Talking politics with American Dad's Mike Barker
Later this month, Fox will release the first season of American Dad
on DVD. The animated series about gung-ho CIA agent Stan Smith and his family pokes fun at politics — especially the tricky area of terrorism and homeland security — the way Family Guy
lampoons pop culture. No surprise that it comes from FG
creator Seth MacFarlane
(the stentorian voice of Stan) and FG
writers and producers Mike Barker
and Matt Weitzman
. The Biz talked to Barker about how the show's popularity is up while President Bush
's poll numbers are down. Coincidence? You decide.
TVGuide.com: When you first started working on the show, President Bush was a pretty popular guy and most people were OK with how the war on terror was being fought. It seems like the rest of America has caught up with the way the show thinks.
Mike Barker: I think ultimately that will help the show. There is always a part of us that enjoys being the rebel and finding yourself suddenly in alignment with the mainstream — I'm fine with it. Maybe more people will appreciate the show now. It's more relevant than ever because more people are actually in the camp.
TVGuide.com: What is it like to do topical humor when shows are being written and produced nine to 11 months in advance? How do you meet that challenge?
Barker: You try to stay away from Harriet Miers jokes. She may not be an issue in a year, most likely, and she definitely won't be one during the life of the DVD. You try to pick your moments. Every once in a while it's OK to have a little topical flavor — it's the time-capsule nature of any show. We primarily see ourselves capturing a political temperature rather than specific political occurrences and events.... We're more a family show than a political show. I look at the show we have coming up: Stan wants his son [Steve] to be an athlete, so he gives him an untested CIA steroid that has a side effect of breast growth. Then Steve becomes the school slut.
TVGuide.com: One thing you do on a timely basis is the headlines that Stan sees on the newspaper he picks up in the opening titles.
Barker: A few days before we deliver the episode [the writers and producers] break off into a room. One of our supervising producers, Dan Vebber, used to work on The Onion and is perfectly suited for the headline humor, and he usually spearheads the room. They usually come back and half of the ideas are off timely events and the other half are off more timeless Onion-esque absurd headlines. One of my favorites is "Britney Spears Enters Prehab." Another is one that didn't run because we cut the main title sequence: "Israel Pulls Out of Gaza, Gaza Not Pregnant." It's a new take on a timeless conflict.
TVGuide.com: What are the discussions like with the Fox standards-and-practices department about the political statements made in the show? Are you ever restrained?
Barker: Matt and I wrote an episode that will air next season in which President Bush falls off the wagon. We were really concerned about whether we were going to get shut down for it. I'm really frustrated a lot of times at some of the stuff we can't get away with in terms of comedic edge. But in terms of political censorship or political steering, there has been none.... You don't want to use the show as a bully pulpit. I think it's kind of a turnoff. It stops being funny when it's a tool for a political agenda. It's not that we're afraid the president will watch this and shed a tear. It's too easy — and I think you have to have a bit of restraint when you're in the position we're in. Otherwise, the audience picks up on reckless assault and tunes it out.
TVGuide.com: So you're on the Family Guy floor, and you're an alum of the show. What did you think of the recent South Park episode that parodied Family Guy?
Barker: Everyone on the American Dad side thought it was pretty funny. The fact that Family Guy was able to command a story line in South Park — how can you not be flattered in some way?