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Why Family Guy Was Canceled After Season 3 (& Why It Came Back)

Family Guy has been a mainstay of FOX for over 20 years, and that makes it all the more surprising that it was canceled for a brief time.

It’s well-known at this point that Family Guy was briefly canceled in 2002, so what happened, and did it come back? Family Guy has been a mainstay of FOX’s line-up and adult animation for over twenty years. With the show’s raunchiness, satirical and observational humor, and penchant for pop culture references, the show was quick to resonate with fans and critics alike. While opinions on the quality of the more recent seasons may vary, that still holds true decades after it premiered.


Family Guy’s success cannot be understated, making it all the more surprising that the show was canceled briefly. Following the end of season 3 in 2002, FOX canceled Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy before reviving it for a fourth season in 2005, and the show has been airing consistently ever since. That might sound odd on the surface, but there are plenty of good reasons for its cancelation and revival, and what’s also interesting is how the situation affected another one of Seth MacFarlane’s shows.

Related: Family Guy: Why Brian Is Able To Talk (When Other Dogs Don’t)

Family Guy Was Canceled Due To Low Ratings

The cast of Family Guy

The reason Family Guy was canceled is quite simple: the show was getting too low ratings. While season 1 earned good ratings on its Sunday night timeslot, season 2 saw it moved to Thursday nights where it was forced to compete with Frasier, and then later moved to Tuesday nights where it competed with ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Both cases saw Family Guy constantly losing in ratings, leading to FOX briefly canceling Family Guy after season 2 before bringing it back for a third season.

Unfortunately, Family Guy’s ratings problem didn’t improve in the slightest with season 3. Season 3 saw Family Guy return to a Thursday night timeslot where it again lost ratings due to heavy competition, this time thanks to both Survivor and Friends. FOX would repeatedly shuffle season 3’s timeslots in the hope of finding something that would work, but there was never any improvement, and the process ironically made the ratings fall even harder. Family Guy was then canceled seemingly for good in 2002, with the last episode of season 3 remaining unaired for over a year.

Why Family Guy Returned For Season 4 (& Beyond)

North by North Quahog

Poor ratings were the main reason behind the cancelation of FOX’s Family Guy; ironically enough, they were also responsible for its revival. Following Family Guy’s cancelation, Cartoon Network bought the rerun rights. It aired the show on Adult Swim and subsequently became its highest-rated program, boosting viewership by 239 percent (via Entertainment Weekly). The show also had incredible DVD sales, with the season 1 and 2 sets selling 2.2 million copies to become the best-selling DVD of 2003 and the second-best-selling DVD of all time (via The Christian Science Monitor). Family Guy became a massive cult hit on Adult Swim, and because of that, FOX revived Family Guy for season 4 in 2004.

Family Guy season 4 premiered on May 1, 2005, to an impressive 11.85 million viewers (via The New York Times), and the show has remained a consistent success ever since. Seth MacFarlane and David Zuckerman’s Family Guy has gone into syndication across a multitude of channels and streaming services, is continually renewed for more seasons every year, and it’s either been nominated for or won multiple awards in the years since its arrival, including several Annie Awards and Primetime Emmy Awards. Ironically enough, it took Family Guy getting canceled for it to become the massive success it is today.

Related: Family Guy’s Emmy Conspiracy Explained: Why It Hasn’t Won Yet

How Family Guy Being Canceled Helped American Dad

Stan In American Dad

Family Guy’s cancelation played a big part in its eventual success, but it also played a big part in the development of Seth MacFarlane’s second show, American Dad! When Family Guy established itself as a cult hit, FOX wanted MacFarlane to create another show to capitalize on Family Guy’s success, which resulted in the creation of American Dad! (via IGN). Of course, that ended up being undermined by Family Guy’s renewal, with season 4 even premiering just three months after FOX’s American Dad!’s premiere, but it doesn’t change the fact that the initial cancelation of Family Guy was responsible for American Dad!’s creation.

Another thing to note is how Family Guy’s situation helped shape American Dad!’s specific style. When Family Guy was renewed, Seth MacFarlane chose to focus on Family Guy and left American Dad!’s development to co-creators Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman (via AV Club). That allowed American Dad! to develop a unique style that didn’t involve Family Guy-style cutaway gags and was focused less on setting up jokes and more on the dynamics between the characters and the surreal nature of the story. Thanks to that, Seth MacFarlane’s American Dad! established its own identity and developed its own following. That couldn’t have happened without Family Guy’s cancelation and eventual renewal.

Family Guy releases new episodes Sundays on FOX.

More: American Dad: Roger’s Evil Alter Ego Ricky Spanish Explained

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