, Sheridan's time at Union has not surfaced much on Family Guy, although there was quick in-joke when a character who got pummeled on a football field was named for one of Sheridan's friends on the rugby team.

"I have not been back on campus in 15 years," he said. "And being here reminds me of how much I loved it here. Maybe it is time that I starting mining some of this for the show."

After Sheridan's talk, a number of former classmates lined up to tell him how much they liked the show ---- even a woman who said that she had covered her daughter's eyes when the non-pixelated nudity appeared. Later, when asked about how being a parent himself has changed his view of the show's edgy humor, Sheridan said: "I find myself a little less forgiving of the pedophile jokes."

Brian Nearing can be reached at 454-5094 or by email at bnearing@timesunion.com.


"I prefer to make fun of someone's choices in their lives, like their religion, rather than something that they were born with."

Chris Sheridan

"Family Guy" writer and producer