Lucky There’s Seth MacFarlane

Family Guy Graffiti Image from Cheryl’s PhotostreamI used to be a pretty big Family Guy devotee (back in that golden age when it was only shown on Adult Swim). While I’ve personally gotten a little tired of the manatees-with-idea-balls approach to storytelling (just watch the South Park episode), I think that MacFarlane’s talent for tapping into everything from Victorian literature to modern art and coming up with a poop joke is kind of impressive in its own way.

And that leaves us with MacFarlane’s latest venture, Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. These are mini episodes (1-5 minutes a piece) that seem like deleted cutaway scenes from Family Guy.

Now, if you read the URL in that link, you’ll notice that you can find this Cavalcade at – Burger King’s YouTube channel. Every episode is branded with the Burger King logo and a snippet of an animated version of BK’s King character. That is in addition to the regular YouTube logo that plays in the lower right corner of the clip window.

The Cavalcade is branded in three ways: (1) Seth MacFarlane, (2) Burger King, (3) YouTube. It’s an innovative approach to producing web media, but one that was phenomenally popular in the early days of TV and radio. Comedian Jack Benny was sponsored by everything from Canada Dry to Lucky Strike cigarettes, and the show was labeled as the Canada Dry Show, The Grape-Nuts Show, etc. Philip Morris used to sponsor “I Love Lucy” – and characters, or animations of those characters, actively hyped their cigarettes on screen before the show. This level of corporate sponsorship, in which the sponsor’s brand is equally or more visible than the brand of the show itself, might be exceedingly valuable to indie and mainstream producers trying to get their shows on the web. It also creates some problems.

Up until now, the internet has not been an epicenter for high-quality, original, intentional humor. “Charlie bit my finger” was and is much more typical of online comedy than, say “Nobody’s Watching.” But well-established celebrities producing web exclusive content is going to mean higher production values, actual scripting (gasp!) and possibly even some steady camerawork. This means that maybe, just maybe, your well-scripted, innovative comedy has a chance to shine out there too.

However, while Seth MacFarlane can get away with a foul mouth when he’s sponsored by a “hip” brand like Burger King, I’m sure a sketch about transfats and obesity would not be welcome. Finding a patron if you are not already on the inside will be an uphill battle. And patron-sponsored content may mean sacrificing some ideas to preserve an overall brand image.

Would you go the patron route with your own web TV series? Or would you rather get your content out there, and find funding later?