A familiar face waits at the top of the stairs to greet visitors to the production offices of “Modern Family”: Barkley the butler dog. “He just showed up one day, and we let him in,” jokes Steve Levitan, one of the hit comedy’s creators and executive producers. The well-dressed dog is one of the few props to have migrated from the set across the street on the Fox lot, but over their six-year run, showrunners Levitan and Christopher Lloyd have put their stamp on the multi-story building that houses their production. Each runs a separate writers’ room — Levitan’s is more high-tech, Lloyd’s is old-school with those familiar index cards — but the biggest issue they face in the converted soundstage is light — or lack thereof. “I was obsessed with the fact that this place did not have enough windows,” says Levitan, who directed crews to take out panels and put in plexiglass to add more natural light. “They poked as many holes as they could before risking the whole thing falling down,” adds Lloyd.
“I’ve always been a tabula rasa kind of guy,” says Lloyd. “I’ve always been suspicious of those executives who have the kind of carpet that swallows you up to the ankles.” But he made an exception for a photo of his basketball league, his main activity outside of the office. “It’s just the guys,” he says, off-handedly. “We won the championship last year, a couple of years in a row.”
Among the “requisite” number of “Modern Family” tchotchkes in the office is the Phil Dunphy poster behind Lloyd’s desk. He chose it because of the facial hair. “Ty (Burrell) likes having a mustache, and his wife hates it, and when we finish the season he can’t wait to grow some in,” he explains. “So when he showed up one year with a mustache, I said, ‘This will be the year that we write it in into the show.’ ”
“Sometimes those games can be like, ‘Look at us, we’re creative and kooky!’” laughs Lloyd of the arcade games that line the hallway. But the staff does play, he says — though he’s given up on the boxing glove game. “Everyone on staff who’s smaller than I am was getting a higher score so it wound up being very humiliating.”
Behind the couch in Levitan’s office hangs a piece of art that he admits is a bit weird and bizarre. The print, called “Dead Golfer,” originated on his series “Just Shoot Me,” in the character Jack Gallo’s office. “Someone handpainted over it to make it look good for TV, and I kept it ever since,” he says. “I just liked the absurdity of it.”
He keeps his guitar handy — it’s within arm’s reach of his desk (which, for the record, he recently converted to a standing version). “It’s something that relaxes me.” On that note (pun intended), he used to play during notes calls — until he got busted. “They could tell I wasn’t listening anymore, but they were too polite to say anything.”
Prominently displayed is a framed photo of the cast — minus notoriously press-shy Chris Lloyd — backstage at the Emmys after their first win for best comedy series in 2010. “I look at this picture, and it is pure happiness,” says Levitan. “And while I wish Chris could be in that shot, I’m proud of that moment. That’s when it was all very new. And we did it. We accomplished something beyond our wildest expectations.”