Brian Griffin is back.
Was there really any doubt? The FOX animated comedy “Family Guy” resurrected the popular walking, talking, martini-drinking pooch Sunday, following a three-week absence.
“You didn't really think we'd kill off Brian, did you?” tweeted “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane Sunday. Earlier, he posted, “And thus endeth our warm, fuzzy holiday lesson: Never take those you love for granted, for they can be gone in a flash.”
When a car struck and killed Brian in an episode airing Nov. 24, fans took to social media to howl in protest; online petitions also circulated, the combination of which provided “Family Guy” millions of dollars in free media attention.
Brian returned through the help of Stewie, his conniving infant friend, who … well, it had something to do with a time machine.
Rob Salkowitz, a comics expert and author of “Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture” (McGraw-Hill), says killing off characters, even if they resurface later, is “a sure-fire attention-getter.”
“The death of a character, especially a character that has people sentimentally attached, is shocking, it triggers an emotional response,” Mr. Salkowitz says. Killing off a character is valuable for any creative property, especially one that “is in a creative rut” and “needs something to refocus attention.”
Nearly every superhero has been killed and brought back to life, starting in 1994 when DC Comics announced it was killing Superman. That sent sales of the title through the roof and people into stores that had drifted from comics for years. The success of that maneuver summoned boardroom executions of many other iconic comic book characters.
Fans may not understand why a comic book or a television franchise would decide to kill off a popular character out of nowhere, but Salkowitz says the decision is never a creative one, but is more about the franchise owner reinvesting in their property to keep it relevant.
Killing off a character permanently wouldn’t make sense because millions of dollars would vanish, and the copyright on those characters would eventually become lost.
“They have to manage it like a portfolio. They can’t sell off the core value for a one-time gain,” he says.
One “Family Guy” character is assured to never return: Vinny, the new dog that replaced Brian for those three episodes voiced by “Sopranos” actor Tony Sirico. Brian’s return to the Griffin home, forced the family and Vinny to permanently part ways.
At one point, Vinny tried to cheer Stewie up by dressing up as Brian, but it didn’t work. The same was apparently true for the show’s fans.