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From the Cast and Creators, an Appreciation of 'Modern Family'
April 8, 2020  | By Mike Hughes  | 1 comment

When the Modern Family cast first assembled, Jesse Tyler Ferguson was surrounded by strangers.

The auditions had been separate, he told the Television Critics Association in January, and now he was meeting his fictional family.

"I remember Sofia (Vergara) giving everyone hugs. I was like, 'This is the nicest, most beautiful woman I've ever met in my entire life. And she (plays) my stepmother.'"

They would continue for more than a decade. On Wednesday, Modern Family ends a run that totaled 11 years, 250 episodes, and 22 Emmy awards.

The show had arrived at a slow time for comedies. Cable and streaming hadn't started scoring with shows like Veep and Fleabag and Mrs. Maisel, while NBC's long reign had faded.

Seinfeld had ended in 1998, Mad About You in 1999, Friends and Frasier in 2004, Will & Grace in 2006. Even Thursdays went to reality. "We've gone from Must See TV to The Apprentice and The Biggest Loser," producer Tom Werner said in Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV (Doubleday, 2012).

So when Modern Family began in 2009 on ABC, it made an immediate impact. For five straight years, it won the Emmy for best comedy series. For two of those, it had a remarkable sweep: All six adults were nominated for supporting Emmys; they filled four of the five supporting-actor spots.

The timing was perfect in another way, producer Steve Levitan said. Most of the run was "during a time when things felt a little bit happier in the world."

The show debuted midway between the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and the 2020 virus. The economy was starting an 11-year upswing. The Obama administration had arrived, with a get-along mood.

It was an ideal time to meet a family that was scattered, unusual (an uncle and a nephew who are the same age), non-traditional, and deeply loving – despite their sniping. "The imperfect relationship is what made it so relatable and real," said Eric Stonestreet, who plays Cameron, the boyfriend (and now husband) of Mitchell (Ferguson).

Leading this eccentric clan was Ed O'Neill. That is, after a brief hiccup.

Craig T. Nelson was cast originally, but the show and his agents couldn't agree on a contract. (That happens; it's the reason Dr. Quinn was Jane Seymour, not Mel Harris.) O'Neill became the patriarch, in the show and on the set.

"He's helped me from the very beginning," said Rico Rodriguez, who plays his stepson Manny. 
Rodriguez was 10 when the show started. "I really didn't have any idea what was happening…. Some of the jokes would just fly right over my head. He was just there to make sure I understood things."

He was part of a low-key set attitude that was signaled by those long-ago Vergara hugs. Ferguson has talked about Stonestreet (a former athlete) enthusiastically trading football talk with a crewmember. "I kind of blank out then."

And Ariel Winter, who plays O'Neill's granddaughter, Alex, talks about his philosophy: 
"We made a little chapter book of Ed's advice. One of my favorites was: 'Why stand when you can sit? Why sit when you can lay down? Why lay down when you can be in your car going home?'"

The Modern Family series finale airs in two parts beginning at 9 p.m. ET on ABC. An appreciation, with behind-the-scenes footage, airs at 8 p.m. ET.

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mark isenberg
It was not Mary Tyler Moore special but a very good approach to telling multigeneration family adaptations. Thanks to all of them and Steve Levitan,the Boss.
Apr 8, 2020   |  Reply
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