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UCLA

What if The Simpsons Met Family Guy?

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By Paul Feinberg '85

Published Oct 2, 2014 8:00 AM


Bruin Patrick Meighan wrote the episode where they did.

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Have you ever wondered what would happen if Ross and Rachel from Friends met up with Jerry, Elaine and George from Seinfeld? What if Olivia Benson from Law & Order SVU crossed paths with Tony Soprano? Would she arrest him?

Though TV and movies often depict characters as living in the same city, fictional universes typically stay separate—you just don’t see New York–dwelling Spiderman taking a trip to Gotham City to meet up with Batman. Crossovers between the characters in your favorite TV programs don’t happen very often.

Until they do.

On Sunday, September 28, Fox Television pulled off one of the most unexpected television crossovers ever, when the Griffins, the animated stars of the hit animated series Family Guy, visited Springfield and met up with The Simpsons. Tapped to script the landmark episode was Bruin Patrick Meighan ’95, a Family Guy co-executive producer, story editor and writer.

It’s likely no one saw this coming. Though the two, long-running shows (The Simpsons is in its 26th season; Family Guy, in its 13th) have together anchored Fox’s Sunday night lineup, the two have often been a rivalry. The main point of contention, at least between fans and viewers, is that most saw Family Guy as derivative of The Simpsons; in fact, an episode of the latter once included a joke about Peter Griffin being guilty of plagiarism.

But working with The Simpsons’ characters was a longtime dream of the Family Guy staff. As it happens, current Family Guy co-executive producer Rich Appel is a former Simpsons staffer, and when he finally approached the current Simpsons creative team, they gave the go-ahead for the crossover.

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Meighan didn’t really want to write it. “I was afraid to let everyone down after they had waited so long to do the episode,” he says. "The odds of meeting expectations were low, so I tried to dodge it.”

He did not disappoint though. The episode is trending nine out of 10 stars on IMDb, and the episode’s viewership was up 73 percent from its 2013 premiere, its best season premier in four years. According to media reports, the episode was No. 1 in several key demographics.

At UCLA, Meighan studied history, but his focus was comedy. As a resident of Sproul Hall, he joined a campus improv group. He also joined the UCLA Comedy Club, which met in Ackerman Union. With some fellow students, he started doing a public access television program, sneaking into a campus editing facility to work on the show. “I remember thinking, ‘People do this for a living?’ That’s when I knew what I wanted to do,” he says. He landed a show business internship — after an old UCLA comedy collaborator Steve Callaghan ’91, MPP’98, now one of Family Guy’s show runners, brought him in — that led to a writing gig and eventually a spot on the Family Guy staff,

After getting the writing assignment, Meighan went away for a couple of weeks to complete the first draft. Then, as with every episode, the entire Family Guy writing staff met and started ripping it apart. “It’s an ego-shrinking process,” he says. The staff goes over every joke, every plot point, trying to get the script just right.

The episode resurrected some old but familiar Simpsons gags, like Bart making a prank call or his “Eat my shorts” catch phrase. Meighan says The Simpsons writers might be tired of writing those jokes, but it was the Family Guy staff’s first crack at them. He says The Simpsons staff saw the script before taping and were open to what was written, except for a few jokes. The show featured a number of “special guests,” including Fred Flintstone.

“The episode was a love letter to The Simpsons,” Meighan says. “It’s a very self-deprecating story that is an acknowledgement that without The Simpsons, there would be no Family Guy.” (One of the plot points makes a joke out of the fact that “Pawtucket Patriot Ale,” the beer Peter Griffin, who works at the fictional brewery, favors, is a rip-off of Duff, Homer Simpson’s preferred brew.)

Meighan says one of the highlights of the experience came when The Simpsons cast visited the Family Guy offices for a table read of the script. “It was a thrill to see Dan Castelanetta as Homer doing jokes I’d written.”

“I liked the way the episode turned out,” he says. “It was an opportunity to play with characters I’ve been watching since I lived in Sproul Hall. It was a bucket list thing to do.”

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