Microsoft drops Family Guy special over content issues

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Microsoft has pulled the plug on its Windows 7 sponsorship of Seth MacFarlane's forthcoming "Family Guy" special after deciding the edgy comedy didn't "fit with the Windows brand."

A report by Variety said Microsoft originally hoped to sponsor the "Family Guy Presents: Seth and Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show" on Fox to help launch Windows 7. Rather than using commercial breaks between the show's segments of animated and live-action comedy routines, the company planned to work with MacFarlane and comedienne Alex Borstein to inject messages about Windows 7 directly into the program.

Once Microsoft saw the material being developed, it dropped sponsorship of the show. "Family Guy" has been a bawdy mix of parody and intentionally poor taste for most of the decade. It was canceled after its third season, only to be resurrected by Fox after DVD sales and reruns found a wide audience. It has since spawned two other spinoffs on Fox. How Microsoft could have been surprised by the character of MacFarlane's style of comedy is difficult to imagine.

Just days before backing out of the special, Microsoft marketing executive Gayle Troberman told Ad Age "You'll see us deeply integrated into the content. You'll hear how Windows 7 can help you simplify your PC: it's simple, fast and easy to use."

A promotional spot that did air seemed to indicate that the special would be a mix of the show's old gags with irrelevant mentions of Windows 7. Below, Stewie installs Microsoft's new new operating system in order to use… Twitter.

During production, Variety reported that Microsoft "sent MacFarlane and Fox several notes expressing their concern over the show's content but ultimately decided just to drop out." Fox plans to line up another sponsor for the show and air it as planned.

Outside of the rejected MacFarlane special, Variety reported that Microsoft is still going forward with the rest of its multimillion-dollar deal with Fox One, which "encompasses a wide range of News Corp. properties, including Fox Sports, FX, Hulu, on MSN, Fox Licensing and Merchandising and 20th Century Fox TV. Partnership includes a 12-week college tour sponsored by Fox Licensing and Merchandising — featuring events such as 'Family Guy'-themed movie nights."

Past efforts at co-opting cool

Microsoft has struggled in the past with attempts to attach its corporate image to popular culture in order to sell its PC operating system software to users.

In 1986, a younger Steve Ballmer tried to tie "Miami Vice" into Windows by pasting an image of a Ferarri into Windows Write. The ad was an internal spoof, but characterized the type of humor the company hoped to use in marketing its products.

A late 80s promotional spot for Windows/386 that Microsoft actually delivered to retailers featured a white woman dressed like a clownish hooker and rapping away concerns about using Lotus 1-2-3 files within Windows as a sampled dog barks to the beat. Windows/386 was a version of Windows 2.0 targeted at the 386 processor.

At the launch of Windows 95, the company recruited Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston of what was then the new hit show "Friends" to demonstrate its new operating system. The company called the resulting advertisement "the first ever cyber sitcom" offering "more than a few laughs" in "an adventure in computing that takes place in the office of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates."

Along the way "they meet a wacky bunch of propeller heads" while learning about Windows 95 features, and the pace was purported to be "fast and funny."

Another spot employed a non-stop string of stereotypes, puns, and cliches to explain why users should drop DOS and their old keyboard for Windows 95 and Microsoft's new ergonomic keyboard.

Just after Microsoft launched Windows XP, Bill Gates appeared in character on the comedy "Frasier," where he took over Frasier Crane's radio show to answer users' questions pertaining to the newly available software the company was selling. Gates explained to users in 2001 that they "don't need to make a boot disk" using DOS and a floppy, but could now upgrade Windows by just inserting their CD and running the installer. "It's a feature of XP, very quick, very smooth," Gates announced.

Another caller says, "Wow, Bill Gates this is so cool!" and then asks, "I have a question about multilingual user interface ads ons. What are those?"

In an attempt to turn around the Vista launch, Bill Gates pitted himself opposite comedian Jerry Seinfeld in a series of ads that attempted to associate Gates and Microsoft with the quirky oddball humor of Seinfeld's long running show, which by that point had been off the air for a decade. While the first couple ads aired, the series was pulled before the spots ever developed upon their theme and the last episode to be filmed wasn't even broadcast.

With Windows 7, Microsoft targeted its outreach to common people, with a program to sponsor ad banners for home parties and Burger King promotion in Japan selling a bloated 7 patty, 2100 calorie burger. The canceled "Family Guy" show was the company's latest effort to target low brow consumers, but apparently was too much for the company to swallow.


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