With The Orville, creator Seth MacFarlane delivered his first big live-action TV show, which was markedly different from both his live-action films and his animated televisions series. Ahead of its Fox debut, though, joke-filled ads made The Orivlle seem like a sci-fi parody rather than a genre passion project. Season 1 did have its fair share of gags and one-liners, but audiences discovered that The Orville had a lot more going for it than just being Star Trek with goofs and potty humor.
In fact, had Seth MacFarlane's reputation been different, The Orville might not have been quite so punchy from the get-go. The Family Guy and American Dad creator spoke to how his hopes to make a straight science fiction adventure were morphed by what he thought others might think about the tonal 180. In his words:
When we began this, it was designed to be a little bit more of a hybrid, straddling the line pretty evenly between comedy and drama. I have been a big sci-fi fan since I was a kid. I think secretly that was the show I wanted to do, but I figured there’s no way in hell anyone would swallow that from me.
To be fair, Seth MacFarlane has sprinkled lots of sci-fi devices and plotting into his other projects. Family Guy has Stewie's time machine as its biggest genre trope, while American Dad's Roger – "Ricky Spanishhhh..." – is an actual alien. Of course, both of those elements are played for bizarro laughs, and don't exactly justify the creation of a spiritual Star Trek sister series.
So, rather than taking a bet on American audiences finding their way to The Orville through the lone prism of sci-fi, Seth MacFarlane & Co. found ways to make the show as comedic as it was adventurous and exciting. It definitely worked in the earliest day, with The Orville's Season 1 premiere being one of the most impressive of the year. (Thanks in part to an NFL Sunday lead-in.)
During Deadline's Contenders Emmy panel, Seth MacFarlane also talked about his initial fears about viewers not fully buying into the show's more dangerous elements.
With an hourlong show, in order to sustain it, you have to have real stakes. That was my fear at the beginning. If people aren’t with us on that side of it, we’re probably not going to last very long. But they were, so we really leaned into that.
To that end, The Orville featured its first two-part episode in February, in which the initial segment ended on the protagonists' ship being hijacked so that all life on Earth could be destroyed. Not exactly a hilarious knee-slapper of a plot. But The Orville has proven itself time and again to not need Seth MacFarlane's signature humor in order to make his other projects fun to watch.
With a never-ending line of surprising guest stars, The Orville airs on Fox every Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. ET. Be sure to tune into the one on April 11, as "Sanctuary" will be directed by Star Trek vet Jonathan Frakes.