Created by Family Guy mastermind Seth MacFarlane along with writers Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman, American Dad! is at its core a family sitcom…crossed with the craziest elements of spy movies and science fiction. More than 200 episodes of the series have aired, centered around CIA agent Stan Smith, his wife Francine, their political opposite daughter Hayley, nerdy teenage son Steve, live-in alien Roger, and a talking fish named Klaus. Here’s a look behind the scenes of American Dad!—good morning, USA!
It isn’t the same show as Family Guy, okay?
There are certainly some similarities between Family Guy and American Dad!. That’s to be expected, as both shows have shared writers, animators, creators, and voice actors. However, the longer both shows have been on the air, the more American Dad’s creative team has worked to make it as different from Family Guy as possible.
For example, early in the show’s life, American Dad! utilized cutaways and flashbacks the way Family Guy did, until, as co-creator Matt Weitzman told Variety, they “soon figured out that wasn’t going to work, otherwise we’d be a carbon copy.” The solution: “focusing on stories and characters.” Another element that had to go: talking animals. Family Guy has Brian the talking the dog, and American Dad! has Klaus the talking fish, so, as co-creator Mike Barker told The A.V. Club, they had to do away with Reginald the talking koala.
“We realized after a few episodes that was actually skewing us a little back more to the Family Guy model of another talking animal,” said Barker. “For some reason when the idea was pitched by a writer in the room, it was so funny we didn’t really give that possibility enough credence.”
Klaus wasn’t originally German
American Dad! is definitely the only show on TV to have a goldfish who speaks with a German accent. That’s Klaus, a once-human German ski jumper whose brain was switched with that of a goldfish by cutting-edge CIA technology and who now lives in a bowl at the Smith residence.
Not only was Klaus once human, he was also once French—that’s how he was written when voice actor Dee Bradley Baker read for the part. But Baker, who “studied German in college” and “liked the language,” thought it would be funnier if Klaus was German, so he did the voice that way. Baker got the part (beating out Billy West and John DiMaggio of Futurama), necessitating an official switch for the character in the finished product.
The plan for Roger changed
Probably American Dad!’s most famous and original character is Roger, the self-serving, borderline evil alien who lives with the Smith family (voiced by Seth MacFarlane, doing an imitation of Bewitched and Hollywood Squares star Paul Lynde). He’s also got endless collections of wigs and aliases (such as the fearsome and legendary Ricky Spanish) that allow him to explore the world and manipulate others without fear of capture and exploitation.
Originally, creators planned for Roger to be a lot like another TV alien: ALF from ALF. Co-creator Matt Weitzman told Blast Magazine that when the show began, “Roger was never intended to leave the house. He was always expected to stay in the house like ALF and then we discovered the idea of putting him in a wig.”
They’ve toned down the politics
A show about a very conservative CIA agent who lives and works in the Washington, D.C. area is bound to be at least a little political, but the American Dad! writers have toned down that kind of content over the years. It’s not because Fox or TBS told them to, or they were afraid of offending viewers. They found that political references dated the show.
In 2005, President George W. Bush nominated White House counsel Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court. American Dad! writers made a joke about her, and the episode was produced. A few days later, Bush withdrew the nomination; a few months later, the episode with the Miers joke aired. “I remember watching on air and having to Google who our own joke was, because it had been so long since the joke was pitched,” said co-creator Mike Barker. “You’re writing a show that will air in a year,” added Matt Weitzman. “We learned to do evergreen kinds of stories about family.”
The two lines actors wouldn’t say
American Dad! can push the envelope in terms of content, but there have been only a few times cast members were so offended or made squeamish by a line that they refused to say it. Patrick Stewart, who plays Stan’s boss, CIA director Avery Bullock, didn’t want to deliver a joke that strongly suggested his character was a pedophile. The line was cut. Another instance involved co-creator Seth MacFarlane. There was a reference in a script to a character having lost a lot of weight, and Steve cracks that they were “doing a reverse Jason Segel.” (In other words, it was a fat joke at the expense of the How I Met Your Mother star.) MacFarlane, who’s friends with Segel, asked for a rewrite. Writers gave Steve’s voice actor, Scott Grimes, the option to say “Russell Crowe,” which made Grimes uncomfortable. Grimes says that they ultimately decided on “Vince Vaughn,” but still recorded him saying Russell Crowe, “in case it was funnier.”
Why two episodes were pulled from the schedule
In April 2011, Fox planned a “crossover”: a hurricane would impact the lives of characters on all three Seth MacFarlane animated shows, American Dad!, Family Guy, and The Cleveland Show. In the weeks leading up to that event, storms and tornados ravaged the southeastern United States, and Fox pulled the hurricane-themed episodes. The block of shows, marketed as “Night of the Hurricane,” hit screens in October 2011.
The American Dad! episode “Minstrel Krampus” was scheduled to air on December 16, 2012. The Christmas-themed episode included an extremely violent scene in which Santa and Stan Smith storm the castle where the mythical creature Krampus lives, violently killing elves and other creatures. Just before it aired, Fox removed “Minstrel Krampus” from its schedule in light of that week’s tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The episode ultimately aired a year later.
What changed when the show moved to TBS
American Dad! is one of the few hit shows to move from network TV to cable. After ten seasons on Fox, it jumped to TBS, a comedy-centric network with offerings like Conan, Angie Tribeca, and People of Earth. Even hardcore American Dad! fans probably didn’t notice too many changes after the switchover, because the show fundamentally remained the same.
“The marching orders were, keep it the same show,” co-creator Matt Weitzman told Variety, “but you can swear a little but more.” American Dad! co-showrunner Brian Boyle says the rule of thumb is that writers can use “two s***s and an a******” per episode. Also now allowed: more suggestive nudity. “We can now show sideboob, which we couldn’t do on Fox,” Weitzman added.
The cast is very musical
American Dad! employs some top-notch vocal talent. Many of its cast members have such skilled and varied vocal abilities that they’ve released albums. In 2012, Rachael MacFarlane, who voices Hayley Smith, released an album called Hayley Sings. It’s a collection of sultry nightclub jazz; the American Dad episode “Love, A.D. Style.” in which Hayley becomes a nightclub singer, features a couple of songs from the album.
Scott Grimes (Steve Smith) has released three albums: a self-titled pop record in 1990, Livin’ on the Run in 2005, and Drive in 2010. Singing traditional pop standards with a big band is just one of co-creator Seth MacFarlane’s many jobs. He’s made three albums of the stuff: Music is Better Than Words, Holiday for Swing, and No One Ever Tells You—which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s jazz albums chart.
There might be a movie in the works
South Park got a movie. The Simpsons got a movie. Family Guy got a movie (although it was released direct-to-DVD). So where’s the American Dad! movie? Co-creator Mike Barker told a Comic-Con panel in 2013 that there had been discussions, and that he and other American Dad! creatives had decided on a plot: a visit to Roger’s home planet. (Viewers already know that it’s 400 degrees colder than Earth, and has some similarities to this planet, in that it’s got colleges, Walmart, and figure skating.) At the time, Barker said no firm plans had been made, and it’s been more than four years, so hopefully this will happen…someday.
Who’s the guy at the end of the credits?
Lots of shows end with what’s called a “vanity card,” a post-credits image or clip of something fun or clever. Chuck Lorre uses his on The Big Bang Theory to write an essay each week; on American Dad!, studio Underdog Productions uses a video of a man saying “Bye, have a beautiful time!” or a similar variant, along with a wave or a thumbs-up gesture. According to the show’s DVD commentaries, he’s a real guy identified only as Peña who worked as a security guard in the building where Underdog Productions makes the show. Peña no longer works there, but his presence remains a fixture at the end of each episode.