NEW YORK – Imagine seeing "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," if it were about a cartoon family living in suburban Rhode Island, and you'll have some idea about the obsessive cult following "Family Guy" (search) has achieved.
That loyalty was on wild display at "Family Guy Live," (search) where cast members did a script reading on stage before the show's return to network television Sunday night.
Sillier than a "Star Trek" convention, it was a bacchanal on Broadway in which several actors were openly lubricating and audience members exuberantly recited every word and sang every song right along with them. They even laughed in anticipation of jokes they knew were coming — though the frequent ad-libs, most of which were too risque to repeat here, also drew rowdy cheers and applause.
Just hearing the title of the episode they were about to see — "To Love and Die in Dixie," the one where the Griffin family moves from fictional Quahog, R.I., to the fictional Southern town of Bumblescum (search) as part of the witness protection program — sent fans into a tizzy.
"It's kinda pointless that we're here since you all know this by heart," series creator Seth MacFarlane told the crowd of about 1,200 at Town Hall Friday night, one in a series of sold-out performances in New York and Los Angeles.
But those fans are the reason the series is getting an unprecedented second chance. After bouncing around various time slots for three seasons, "Family Guy" was canceled by FOX in 2002, only to enjoy renewed popularity through DVD sales and in reruns on Cartoon Network's late-night "Adult Swim" lineup.
Now, the edgy, fast-paced show is coming back to FOX starting at 9 p.m. EDT Sunday, after "The Simpsons" and before MacFarlane's new animated series, "American Dad."
"I'm excited," Alex Borstein, who provides the voice of matriarch Lois, said backstage. "I've never been on a winning horse before. No matter what happens — even if we, like, get canceled out of the gate — I still feel like we've won."
Borstein, also one of the show's writers, said she's been surprised by "just the consciousness. People who love the show, love the show. We've managed to get inside people's heads with this somehow. Everyone kind of lives it and breathes it and I've just never experienced anything like it before."
That fervor makes doing the live stage show "intimidating," said MacFarlane, who voices three of the main "Family Guy" characters — boorish dad Peter, diabolical baby Stewie and the dog Brian, who's the voice of reason. (Mila Kunis from "That '70s Show" returns as teenage daughter Meg, and Seth Green from the "Austin Powers" movies returns as awkward, 13-year-old Chris.)
"I got into animation because it was kind of a behind-the-scenes thing and I've kinda had to adapt to this kind of stuff and I'm very uncomfortable with it. Which is why when I go out there, I'm ...," MacFarlane says backstage as he motions like he's hoisting a glass to his lips.
The drink of choice? "It's Jack Daniel's," said the 31-year-old. "It's what Frank [Sinatra] used to drink. It's good enough for him, it's good enough for me."
When it's pointed out to him that the people in the audience are there because they love him and love his show — one woman screams out mid-performance that she wants to have his babies — MacFarlane says that's gratifying, "but it's also a lot of pressure to not screw up. Animation fans, sci-fi fans are very fickle and they have a proprietary feeling about the shows that they like and they feel that 'Family Guy' in a lot of ways belongs to them."
Once the first new episode premieres Sunday, "it'll be a relief — we're back on the air," he said.
"I'm also preparing for the FCC to be displeased with us, but we'll see."