It’s easy to take “Modern Family” for granted now.
That’s actually a tribute to how much the comedy has become engrained in the fabric of television comedy. Don’t forget, “Modern Family” broke new ground in 2009 with its depiction of a diverse, multi-generational family and its relatable stories of what it’s like to interact with your relatives in the 21st century.
And the show continues to experiment with special episodes. For the upcoming Season 9 opener, the entire episode will take place in Lake Tahoe, on a houseboat. The “Modern Family” cast is set to shoot the episode (inspired by family trips co-creator Steve Levitan took as a kid) later this month in Tahoe.
Among other recent memorable episodes, two years ago, “Connection Lost” was shot entirely via social networking platforms like FaceTime, and this past season, the episode “Five Minutes” focused on several story vignettes, shot in real time.
“The idea came to a writer on the show, Elaine Ko, to try and tell four different stories that take place in real time in five minutes, and rather than cut back and forth between stories, stay with them and let them play,” Levitan said. “Once we had that challenge and liked that idea, it was about coming up with the right stories.”
“Five Minutes,” written by Ko, featured four quick stories, including a humorous take on what happens when Mitch and Cam are forced to race through an airport after taking sleeping pills prematurely; Phil and Claire show up unannounced to Alex’s dorm room and discover she has a boyfriend; Manny, Jay and Gloria struggle to find a parking spot; and Haley and Rainer get engaged and then break up in less than five minutes.
“It was fun to play with the form,” said Levitan. “That was our 184th episode, and when you’ve done that many, you’re always looking for ways to do things differently.”
“Modern Family” helped reinvent ABC’s comedy brand, and the show remains a hit, ending the 2016-2017 TV season as the No. 2 comedy among adults 18-49 (behind “The Big Bang Theory”).
Television Academy named “Modern Family” the outstanding comedy series for five consecutive years between 2010 and 2014. The show is currently tied with “Frasier” for most consecutive wins.
Although “Veep” ended that streak, and started one of its own, “Modern Family” continues to be nominated every year in the comedy series category, while star Ty Burrell has been nominated in the supporting actor in a comedy category every year since the show’s launch (winning in 2011 and 2014).
Plenty of other family comedies in the vein of “Modern Family” have followed in the show’s wake, and as the show enters its ninth season, the series might feel less revolutionary than it once did. Many critics grumble that “Modern Family” no longer deserves a slot among the outstanding comedy series nominees, and there’s a legitimate argument that “Modern Family” had its day, and should step aside to make room for newer entries.
That’s mostly happened already. This year, “Modern Family” earned just three Emmy nominations, which is a far cry from the show’s height. But stack “Modern Family” episodes up against other comedies, and much like other veteran series that enjoy nomination streaks, there’s also an argument that age (and perhaps losing a few steps) shouldn’t preclude a nomination, as long as the show is still among the best.
“It’s been rewarded by peers in the community and viewers for so many years,” said Fox TV Group chairman Dana Walden, whose 20th Century Fox TV produces the show. “They’ve had so much acclaim, they’re having this incredible run, I don’t think they had an expectation that would continue to be the belle of the ball every year, it’s unrealistic.”
But the show was renewed in May for two more seasons, keeping “Modern Family” on the air through at least the 2018-2019 TV season. Walden said she believed viewers – and the industry – will be reminded of the show’s impact when it does eventually come to a close.
“I really would never count that show out, especially when there starts being a sense this show is coming to an end – and I’m not sure if that will happen over the next two years or not – but I think that people will again focus on why it’s so special and why it broke through int he first case,” she said. “We could very much, like ‘Frasier,’ be talking about it again.”