If there's one new fall show that everyone seems to have an opinion about, it's Dads, the new Fox comedy from the production team behind Family Guy. Based on the pilot episode alone, the show has been derided as "racist," "offensive" and "morally wrong" by critics. But Fox is using the backlash as a selling point — using such comments in promos for the show to try to foster tension between fans and (in the network's telling) and out-of-touch critics. And the show's producers — Seth MacFarlane, Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin of Family Guy, along with former Simpsons showrunner Mike Scully — don't seem to mind the negative attention either.
"We're used to it. That's what we do," Wild tells TVGuide.com.
Adds Sulkin: "Obviously we're not setting out to offend people first. We want to make them laugh first. So we just have to focus on trying to be funny. ... And if people are offended, then, as Wellesley said, we're used to that."
At its core, Dads is about two video game developers in their 30s (Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi) whose elderly fathers (Martin Mull and Peter Riegert) end up coming to live with them. The title characters, naturally, are based on Sulkin and Wild's own fathers, "who we love but who are at times intolerable," according to Sulkin.
"Alec and I were kind of trying to think of a concept for a show and wanted to do something that was real," Wild explains. "'We were sort of thinking, what do we talk about all the time? We talk about our dads all the time. Like, 'Okay, here's my dad disaster story.' And then Alec would have his dad disaster story, and we'd just shake our heads and be like, 'Oh my God.' It would just be basically almost every single day, whether it was a long visit from them or some sort of financial request, or whatever kind of nightmare story. We had so much."
The creators were unclear, however, how their real-life fathers would react to their on-screen depictions.
"When we shot the pilot, Alec and me were both legitimately terrified," Wild says. "Both of our dads were there, in the audience. We were both worried about, like ... how are they going to take this? Because it is insulting to both of them. And we were both just peeking at their reactions from the floor up into the audience, and they could not have been enjoying it more. I think because it's about them, they just overlooked all the negative stuff. They were completely delusional the way they watched it."
While their fathers reacted positively, the same can't be said for critics. The portion of the pilot episode that has dissenters in the biggest tizzy features cast memberBrenda Song dressed up as a stereotypical Japanese schoolgirl in order to impress some Asian clients. An Asian-American group even called on the network to reshoot some scenes in the pilot. (Fox refused.)
"What surprised me was the fixation on what amounts to four or five minutes of the pilot," Scully says. "I think what was ignored was, outside of the comedy, there's a lot of genuine sweet moments between the fathers and sons in that episode also that just got overlooked. People just seemed to fixate on one aspect, and that's all they wanted to talk about."
"I'm always mistrustful of somebody who makes their living by being offended," he adds.
Perhaps spurred in part by Fox honchos, the show's producers insist Dads will evolve over time. ("Brenda Song could actually be Caucasian by Season 6," quips Wild. "You never know what's gonna happen.") At the Television Critics Association fall previews in July, Fox president Kevin Reilly publicly implored critics to be "patient" with the show and refrain from passing judgment until mid-season. But a quick run-through of future episodes, for those planning ahead, yields plot points including the sons "fighting over a Latina maid," a "pot-off" between the sons and the dads, and one episode that features a doctor dying while giving one character a prostate exam ("with his finger still in his ass," Wild clarifies).
"The priority with all three of us in all the shows and movies and different things we've worked on has just been making it as funny as possible," Sulkin says. "I don't know that we can say it's going to be a quirky tone or it's going to be kind of a broad slapstick tone. I think that we're just going to try and strike a funny tone and keep trying to tell simple stories in a funny way."
Dads premieres Tuesday at 8/7c on Fox. Will you watch?