[WARNING – MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!]

Since Sunday night, petitions and online rancor have been directed at Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and FOX for the stunning decision to kill Brian Griffin, one of the show’s most popular characters. But earlier today, it seemed as though this might all be a bit temporary when it was widely reported that a website had popped up bearing FOX branding, links to the Family Guy social sites, and a countdown clock with 10 days left on it.

What was supposed to happen when the clock struck the zero hour? Apparently, Brian Griffin was supposed to make an announcement  – doubtlessly promising a return, offering a profound goodbye, or admitting that his death was a farce – but now it appears that the validity of the site may be in question.

According to TV Line, 20th Century Fox has denounced BriansAnnouncement.com, stating:

“The producers have confirmed that the ‘special announcement from Brian’ website is a hoax and was not created by anyone connected to the show, studio or network.”

So, end of story? Not quite. Though FOX says that the site is fake, the conversation that it has sparked is very real: is Brian ever coming back, and if he does, will viewers return, or has that bridge been burned?

For their part, TV Line also speculated about an upcoming episode of Family Guy called, “The Christmas Guy”, which is set to run on December 15th. In that episode, “Stewie hatches a plan to get ‘the one and only thing he wants for Christmas.”

That could be something or it could be nothing, but what will angry Family Guy fans say if Brian does come back three weeks after this whole roller coaster ride, revealing this whole thing to have been either a massive PR stunt to juice ratings (which are down), a chance to tinker with the show, and/or an opportunity to sell more Family Guy baubles? The reaction could range anywhere from joy over the return of Brian, to a sense of betrayal and irrevocable anger toward the series, Steve Callaghan, and Seth MacFarlane.

Damned if they do, damned if they don’t, many are still trying to figure out why they did the damn thing in the first place, but it could be something as simple as boredom settling in among the show’s creative team.

Let’s face it: fans don’t usually take to change when someone is messing with something that they have loved for almost 15 years. However, if you put yourself in Seth MacFarlane’s shoes and realize that he’s been playing and writing the same character for 12 seasons since 1999, you have to realize that it is possible that there may be nothing more appealing to him and the rest of his team than the idea of change. Even if it is just for change’s sake and even if the result is a wrong-sounding dog on Family Guy.

What is not likely appealing, though, is the destruction of the thing that they have spent all of that time building and living off of, even if you’re Seth MacFarlane and you now have other plates spinning. Boredom can make a person re-arrange their entire house, but it won’t make a sane person paint their walls with fire.

If MacFarlane didn’t realize the jeopardy that he was putting the show in when he signed off on this, it’s impossible to imagine that he doesn’t know it now after the loud and angry response. Will the fan-rage subside? It must, to some degree, but there really is no precedent for this kind of poke in the eye to a show’s fans, so no one is going to offer up a sunny forecast where this turns around and has a positive effect on Family Guy or its ratings.

So, even if the plan was to keep Brian gone (which seems, unlikely because of how reckless a move that it), it seems likely that we are inevitably headed for as quick a course correction as the show’s logistics will allow, and one that will try to stop the bleeding and mend the wound. And if it seems unlikely that Family Guy‘s vocal fans can kick up enough dust to make the network and the showrunners do their bidding, please do recall that they already brought the show back from the dead once, so they can probably do the same thing with an animated dog.

Update: 

Back at the end of October, EW reported that Maya Rudolph was set to appear in an episode of Family Guy later this season.

Rudolph, a veteran of SNL and Up All Night, will assume the role of an avid runner who catches Brian’s eye. To win her over, he pretends to be a fellow jogger. “After Brian experiences the ‘runner’s high’, he becomes a distance running douche, and even signs himself up to run a marathon,”  Family Guy executive producer Steve Callaghan tells EW.

Obviously, Callaghan knew what the future held for Brian three and a half weeks ago, so was this a slip up that undermines the gravity of the “Death of Brian” storyline, or a bit of pre-planned misdirection?

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Family Guy airs Sundays on FOX @9PM

Source: TVLine, EW