American Dad has found a second life on TBS. When the show aired on Fox, it lived in the perpetual shadow of it’s better promoted sister show Family Guy. Now that it’s been moved to cable, American Dad is getting a legitimate chance to actually rise above. Scott Grimes and Wendy Schaal, who play Steve and Francine Smith, couldn’t help but talk about how excited they were about the change. Clearly the feeling is mutual through the cast and you will see in our part two with Rachael MacFarlane and Dee Bradley Baker.
As the younger sister of Seth MacFarlane, Rachael has plenty of experience in entertainment both with and without her brother. Her voice has appeared in a whole plethora of television cartoons, films, and a handful of video games, giving her an extremely prolific career in voice acting. Her most recognizable role is American Dad’s Hayley Smith, a character she even used as a vehicle for her only recorded music album, Hayley Sings.
Dee Bradley Baker follows a similar career path except his is far more prolific. With his voice appearing in an unbelievable amount of cartoons, movies, films, and video games, Baker is as A-list as they come. It doesn’t matter if it’s voicing a human being or providing the guttural groans to an orc. Baker has done it all and does it very well.
During the roundtable interview at Comic Con, MacFarlane and Baker spoke about what’s in store for their characters this season, how the show is written, and what a Game of Thrones and American Dad crossover can entail.
For Klaus and Hayley, what can we expect from them in this new season if American Dad?
Rachael MacFarlane: Oh wow. I have a really big and important storyline coming up. I go blonde, so that’s kind of a big deal for the character.
Dee Bradley Baker: It’s a multi-episode arc too.
RM: It really is. Francine and Hayley get into it a little bit because they’re both blondes. It’s good! Jeff comes back too so I get my husband back. We’re back under the Smith roof together and it’s fantastic. I think Hayley’s character just continues to grow.
DBB: As does the show! At our new home at TBS, we’re allowed to take things further. The restraints that we normally have on network and Fox, which actually weren’t that restrained the show gets away with a lot, they’re able to go further in the cable home.
Touching on that lightly, the transition from Fox to TBS, how is that for you personally?
RM: It’s been really interesting. We were, I think, nine years with Fox, which is a long time. To give them credit where credit is due, they left us alone and they let us grow and find out fan base. Now moving over to TBS, we’re feeling so embraced. TBS is clearly so excited to have this show and they’re really promoting it and giving it a lot of enthusiasm. We think it’s gonna be pretty huge for them.
DBB: Creatively it really feels like a step up because the writers are allowed to do more, they’re not asking to change anything. Just keep it going strong the way it is but more of what works and more creative freedom. It’s good all around.
Is there a lot of improvising with your characters, or is most of the stuff you say scripted?
RM: American Dad operates like a traditional sitcom and it’s very writer heavy. We have a lot of writers. There isn’t a ton of room for improv, but if there’s something that I feel that Hayley should say I can make that suggestion and usually they’ll listen to it, and sometimes they won’t. This isn’t as big of an improv show as others.
DBB: Yeah, we typically stick to the script like you do in a sitcom. The writers write the words and the actors say the words. In the cable realm, although typically in series for Disney or Nickelodeon, it feels like there’s more leeway to improvise and to add new ideas and to rephrase things. With our show, where the writing is really the thing, as with an on-camera sitcom, these words and jokes have been crafted and polished for months as a team. They pretty much want to hear that.
Based upon your own personalities and your character’s personalities, how much of them would you say you identify with?
DBB: I think the thing they arrived with on Klaus is that he’s frustrated and stuck in this bowl and just can’t make things go his way. He started out as sexy fish who wants to get sexy with mom, and they’ve quickly figured out, “Nope. It’s about Klaus stuck in his bowl and he can’t get anything done and everyone forgets him and neglects him.” I think, this is just conjecture, that part of the popularity of Klaus is that a lot of the people that watch the show feel that way. They’re at a chapter in their life where they just can’t get the girl, they can’t get anything done. They’re smart and they’re totally capable but stuck in this body that won’t do what they want. They relate to that! They make great comedic use of it in the show.
RM: One of my favorite Klaus episodes was the one where you go to Atlantic City, and you pull your back out and you’re stuck in the room watching that same hotel channel looping. It’s fantastic.
Rachael, it was revealed in “Love, American Dad Style,” that Hayley is a fantastic singer, your talents obviously. Why haven’t we seen her pursue this as more of a lucrative career for her future?
RM: I’m not exactly sure why they didn’t go that way. Actually, no if I’m really thinking about it, if you look at Hayley’s history and her, we all know what her “extracurricular activities” are, maybe she’s not going to be as focused as that. Maybe she likes to lay back and do her own thing. Her pursuing a career in performing might have just been a little bit too mainstream for her.
She smokes a lot of dope man! I don’t think she’s got the motivation.
You say Jeff is coming back this season. How will his return affect Hayley’s character and will their relationship be the same after so much time apart?
RM: Yeah it’s been a slow evolution for the two of them, but I think they’re definitely getting back together and things are looking bright and promising. Honestly, Jeff Fischer is one of my favorite characters on the show. I love that character and I’m so glad he’s back. The two of them together is comedy gold.
As the season’s progress, some of the character’s hidden lives are revealed. For example, you have one episode where Hayley is a secret baker or Klaus is an Olympic ski jumper. What kind of future things would you hope that are more revealed?
DBB: I wish they could go into the back story of Klaus being the only stand-up comic in East Germany for ten years.
RM: I think you should pitch that. That’s fantastic.
DBB: There was one, and Stephen King based the clown in It on that stand up clown character that Klaus did. That’s my idea; I’m just throwing out ideas. (In Klaus’s voice) “Klaus’s clown was more disturbing though.”
RM: We’re dipping our toes into the idea of Jeff and Hayley possibly procreating, which is a really funny concept. I think that’s going to be interesting to see if they take that any further. Maybe her having to stay sober throughout the pregnancy would be really funny.
DBB: And Roger would be the nanny! It writes it self!
Roger and Klaus!
DBB: (In Klaus’s voice) “I would take over! Dr. Klaus would take over washing and feeding and training they’re little child. Wouldn’t that be fun? We’ll teach you the German way to grow up. Stand up straight! Now goosestep around the room.”
Rachael, we noticed that you’re making an appearance in Ted 2 this upcoming year. Can you tell us who you’re playing and what we can expect?
RM: Yeah! That’s hilarious that you have that information. I honestly think this was my brother playing a joke on me. I don’t do on camera ever, it’s just not my thing I do voice over. I think he thought it was funny to bring me up and have me do this scene. I’m actually playing Morgan Freeman’s assistant. I have a line. I had to fly to Boston and I was on the set for twelve hours filming it. It was hilarious and really fun, but that’s it. I literally have one line and I’m Morgan Freeman’s assistant. So that’s really going to be a real career shaper for me. I’m expecting a lot of big things.
DBB: Goodbye Rachael! We won’t be seeing you at the table reads anymore. First you phone it in, then someone just reads in for you, and then you’re just gone.
RM: It’s all going to change for me when Ted 2 comes out…
What is it like working with your brother?
RM: Let’s step back five or six years when he was really involved with American Dad and at the table reads. (Laughs) It’s fantastic. Seth and I have been working together creatively since we were…tiny. We were doing musical theater together when I was 5 and he was 7. When I started doing Family Guy in the very beginning with him, we speak the same language. He’s the best director I ever worked with. He just needs to give me one word, like, “Remember that Barbie record you used to have?” “Yes I got it! I know what you’re going for.” It’s great, we work beautifully together. It was really fun on the set of Ted 2 to just get that little moment of seeing him as an on-camera director. It’s pretty trippy. He’s an incredibly gifted director and it’s really cool.
Dee, you do a lot of voiceover work. What is it about Klaus that has kept you on American Dad for so many years while you’re doing all these other projects?
DBB: I love doing Klaus so much. First of all, he’s German, and I really love the German language. I studied it in college and I spent a year over there. I think it’s a hilarious language. Most people think of it as very stern and strict, some see it as harsh sounding. I’ve always found it beautiful and this doorway to all sorts of fascinating things artistic and scientific. Sure, there were a couple of World Wars, but there are a lot of really marvelous things that the German language is a gateway to. So I really love playing this character partially because of that.
The other part, it’s very well written. It’s fairly light duty; it’s not something that rips up my voice. Like another show where I’m doing (does grotesque animal noises), which is about half of what I do. That can get tiring on the voice. This is kind of like a vacation with friends. The table read’s like being on The Carol Burnett Show. It’s having fun with friends and making people laugh. I love that! I love that we have a table read with an audience. As an actor, I just do voice overs exclusively now as well. I don’t get an audience. But when we do our table reads for this show, the various executives and people that make the show are there to listen to the entire show straight through and see if this joke works and that scene works. There are a lot of things about it that are very unique in animation that make it really super fun.
Recently, Family Guy did a crossover with The Simpsons, and we’ve occasionally seen jokes of American Dad and The Cleveland Show with Family Guy. What show’s would either of you like to see crossed over with American Dad
RM: You know, yeah. Hi t-shirt!
Oh Game of Thrones!
DBB: Game of Thrones! That’d be marvelous. I’d choose The Walking Dead I think. I like The Walking Dead.
RM: But are we going animated? Do you want animated?
You can turn live action into animated.
RM: Then that’s my pick. Game of Thrones. Seeing Roger in Baelish’s whorehouse…wouldn’t that be amazing?!
American Dad airs Mondays at 9pm on TBS.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.