- American Dad! shifted away from political satire to embrace weirdness, saving the show and ensuring its 20-season run.
- The focus on fantastical elements like Roger’s disguises in later seasons saved American Dad! from becoming stale and attracted a wider audience.
- The original politically charged premise wouldn’t have lasted 20 seasons as the U.S. political landscape constantly changes, making the show’s shift away from politics crucial for its longevity.
American Dad! was originally conceived as a soft political satire, but it owes its 20-year longevity to the producers’ early decision to abandon that premise and lean into the weirdness. When Family Guy became one of Fox’s biggest hits, Seth MacFarlane had the opportunity to create another show for the network. Since the Bush administration was all over the news, MacFarlane conceived a new animated family sitcom that would replace the aimless non-sequiturs of Family Guy with a more focused satire of politics and current events.
For its first couple of seasons, American Dad! focused almost exclusively on politics, with Stan and Hayley butting heads over every political matter. The show had episodes about everything from Log Cabin Republicans to the separation of church and state. But throughout seasons 2 and 3, as the writers fleshed out Francine, Steve, Klaus, and especially Roger, they realized they were boxing themselves in with the political focus and that there were more stories to tell with these characters. This decision ended up saving the show and paving the way for American Dad!’s 20-season run.
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American Dad! Moved Away From Political Satire In Later Seasons
American Dad! was initially conceived as a soft political satire. Its original premise saw staunchly conservative Stan clashing with his radical liberal daughter Hayley’s progressive views. Each episode would bring up a political issue like abortion or immigration or gun control or same-sex marriage. Stan would take the right-wing stance, Hayley would take the left-wing stance, and the storyline would take them on a journey that ended with Stan seeing things in a more progressive light. When he witnessed how these issues affect real people, he would end up siding with Hayley.
In its later seasons, American Dad! drifted away from the political satire that defined its early seasons, and the show owes its two-decade longevity to that decision. The series got some great episodes out of Stan and Hayley’s political disagreements, but it quickly became a predictable formula, and that’s the quickest way to kill a show. By abandoning its focus on politics to lean into the weirdness of Roger’s many disguises and Stan’s general ineptness, American Dad! saved itself from becoming stale and made itself more accessible to a wider audience.
American Dad! Becoming More Fantastical Saved The Show
By the time the writers decided to soften American Dad!’s political elements, they’d already established that Roger could seamlessly disguise himself as anyone and trick everybody besides the Smiths. This was originally conceived as a way to get Roger out of the house, as he spent the early episodes in his attic watching TV, but it opened up the writers to endless storytelling possibilities. Shifting away from politics and focusing more on fantastical elements like Roger’s disguises ultimately saved American Dad! from falling by the wayside.
All the most iconic American Dad! episodes are from the post-political era. Season 8, episode 17, “Ricky Spanish,” is all about Roger’s most hated persona. Season 4, episode 10, “Tearjerker,” is a hilarious parody of the James Bond movies featuring the American Dad! characters. Season 14, episode 4, “Rabbit Ears,” sees Stan trapped in an old black-and-white TV show. Season 6, episode 9, “Rapture’s Delight,” sees Stan left behind in the Rapture and flashes forward to a lawless post-apocalyptic wasteland.
The Original American Dad! Premise Wouldn’t Have Lasted 20 Seasons
If it had stuck with its original politically charged premise, there’s no way American Dad! would’ve lasted 20 seasons, because the writers would’ve eventually run out of political issues to lampoon – and the political landscape is constantly changing. The conflict between a jingoistic, right-wing father and his progressive daughter was perfect to parody the climate of the Bush administration in the mid-2000s. Stan’s paranoia surrounding terrorism was relevant in the Bush era, at the height of the “war on terror,” but it would’ve become irrelevant when Barack Obama took office.
As the years went by, through the administrations of Obama, Trump, and Biden, the U.S. political landscape changed drastically. If it remained a political show, American Dad! would’ve had to keep altering its premise to keep up with the times. The writers would be chasing headlines, not the motivations of their characters. The characters would eventually become shadows of their former selves. By ditching the politics and focusing on timeless elements like Stan’s sociopathy and Roger’s personas, American Dad! has enabled itself to keep going as long as audiences keep tuning in.
has been renewed for season 21.