×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

From ‘Modern Family’ to ‘Veep,’ Emmy Nominated EPs on Keeping Their Comedy Fresh

It’s always nice to see new shows, like FX’s “Atlanta,” get Emmy nominations for comedy series, and to know that shows nominated for a second time, such as ABC’s “Black-ish” and Netflix’s “Master of None,” weren’t one-season-wonders. But what about the veteran comedies — the ones that have earned Emmy noms year after year? Certainly they have been doing something right to stay on voters’ radars.

“The first time around it was amazing to know that people were connecting with the show,” Alec Berg, co-showrunner of HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” which has been nominated for all four of its seasons, says. “The most recent nominations feel great because it means we haven’t totally flushed the show down the toilet.”

Ask the showrunners of the veteran comedies that got Emmy noms this year how they keep the funny going, and a couple of commonalities emerge. For one, showrunners learn early on to write to the talents of their stars; that’s imperative to help give the characters layers that can last over many seasons.

“In early seasons, we’d have written a long speech for Ed O’Neill, for example,” says Christopher Lloyd, co-showrunner of the eight-times-nominated “Modern Family.” “Now we’d take out two-thirds of the words and let him say what’s missing with his smiling Irish eyes.”

A characteristic of a top comedy is that the writing staff knows what they have, as far as their cast is involved. Robert Carlock, for instance, has relied on the ensemble of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” to take the show in new directions; the Netflix series got its third series nomination in July.

“We knew by the end of the third season that, while Kimmy will always be the center of [the show] we wanted the show to be more and more of ensemble,” he says. “We wanted all of our main characters to be taking on life like our heroine does. That pointed arcs and episode structure in new directions.”

“We wanted all of our main characters to be taking on life like our heroine does. That pointed arcs and episode structure in new directions.”
Robert Carlock

In the case of “Veep,” HBO’s six-time nominee, the show had to contend with the departure of creator Armando Iannucci, who set the show’s uniquely fast-paced and vulgar voice. David Mandel stepped into the job before season five and says that keeping the show’s original voice while adding his own has been a balancing act.

“I do my version,” he says. “There are subject matters like race and religion and sexuality that the show didn’t previously address as much, so again that is us doing our version of ‘Veep’: the same but different.”

Of course, sameness is death to any show, much less a comedy. Lloyd says writing for the adult version of “Modern’s” kids has helped. “Manny at 18 is a completely different character than Manny at 10,” he notes.

In the case of the two HBO shows, there have been major shake-ups, but the comedy has stayed consistent. On “Silicon Valley,” the departure of T.J. Miller will have a lot of impact, but according to Berg: “The neediest character on our show is the business [Pied Piper] itself, so we have to work really hard to find new types of challenges for them to face.”

On “Veep,” former President Selina Meyer will be running again, this time as an outsider, according to Mandel. “We are looking to really get into the nitty gritty of Iowa, which was not something the show could do earlier when it was more about the White House. So, lots of changes.”

Shows do infuse their writer rooms with new blood every season, hiring a few newcomers per year and replacing those who have gotten their own shows. Maintaining instititional memory amid these staffing changes is key, “Modern’s” other showrunner, Steven Levitan, says.

“We say things like, ‘We already did that’ a lot more now,” he jokes when asked about how the writing process has changed over the years. “Hopefully [new writers are] bringing in fresh new stories from their real lives that we can mine. If they’re not getting into a fight with their spouse over something they stole from home and wrote into the show, they’re not digging deep enough.”

More TV

  • Daily Show Viacom

    Viacom, DirecTV Carriage Renewal Talks Continue as Blackout Looms

    UPDATED: Viacom and DirecTV executives are going down to the wire tonight on a combative contract renewal negotiation with high stakes for both sides. Talks were still going after the midnight ET deadline passed and the channels remain up on DirecTV. A team of Viacom executives led by Tom Gorke, exec VP and head of distribution [...]

  • ABBY'S -- "Pilot" Episode 101 --

    TV Review: 'Abby's' Starring Natalie Morales

    “Abby’s,” NBC’s new comedy about a cranky bartender (Natalie Morales) and her inner circle of regulars, is aware of the inevitable “Cheers” comparisons. Created by “New Girl” writer Josh Malmuth and executive produced by uber-producer (and unabashed “Cheers” superfan) Mike Schur, “Abby’s” therefore makes a few key choices in order to differentiate itself as its [...]

  • Ryan Murphy Walk of Fame

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Sets Premiere Date for Ryan Murphy's 'The Politician'

    In today’s roundup, Netflix announces the premiere date for Ryan Murphy’s “The Politician” series, and Kristin Cavallari will host “Paradise Hotel” on Fox.  DATES Reality star Kristin Cavallari will host Fox’s reboot of “Paradise Hotel,” an unscripted dating show in which a group of singles will check into a tropical resort and compete to check [...]

  • 'Selling Sunset': Producer Behind Netflix's First

    'Selling Sunset': Producer Behind Netflix's First Docusoap on the State of Reality TV

    Netflix crossed another unscripted threshold on Friday with the launch of “Selling Sunset,” an 8-episode series that follows a group of real estate agents on the Sunset Strip. The show is believed to be the streaming service’s first docusoap, the now-ubiquitous format first popularized in the early 2000s by shows like MTV’s “Laguna Beach” and [...]

  • Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018

    Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018 Compensation Soar to $129.4 Million

    Discovery Inc. president-CEO David Zaslav is once again making headlines for an enormous compensation package. Zaslav’s 2018 compensation soared to $129.44 million in 2018, fueled by stock options and grants awarded as the longtime Discovery chief signed a new employment contract last July that takes him through 2023 at the cable programming group. Zaslav received [...]

  • 'Supernatural' to End After Season 15

    'Supernatural' to End After Season 15 on The CW

    “Supernatural” is ending after 15 seasons. Series stars Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, and Misha Collins made the announcement in a video posted on Instagram on Friday. “We just told the crew that even though we’re very excited to be moving into our 15th season, it will be our last,” Ackles said. “15 years of a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content