After six seasons, when the producers of most TV sitcoms are feeling lucky just to simply still have a place on the schedule for their shows, the biggest question facing “Modern Family” is whether room will need to be made on the mantle for a sixth straight Emmy for outstanding comedy series.
“I feel very good about what we did this season,” co-creator Steven Levitan told Variety Monday at a For Your Consideration event on the 20th Century Fox lot, where fans – and, importantly, Television Academy voters – assembled to watch the sixth-season finale and listen to members of the cast and creative team discuss the most recent crop of episodes, which all agreed felt as fresh and funny as the high-water mark seasons that preceded them.
“I like the fact that we tried new things, and we didn’t want to rest on our laurels,” said Levitan, who saw inventive episodes like “Connection Lost,” a tech-centric storyline that he directed and co-wrote with Megan Ganz, receive praise for its risky payoffs so deep into the series’ run. “We weren’t afraid to experiment with the form, and we told good stories… We’re just trying to not let the audience down at this point and to reinvigorate the show wherever possible. That’s our No. 1 goal.”
The finale “American Skyper” – which centers largely around the simmering maybe-romance between the Dunphy’s eldest daughter Haley (Sarah Hyland) and “manny” Andy (Adam Devine) – also incorporates a cleverly executed high-tech concept to great comic effect, but Levitan vows the show won’t lean on notions that play too “gimmicky.” “The original notion (for ‘Connection Lost’) came from my life – Skyping or FaceTiming with my daughters – so it felt good and organic to me. We just want to make sure it doesn’t feel like, ‘Oh, they’re just trying too hard now.’ [But] we’re always looking to play with things.”
“I actually feel like we caught a little bit of a second wind as a group,” admitted Ty Burrell. “The tone on set and the material – it just felt like people were a little more reinvigorated… It’s tough to keep things fresh, and for some reason the show felt revived in a way. That implies that it was down, and it didn’t really feel like it was down, but it just felt more alive this year.”
Ed O’Neill said that he admires the continued commitment to maintain the show’s high standard, noting that the cast takes great inspiration from the scripts they receive. “It starts with the writers and the producers,” he said. “They work so hard, then they bring us these scripts, and we go, ‘Huh – We’ve got to go. We can’t just sit back. This is pretty good stuff to work with!'”
Co-creator Christopher Lloyd said the series also takes pains when incorporating new, potentially recurring characters to add into the Dunphy-Pritchett mix in hopes that they resonate with audiences in the way that Devine’s Andy has.
“We had it in mind like maybe there would be a funny male nanny character for Jay and Gloria,” said Lloyd. “Maybe a male, potentially a love interest for Haley. What would make that dynamic interesting? What about a guy that’s just good, just so uncynical and guileless that Haley can’t even understand him to be a human being? So that starts the wheels turning. And of course, it helps when you cast an actor who’s very resourceful like Adam, and so we got him in 10 episodes. Other times we have high hopes for characters, and then we sort of feel that they’ve run their course in two or three episodes.”
“My own in-laws are in love with that relationship,” chuckled Julie Bowen. “They’re like, ‘Are Andy and Haley going to get together?'”
Bowen’s also enjoyed the sixth season addition of lowbrow neighbors Ronnie and Amber La Fontaine, played by Steve Zahn and Andrea Anders, as a recurring source of fresh comic friction. “I hope we don’t overuse them, but they are so much fun when they’re there,” she said. “We laugh so hard – I mean, Andrea and Steve are so funny, and it’s so odd to me that two such talented people happen to be available at the same time. I bet you next year, we’ll never see the neighbors. Like, the two of them are always, always off working.”
The result was a season that may prove to be just as Emmy-friendly as its five predecessors. “To even be considered for a sixth Emmy is insane,” said Ariel Winter. “We are just so blown away by five because we make television that we love, that we hope everyone else loves, and to have five and to be considered for a sixth is absolutely incredible.”
“We all want the show so last for a long time because we love it, and we love doing it – we love each other,” added Burrell. “And the only way that you can really do a show for a long time and feel good about it is if you’re not phoning it in. The only way to have it like last for as long as we want is to try to find a way to still stay on your toes. That doesn’t mean that we do it every week, but I think just the drive is still there.”