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How Family Guy's First Cancellation Devastated The Staff

The story of Seth MacFarlane's "Family Guy" may seem like an easy one to tell; after all, there are few animated properties that have experienced the same level of success as the Fox sitcom. Since 1999, the series has been on a quest to become one of animation's most talked-about shows — something that continues to this day. While it might seem like Quahog's fictional residents were always there for fans, a pivotal period could have spelled the end of "Family Guy" forever.

What makes the series work is hard to explain, ranging from topics that surprisingly seem to air at just the right time to memorable characters. Catchphrases like "Giggity" somehow find themselves a part of the cultural lexicon, while "Bird is the Word" — part of The Trashmen's 1963 song "Surfin Bird" — enters into earworm status. It could be argued that none of that might have happened when "Family Guy" underwent not one, but two cancellations. The first came shortly after less than a year; the second came about after a shortened season. In both cases, Fox didn't see it as a hit, especially scheduling them against popular series (via CBR). Those cancellations had a major impact on the staff, with some involved still talking about it today.

Many felt the show needed more time to build up its ratings

The 400th episode celebration presented a great time to reflect on the series' past. Dana Walden — chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content — has a long history with the series dating back to its early days. She was there when the series experienced its first cancellation several episodes after its second season began in 1999. The executive reflected on that first cancellation's impact during Variety's coverage of the event.

Walden was quick to point out that this moment distressed the entire team, especially considering the large amount of support the show had. "There was a lot of love for the show at the studio and frankly, a lot of people at the network believed in it too," she said. One of the biggest reasons for support, according to Walden, was its originality. For the Disney General Entertainment Content chairman, similarities to another Fox hit also made "Family Guy" memorable. "Since 'The Simpsons,' we hadn't really seen an animated show that played on so many different levels — it was smart, had topical humor and was very broad skewing," she added. 

The biggest problem "Family Guy" faced was getting a foothold among viewership. She acknowledged that it takes time to build and everyone involved with the series felt that frustration upon cancellation. Season one started out with a major push thanks to a post Super Bowl premiere; the 1999 debut received 22 million viewers. Ratings quickly began to drop, prompting the network to make the rushed cancellation decision before exploring the series' prospects for longevity (via USA Today). Luckily, their fears were unfounded, and "Family Guy" remains a fan favorite after two decades.