No rest for ABC comedy showrunners

Producers behind net's hit laffers share secrets at TCA

While the accolades “Modern Family” has received is gratifying, exec producer Steve Levitan says maintaining the skein’s high standards can be taxing.

“The challenge for us is that we want to keep the quality up and don’t want to be accused of resting on our laurels. That keeps us all on our toes and awake at night,” Levitan said at a Television Critics Assn. panel of ABC comedy showrunners. “The 10 people in the cast and 12 writers are extremely committed to the show. We all realize the pressure we’re under, the level of quality of the show, and we have to deliver.”

Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline of “The Middle” agreed with their Alphabet colleagues that none of their shows would work as multi-cams, a format ABC brought back this season with Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing.”

While CBS has had incredible success with multi-cams such as “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory,” Heisler said that format wouldn’t be functional for the storyline of “The Middle.”

“We wanted the Midwest to be a character, and if we were a multi-cam, it would have been a couch (on the set) that could’ve come from anywhere,” Heisler said.

Added Emily Kapnek of freshman hit “Suburgatory”: “We wanted the suburbs to feel like a character and single-cam gives you the freedom to find the jokes.”

Levitan said a multi-cam laugh track sounds like “coyotes eating cats. I had done it for 16 years and couldn’t take another minute of it.”

“Happy Endings” exec producer Jonathan Groff said he was especially appreciative of the Alphabet giving his series time to grow an audience after early poor ratings could have meant a quick hook.

“We got lucky,” Groff said. “Networks have to give shows time (to flourish).”

Levitan joked, however, that it’s often OK to give a series that ax sooner rather than later if the quality is poor.

“Sometimes I say, ‘Why don’t they cut the cord sooner?’ If I was a network exec, I would cancel it (a bad show) faster than they do.”