The box office slaying that was “A Million Ways to Die in the West” — just $17 million and third place on its opening weekend — would seem to be a dramatic blow to Seth MacFarlane. In fact, it’s just the latest pothole in the road for the onetime comedy kingpin.
It's been almost exactly two years since MacFarlane’s stuffed-animal barn-burner “Ted” became a major phenomenon, grossing $219 million domestically, enough to eventually put it in the annual box office top 10. At the time MacFarlane was as hot as it gets — he had the biggest-grossing comedy in six years not named “The Hangover,” “Family Guy” had just completed its 10th season, and the announcement that he would be landing the high-profile gig of Oscar host was just a few months away.
But the comedy zeitgeist, like a MacFarlane character, is a fickle lady, and MacFarlane hasn’t exactly been on an uphill trajectory since 2012. Here’s a rundown of some of his missteps.
— The Oscars. In February 2013 MacFarlane hosted the movies' Super Bowl, opening with the infamous “We Saw Your Boobs” number and going from there. The ratings were decent enough—up a tick from some previous years though notably lower than Ellen DeGeneres would manage the following year — but MacFarlane was raked over the coals by critics for the dual sins of being provocative and unfunny. He wouldn’t return.
— "American Dad." The long-running suburban family sitcom, which features somewhat less MacFarlane involvement than his other creations, was canceled by Fox in July 2013, and longtime show runner Mike Baker left several months later. TBS has stepped in and will begin airing new episodes this fall.
— "Dads." In September 2013 MacFarlane tried his hand at a live-action sitcom with “Dads,” an intergenerational buddy comedy on which he served as executive producer. Given his success on Fox with “Family Guy," the show rode onto the network's fall schedule with heaps of promise. But the series was skewered by critics — again the provocative and unfunny, this time with an extra helping of racism allegations — and didn’t fare much better with audiences. “Dads” barely hovered above 3-million average viewers for much of its run, and was canceled after just one season last month.
It should be noted, though, that MacFarlane has had a critical success on Fox this spring,as the somewhat unlikely backer of the new edition of "Cosmos," using his leverage to get the Neil deGrasse Tyson series on the air and helping to shape it creatively. The series has elicited a warm reception over its three months on the network.
— “Family Guy.” The story of Peter Griffin and his oddball family continues its decline in popularity, with just 5 million total viewers for its debut and fewer than 4 million for its finale in May. Both are lows since the show came back for its robust second run in 2005 (back then the debut brought in nearly 12 million viewers). Stewie & Co. will always have their fans, but it’s pretty hard to deny that “Family Guy’s” mainstream popularity is dwindling (though to be fair, those piling on here might be a little misguided; it’s the rare show that doesn’t lose luster and audience 12 seasons in.
— “A Million Ways to Die.” This past weekend the spoof western proved unfortunately true to its title and a boon to headline writers, garnering anemic reviews and dismal box office. Unlike as with some Hollywood overseers, it was hard for the responsibility to be spread around very far — MacFarlane was the film's writer, producer, director and star.
MacFarlane’s rise from cult status to mainstream comedy rainmaker was remarkable, but his fall has been nearly as dramatic, a sign to naysayers that his brand of male-skewing, pop culture-aware raunch was never as in keeping with the zeitgeist as some of his successes had suggested.
Can he reclaim some of the glory? He’s already taken the path many prescribe when hard times come — return to what made you successful. MacFarlane is scheduled to make "Ted 2," a sequel to the stuffed-bear comedy starring Mark Wahlberg. Universal has dated the film for next June, though there's been no word of production start dates as yet.
MacFarlane also has a new animated comedy, “Bordertown,” set for Fox. It will debut on the network next year and cast a wry eye at life on the U.S.-Mexico border, adding a little topicality to his portfolio. Hollywood loves a comeback, even if it’s just the thing a MacFarlane creation would make of.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times