April 13, 2010
His Home Life Is Fodder for ‘Modern Family’
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“One of our constant issues is, what level of fighting can these couples do?” Levitan added. He cited the remote-control argument between Claire and Phil: “They barely got into it, from my point of view, and Chris was like, ‘I think they’re too angry.’... But oftentimes, from our differences, the best [work] comes.”
Levitan, 48, acknowledges his strong cultural Jewish connection but says he is not religious. He grew up attending a Reform synagogue in suburban Chicago, where he aspired to become a writer from an early age. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, he took a job as a reporter at Madison’s ABC affiliate because “I wanted to be on TV,” he said sheepishly.
That career ended the day Levitan covered the drowning death of a child. Upon seeing the family “sobbing and shaking,” he said, “My first instinct was, ‘Where’s my photographer? Why isn’t he getting this?’ And I thought, ‘I don’t want to be this person.’ I quit three days later.”
Eventually, he got a job writing for “Wings,” won an Emmy for “Frasier” and created a slew of comedies, including “Back to You,” which mined his TV reporting days and was co-created with Lloyd. The show died a quick death, as did Levitan’s series “Stacked,” starring Pamela Anderson.
“I was trying to deliver a hit for Fox, which had given me a lot of money over the years,” he said of “Stacked.” “And I started asking myself, ‘How did I go from doing shows I really loved and believed in to [this]?’”
During a hiatus, he began jotting down funny interactions between himself and his children, which helped fuel “Modern Family.”
The creators didn’t want their show to be “snarky,” Levitan said, but, at the same time, they were concerned that the series have some grit so it didn’t come off as “another cutesy, sappy family show.” Some of the edginess stems from politically incorrect humor, which “always comes out of the characters and their conflicts,” Levitan said.
Thus, the patriarch, Jay, who is old-school macho, “is dealing with his son’s homosexuality, but he’s not completely at ease with it. He’s also dealing with a Hispanic stepson and an Asian grandchild. He’s trying to evolve, but he blunders.”
So, why aren’t any of the “Modern Family” members Jewish? Casting, Levitan said. “I don’t subscribe to the thinking that people won’t fall in love with a Jewish family,” he explained. “But when you have actors like ours, they don’t look Jewish or seem Jewish. So even if some of the humor seems Jewish, we’re not avoiding the issue to play to a mass market.”
“Modern Family” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.
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