Here’s the way to get people talking about an aging, animated TV series that’s not the pop-culture phenomenon it once was.
Kill the dog.
That’s exactly what happened on “Family Guy” this past Sunday, when Brian the dog was run over by a car and killed.
And if it sounds cynical to suggest this was all about getting attention for a show that could use a boost in the ratings, well, remember that “Family Guy” just might be the most cynical show on television.
Is there anything this Fox series hasn’t mocked, ridiculed, derided, lampooned, parodied and made the butt of the joke?
Cynicism is in the DNA of “Family Guy.” So killing off the dog to get people talking again is far less surprising than some would have us believe.
Given that we knew the show was going to kill off a character, it was less surprising still.
For a cartoon, Brian’s death was fairly graphic. We saw him get hit by the car and both front and back wheels pass over him; we saw blood on the ground, on the veterinarian’s scrub and oozing through Brian’s bandages as he delivered his deathbed speech.
It was nightmare-inducing material for any kids who watched the show.
Fox and the show’s producers — including Seth MacFarlane — have long insisted that this is not a show for children, and it’s not. Fox provides parental warning before “Family Guy,” as it should. If you’re letting your young kids watch “Family Guy,” you should have your parenting license revoked.
But kids are attracted to cartoons.
Perhaps the most offensive thing about killing Brian is that the “Family Guy” writers went soft and tried to make a Big Touching Moment out of his death.
“You’ve given me a wonderful life,” he told the Griffins. “I love you all.”
Fond farewell or pandering? Looked more like the latter.
Despite the fact that Brian has always been completely anthropomorphized, killing the dog seems sort of the easy way out for the “Family Guy” writers, who clearly figured pets die all the time.
Or maybe they realized there was more ink to be had by killing off the dog. That people are more up in arms about the occasional (fictional) death of a pet than the umpteen (fictional) human deaths every week on TV.
Clearly, the “Family Guy” writers looked at this rather flippantly. In an interview with “E!,” executive producer Steve Callaghan said, “This was an idea that got pitched in the writers’ room and it sort of caught fire. And we thought it could be a fun way to shake things up.”
How could you possibly miss the cynicism in that statement?
I love dogs, but it’s difficult to feel sadness for the death of an animated dog when it’s such a blatant attempt to manipulate viewers’ emotions.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce