What an opening day treat – a gabfest with "Modern Family" players.
Eric Stonestreet, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and co-creator Christopher Lloyd had to stay home to work but on stage are co-creator Steve Levitan, Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, Ed O'Neill and Sofia Vergara, along with 20th Century Fox TV chairman Dana Walden.
So – why does this show work? moderator Marc Berman of Mediaweek asks.
Levitan (pictured below left with Walden) said he and Lloyd made a conscious effort to blend laffs with some heart. Shows that exist only on laughs without strong characters and relationships are a little bit like "junk food," Levitan said.
"For a long time comedy with emotion and heart fell out of favor," Levitan said. "We made a conscious decision to go a different way."
Although "Modern Family" is produced by 20th, the show was never pitched to Fox, Walden said. Levitan and Lloyd had a rough time with Fox two years ago with the sitcom "Back to You" – which featured Burrell – and so understandably the duo "needed a break from Fox," she said.
ABC's Steve McPherson had let it be known that he really wanted to work with Lloyd and Levitan so it made sense to take "MF" there, she said. (She also quickly noted that 20th has delivered two big frosh hits to Fox this season in "Glee" and "The Cleveland Show.")
The mock-docu shooting style of the show is very freeing for the actors, Bowen, Burrell and O'Neill noted.
"Sometimes we just start to do things that are different from how we thought about it but it just happens," O'Neill said. "It's fun for actors to work this way."
Burrell talked about the undefinable "alchemy" among the cast members that allows for such chemistry among the characters.
Burrell also gave a shoutout to helmer-exec producer Jason Winer, who directed the pilot and most of the segs.
"He set the visual tone," Burrell said. "He is exceptional."
Among the fun tidbits:
** Bowen was very pregnant with twins at the time of the pilot – hence all the laundry baskets in front of her in the pilot. It's turned into a character quirk for Claire, who's often folding something in many of her scenes. Levitan joked that people have commented to him on the brilliance of that choice of a quirk for Claire's character, to show her restless energy, but he can't take credit. It was strictly to hide the belly.
Burrell cited Steve Martin as someone "he idolizes completely."
** The character of Phil was written specifically for Burrell, Levitan confirmed.
** O'Neill had no intention of doing another sitcom – until he read the "MF" script. "I've got to do this," he told his manager after reading the script.
** Vergara, a former Univision personality, had been through three ABC pilots before clicking with "MF." She also starred in the Spanish-lingo version of "Desperate Housewives" for Univision.
** The scene in last week's episode, "Fifteen Percent," where Claire walks into Hayley's room in her bra and panties and is seen via a webcam connection by Hayley's significant other really happened to Levitan. No, he wasn't wearing ladies' undergarments, but he was startled to hear "nice boxers, Mr. Levitan" one day when he walked in to his daughter's room to instruct her it was time to give the computer a rest. Bowen joked that if she'd known it actually happened to Levitan she would have insisted that Burrell do the scene in his boxers.
** "Lost" alert – Bowen who played Jack Shepard's ex wife Sarah in earlier seasons of "Lost" is coming back for the final season. Bowen said she cornered one of the producers at a charity event and put him on the spot until he confirmed that Sarah would make an appearance in season six.
– Cynthia Littleton