×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Can Gil Thorpe of ‘Modern Family’ Help Gil Thorp on the Funnies Page?

Backers of decades-old comic strip about high-school coach hope for publicity from potential spinoff

If and when Gil Thorpe, the antagonistic pickle-dispensing realtor from “Modern Family,” gets a show of his own, there’s another character who might like to have a chat. His name? Gil Thorp.

Gil Thorpe has been around for just four or so TV seasons. He’s the grating nemesis of “Family’s” uber-friendly Phil Dunphy (and, until recently, referred to only by name). Gil Thorp, on the other hand, has been coaching various sports for a high school in what is presumably Milford, Conn., since 1958. Gil Thorpe has made lustful remarks about Phil’s wife, Claire. Gil Thorp’s most controversial moment came when he talked a 15-year-old teen out of getting an abortion.

The biggest difference between the two men: Gil Thorpe appears occasionally on an ABC program that reaches approximately 10 million to 12 million viewers, while Gil Thorp appears in a venerable comic strip bearing his name that runs in just around 60 newspapers, down from “well over 100” in the 1960s and 1970s, according to Neal Rubin, the strip’s writer.

Now the people behind “Gil Thorp” hold out hope that a potential “Modern Family” spinoff starring comic actor Rob Riggle as Gil Thorpe will offer a windfall for the comic-strip coach.

“Maybe if there was a spin-off centered entirely on that character, perhaps it could drum up a little bit of interest,” said Patrick Fitzmaurice, an editor at Tribune Media Services who supervises the “Gil Thorp” comic.

Both Fitzmaurcie and Rubin think the name similarity is more than mere happenstance. Perhaps one of the “Modern Family” writers remembers the strip fondly and is paying homage? “It could be coincidence,” said Rubin. “I’d rather think that someone on the show is a ‘Gil Thorp’ fan, maybe back from childhood.” The writer, who also pens a column for the Detroit News, went so far as to call a publicist at ABC, which runs the comedy, to determine if someone at the show was an aficionado of the strip. He said he never got an answer.

Speaking through a representative of the studio that produces “Modern Family,” 20th Century Fox Television, exec producer Steven Levitan said the similarity in the characters’names is a “complete coincidence.” The spokesman, Chris Alexander, declined to confirm reports that a spin-off possibly featuring the Gil Thorpe character is currently under consideration by ABC and Fox.

In a different era, Coach Gil Thorp might have enjoyed the upper hand over the sitcom realtor. Funnies-page characters like Charlie Brown, Blondie and Beetle Bailey were touchstones of popular culture. In today’s age, however, their influence has waned: Newspaper circulation has tumbled and advertisers have moved dollars to other media that are drawing more consumer eyeballs. Indeed, earlier this week, “Stars & Stripes,” the newspaper of the U.S. military, said it was giving “Beetle Bailey,” the long-running comic strip about Army life, an honorable discharge from its pages during the week, part of a move to trim costs as audiences migrate elsewhere.

“Gil Thorp” was created by Jack Berrill, who set up his coach as an adviser to dozens of students at Milford High School. Over the decades, Coach Thorp has offered counsel on any number of issues ranging from teen pregnancy to steroid abuse to dating advice.

What he might have to say about reversing the decline of the newspapers that have given him a home is tough to determine. But his backers think a “Modern Family” spinoff boasting a character with the same name can do nothing but help the high-school sportsman. “There are a wide number of people who have never heard of the strip, but for anyone who has read it or seen it in their paper or is even mildly familiar with it, the notoriety factor will be high,” said Rubin.

Even if the TV character’s name is coincidental, Rubin has tried to pay back the publicity favor: A recent storyline nodded to a retired professional wrestler who spends a lot of his time sitting around watching “Modern Family.”

“I didn’t hear back,” Rubin said, “ but I figured it was the least I could do.”

More TV

  • When They See Us Netflix

    'When They See Us' Shut Out of Golden Globe Nominations

    “When They See Us,” Ava DuVernay’s Netflix limited series, received no acknowledgment Monday when the nominees for the 2020 Golden Globe Awards were announced. This was despite the fact that the project, which tells the story of five young African-American men wrongly convicted of the assault of a jogger in Central Park in 1989, was [...]

  • The Crown Season 3 Olivia Colman

    Netflix, HBO Battle as Streaming Dominates 2020 Golden Globes Nominations

    And so they meet again, two war-torn awards adversaries, but this time on a different battleground. Even with plenty of snubs under its belt (including the shocking omission of “When They See Us”), Netflix led all programmers with its 17 2020 Golden Globe nominations. Not far behind was HBO, with 15. Netflix’s slight lead — [...]

  • Golden Globes Snubs and Surprises 2020

    Golden Globes Nominations: 21 Biggest Snubs and Surprises

    As the first televised awards show of the year, the Golden Globes are have always been key to building — or destroying — momentum on the long road to the Oscars and Emmys. This year on the film side, the biggest benefactor of Globes buzz is “Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach’s drama about a New York [...]

  • Game of Thrones Kit Harington

    'Game of Thrones' Season 8 Picks Up One Golden Globe Nomination

    The long night surrounding “Game of Thrones” Season 8 will continue for at least a little longer The HBO behemoth, which came to an end with its controversial eighth season back in May, scored one Golden Globe nomination on Monday morning. Kit Harington was nominated for best actor in a drama series, with the rest [...]

  • Morning Show Apple

    'The Morning Show' Scores Apple's First Ever Golden Globe Nominations

    Apple’s flagship drama “The Morning Show” picked up the recently-launched streamer’s first Golden Globe nominations on Monday. Series stars Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon were both nominated in the best actress in a drama category. The series itself was also nominated in the best drama series category. Witherspoon and Aniston will now compete against Olivia [...]

  • Golden Globes Placeholder

    Golden Globes 2020: The Complete Nominations List

    Netflix ruled nominations for the 77th Golden Globes, scoring nods for “Marriage Story” and “The Irishman” on the film front and “The Crown” and “Unbelievable” for television. Noah Baumbauch’s “Marriage Story” landed a leading six nominations for film, followed by Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” with five [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content