The creator/writers talk about making the show timely, their favorite episodes and the movie they are writing for New Line called Black and White
Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman are two writers who seem to have their finger on the pulse of current American comedy. As writers on the show The Family Guy, it would seem that they could just rest on those laurels. Afterall, that show has a rabid fan base that seems to devour each episode with an insatiable appetite .
Which makes Barker and Weitzman's creation of the show (along with The Family Guy mastermind Seth MacFarlane) American Dad even more impressive. While at first glance one might think American Dad is the latter show's leftovers, all they need is a few moments with the Smith family to know that that is certainly not the case.
Taking a cue from All in the Family, Weitzman and Barker give us "CIA operative" Stan Smith, his lovely wife Francine, their two kids Steve (a nerd who Stan can't accept as a nerd) and Hayley (a very liberal girl who is always at odds with her very American Dad) and a permanent house guest who just happens to be an alien named Roger.
Clearly, these two guys are on to something.
On a show like American Dad and The Family Guy, you guys skewer everything. What do you think is the trick to doing that so that it is as fresh and timely as it always seems to feel?
Mike Barker: Just avoiding any jokes that... every joke needs to go through the nine month litmus test. If you project more months into the future and realize that Harriet Miers is no longer going to be on the radar or interesting, you avoid the joke.
Matt Weitzman But mostly it's that thing of whatever's making us laugh, at the time, because it's a nine month process, if it's still making us laugh throughout every step then it stays in.
Mike Barker: I think our comedy is, we certainly have our moments of reference humor, but we're certainly not as reference laden as say The Family Guy or South Park. I think our humor more frequently derives from the human condition and emotions that everyone can relate to; ego, the feds, etc.. And for that reason, I think our humor is a little more evergreen.
Could you take us through the process of writing a screenplay for American Dad? With all the characters and dialogue it seems like it would be a free for all but I know it isn't like that?
Mike Barker: You start talking about what would be a good idea. Just an example, "All About Steve" is an episode where Stan wants his son to be more of a jock and more like he was when he was his age. That whole episode came about from one of our writers Dave Hemingson coming into our office, telling us he just visited the dentist and he may need to get braces. And the idea of a grown man with braces appealed to us and we just decided, "What if we put Stan in braces?" And he understands for the first time what it's like to feel like a geek.
You never know where an idea is going to come from and once you get that idea you spend a couple of weeks in a room with all the writers, breaking the story, making sure that each act of the two act breaks are strong and that you're twisting the story in a way that makes you want to come back for more after the commercial break. Then you send a writer out to write the script, they get two weeks, it comes back. The room rewrites it, hopefully keeping as much of the first draft as we can, and punching the jokes and making sure all the motivations are there and then we take it to the table and read it.
On the 13 episodes of the American Dad DVD, is there one that stands out more than the others? Maybe one that you're a little more proud of?
Mike Barker: We love all our writers the same. (Laughs) You're asking us to pick a favorite... I gotta tell you it really is tough to pick a favorite. I'm really fond of the "Stan of Arabia" two parter.
Matt Weitzman: It was actually intended to be a one hour special when we kind of pitched the idea to the network. They said, "Go for it! We can do that." And then suddenly it's like, "We can't do that."
Mike Barker: As a one hour it was really nice and pure and clean, and now it's a two parter but I think it still works really well.
Matt Weitzman: I think, in general, we kind of hit more of our stride in the second half moreso than the first half; in a lot of ways.
Mike Barker: Of the first 13?
Matt Weitzman: Of the first 13. So, even though I personally like a lot of the earlier episodes, the show matured fairly early but at the same time we did have our growing pains.
Since you are working in animation as opposed to live action is there ever an issue of when to say when? Because it seems like things could constantly be redrawn and rewritten until the show aired? Whereas in live action, you shoot the show and then you make it work with whatever you have in the editing room.
Mike Barker: Yeah, basically... our producers tell us when we're done. (Laughs) It's really hard to accept anything less than perfect when you start to get wrapped up in this process of being able to constantly make changes, eventually, you have to kind of bring down the hammer at the color stage and live with what you've got.
Do either of you have a favorite part of creating American Dad?
Matt Weitzman: Lunch.
Mike Barker: Matt likes lunch. I like the story breaking process, personally. Coming up with the stories. To me that's the most gratifying.
Matt Weitzman: Actually, I probably enjoy the editing process a lot. I think I like the fine tuning of things and making things happen just so. Making the episode just kind of pop in it's own subtle ways.
Mike Barker: I also love "Bullocks to Stan" with Patrick Stewart who turned out to probably be our biggest coup in casting, in terms of our non-regular characters. He is just awesome in that episode and that's definitely one of my favorite episodes as well.
What do you guys have coming up next?
Mike Barker: Matt, myself and one of our writers, Chris McKenna, we are in the process of writing a comedy feature for New Line about a group of Super Bowl refs who decide to fix the Super Bowl. Which was born out of losing a little bit of money on Seattle in Vegas during the Super Bowl. So we turned that loss into a little win.
What is the title of that?
Mike Barker: That is tentatively titled Black and White. We have some really funny episodes coming back...
Matt Weitzman: These first four episodes that are going to be coming back, that are going to be airing consecutively, are really quality, I think. If you liked the other ones, you are going to really like these.
Mike Barker: Stan gets probed by Roger in our season opener and it changes their relationship. We basically play it as two friends who have crossed the line and now they're trying to figure out how to be friends again. Steve, in the episode after that, takes an untested steroid from the CIA because Stan wants him to be more of a jock, and the side effect is that he grows breasts.
So we certainly feel like we are still growing as a show, definitely having fun and also really, really, really appreciated your DVD review. It's really nice to see someone get it.
American Dad, Vol. 1 hits DVD stores April 25th, 2006 through Fox Home Video.