CCI: The Cleveland Show

The crowd was numerous but somewhat subdued for the introduction of Seth MacFarlane's new "The Cleveland Show" at Comic Con International in San Diego. Rich Appel, a co-creator and the host panel host, introduced some of the voice-over talent for the new series, including Jamie Kennedy as Federline Jones, Kevin Michael Richardson as Cleveland's now 14-year old overweight son Cleveland Jr., Sana'a Lathan as Cleveland's potential new girlfriend Donna, and Reagan Gomez as Donna's somewhat itinerant daughter, Roberta.

In a somewhat shocking announcement, Appel said "In a gesture of almost heartbreaking desperation, Fox has already picked us up for a second season. We just had our table read for what will either be our triumphant return or the single most expensive DVD extra in NewsCorp. corporate history," he said.

Guest voice-over actors will include hipster wannabe Holt, voiced by Jason Sudeikis, and wife of religious bear Tim, voiced by Arianna Huffington. Kanye West will handle a voice as well, and Cleveland has just recorded a Christmas song by Earth Wind and Fire as well.

Co-Creator Mike Henry explained some of the plot of the pilot: "Cleveland lost the house to Loretta [in their divorce], and they set out for a new home in California. He is rolling through his old home town and his old friend Donna Tubbs invites them to stay over."

We're also introduced to two talking bears who live next door, one named Tim, and his wife. No explanation is offered for talking bears - they are just full-sized, talking brown bears.

Cleveland takes on the task of straightening out some of the problems with his new family. He talks Ferderline into behaving better with daughter Donna, and gets Rollo back in school behaving slightly better. Nothing is going to stand in Cleveland's way of "doing the nasty" with Donna. That is, unless she takes her ex back. It can't get much worse than this for poor Cleveland.

Henry also introduced a clip from Episode 9, in which Tim the bear convinces the family to take rebellious daughter Donna to church to pledge her virginity. While there, Cleveland Jr. pledges his virginity as well... to his dad. Struck by the possibility his son will remain a virgin, Cleveland takes Junior out for ice cream to discuss the matter and convince him to give up his pledge and start sleep around. Failing in that task, he takes Junior to none other than San Diego Comic-Con, where he threatens that Junior will "end up like those geeks" if he doesn't give up his virginity!

The clips concluded with a fairly hilarious bit of Cleveland rapping, showing some potential for the show, and light but still enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Before taking questions from the audience, MacFarlane mentioned the noteworthy fact that Rich Appel is the only primetime writer who has worked on every single animated Fox show.

Asked if there is any chance we will see an encounter between Stewie and Rollo, MacFarlane said, "At some point that seems like a likely scenario," while Mike Henry added, "At this point were are still trying to keep them separate."

Asked why a show about Cleveland, instead of one of the other characters from "Family Guy," MacFarlane said, "Because Cleveland is a much more dimensional character and he actually has some likeable characteristics. Cleveland has layers and is dimensional and you have to have that in the long run for the lead character in the show."

As to how the show came about, Henry explained, "We talked about it for a while and then we just got serious about it and it just flowed. [MacFarlane] and I sat down and I think in three or four days we had drawn most of the characters on the show."

A noticeable change between the "Family Guy" character of Cleveland Junior and the "Cleveland Show" version is the character's weight, and age. Why the changes? "Cleveland Jr. really didn't have much to him and so he didn't appear for a while and so we sort of aged him up and made room for Rollo to be the younger one for a while," answered Henry.

Each panelist had the opportunity to speak on obtaining their voice-over roles on the show. Sana'a Lathan said, "I had been on a million voice over auditions and thought I would never get one but here I am, and this is the most amazing job ever."

Kevin Michael Richardson added, "As a black guy, I'm happy to play a white redneck. How cool is that?"

Kennedy said, "I read for [a lot of parts] for the show and finally landed on Federline. He's a cross between Kevin Federline and Tom Jones."

Asked what level of creative input MacFarlane offers his artists on the show, MacFarlane said, "It depends on the artist. If the artist is newer and still sort of learning the style of the show I will show him the system and redraw some stuff and kind of help him along. But we do have a lot of people at this point where we can say here's the page just use your judgment because they sort of know the show. It just depends, if we are trying something new I might give them some direction."

Will there ever be a collaboration of "Family Guy" and the "Cleveland Show?" "There will be some crossover this year, and in the 'Return of the Jedi' episode, there are characters from 'Family Guy,' 'The Cleveland Show' and 'American Dad,'" said MacFarlane.

One fan noted that the Star Wars boxed had a scene converted to 3d, and asked if there was any chance of a 3d Cleveland Show episode. "Hey there's a chance, now! That's cool," answered MacFarlane.

Asked what the inspiration for the recurring fighting chicken in "Family Guy" was, and if the Chicken will find its way into "The Cleveland Show," MacFarlane said, "Honest to God, the episode was short and we had to fill time. And yeah the chicken is still out there and he might pop up."

Who replaces Cleveland on "Family Guy" now that Cleveland is off on his own show? "We do have an episode where they try to fill the space and it doesn't work," MacFarlane explained. "We do have Brian in it more to try and fill some of that. We did have this idea early on that maybe the fourth guy in the group would just be Mr. T, but I don't think he's to interested, it was really a little too edgy for Mr. T. I guess."

"The Cleveland Show" premiers Sunday, Sept. 27 on Fox.

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