Seth MacFarlane plots a new course with ‘The Orville’

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Seth MacFarlane plots a new course with ‘The Orville’

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By Rick Bentley

Tribune News Service


LOS ANGELES — Space: the final frontier for Emmy-winning Seth MacFarlane. His are the new voyages of “The Orville.” Its 13-episode mission is to explore the ratings possibilities for a Fox sci-fi show, to seek out new viewers, to boldly go where it looks like other have gone before.

After bring the network plenty of success with animated series like “Family Guy,” “American Dad!” and “The Cleveland Show,” MacFarlane has created his first live-action series for Fox, “The Orville.” The series, which will have a special debut Sunday, Sept. 10, follows the crew of humans and aliens abroad the U.S.S. Orville, a mid-level exploratory spaceship 400 years in the future. MacFarlane plays the ship’s captain, Ed Mercer, who had given up on his hopes of command until he got this one last chance.

The description of the show sparks immediate comparisons to space-traveling series that have gone before including those that have been part of the “Star Trek” franchise. To be as honest as a Vulcan in the witness stand, one of the executive producers of “The Orville” is Brannon Braga, who held a similar job on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Star Trek: Enterprise.” Also, “Star Trek: The Next Generation’s’” Johnathan Frakes and “Star Trek: Voyager’s” Robert Duncan McNeill have directed several episodes.

MacFarlane understands why parallels are being drawn but stresses that the idea of a space ship cruising the universe is not a new concept.

“‘Star Trek’ itself sprang from a lot of different sci-fi tropes that came before it, from radio, sci-fi radio dramas in the ‘30s and serials. They were the ones who really crystalized it in a more perfect way than anyone else,” MacFarlane says. “There are many different places that I draw from when I kind of think about this. I mean, there’s ‘The Twilight Zone.’ There’s ‘Star Trek.’ I hold a lot of these different franchises in very, very high regard.”

MacFarlane grew up a fan of the forward thinking, aspirational, optimistic place in science fiction that was the prime directive for the “Star Trek” offerings. He’s watched science fiction productions in recent years go in a more dystopian direction and he wants “The Orville” to be more of an example of the positive thinking approach.

“I miss the hopeful side of science fiction that kind of goes back to the roots of the genre,” he said. “What can we achieve if we put our minds to it. And that flourished in the ‘90s. In some ways, some shows did it in kind of a more cheesy fashion and others like ‘Star Trek’ made it a little more legit. But that was the way to do a sci-fi show back then. And now, things are just very grim, and so that was a conscious choice, because I missed that flavor of science fiction.”

The series creator is making this attack on the genre with a full array of weapons including a massive ship set. Where the cast and crew will be working is so huge that the set is two stories high connected by a real spiral staircase. The bridge is fully enclosed with viewing screens bigger than any other space traveling series and there is a massive eating area where the crew can relax. It is all connected by long passageways that open into various smaller rooms.

During a tour of the massive set, executive producer Jason Clark explains that everything was built with the same standards as if they were constructing a two-story house. That started with steel beams to make sure the second floor of the ship would be as sturdy as the ground level.

It would have been far easier to build all the sets on one level and have actors climb stairs up or down to an empty space.

“The reality is, we wanted to be able to stay within the world of the Orville. So we felt we had enough ship to contain all the storytelling we wanted to do and not feel, ‘Oh, we’re in that room again,’” Clark says.

“The Orville” not only launches with comparisons being made to previous projects but there’s some confusion about the tone. Considering MacFarlane’s track record with satire, the first thoughts might be that this new series will be poking fun at the space genre. Fox has not helped belay such thinking as most of the promotional commercials for the fall show feature comedic moments.

Comedy will be a part of the series but at the heart of “The Orville” will be a serious adventure story. MacFarlane sees “The Orville” as a science fiction comedic drama because there is room to use levity in ways that a traditional hour long sci-fi show would not have. He knows this show is breaking new ground but is confident that as soon as viewers watch a few episodes they will understand that this is not a comedy, but humor is used.

“If this were a half hour, it would be kind of cut and dry what this is. Because we’re an hour long show, the story kind of has to come first. And it can’t just be gag, gag, gag, gag, gag,” MacFarlane says. “There has to be some reality to where the comedy comes from. And if you kind of break down where the jokes come and how they kind of lay out, you’ll notice that there really isn’t anything that exists in the ‘Spaceballs’ or ‘Family Guy’ realm.

“It’s all things that come out of who the characters are or that adhere to the reality of a science fiction world. Nothing ever goes into that Mel Brooks realm, and that’s by design.”

The design of the show will also feature a shifting tone. Some episodes will be very serious while others will be far lighter. This is another influence of “Star Trek” on MacFarlane who recalls how there would be a two-part episode dealing with a heavy topic like the Borg and then follow that with a lighter tale about family.

Since there have already been 40 different alien races created just to be crew members on the Orville, there are plenty of places in the television universe for the new series to go.

Joining MacFarlane on his trek will be Adrianne Palicki (“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), Penny Johnson Jerald (“24”), Scott Grimes (“Justified”), Peter Macon (“Shameless”), Halston Sage (“Neighbors”), J Lee (“The Cleveland Show”), Mark Jackson (“That Royal Today”) and Chad L. Coleman (“The Walking Dead”).



Debuts 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, Fox

Moves to regular time slot of 9 p.m. Thursday starting Sept. 21

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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