Inside Steve Levitan’s TV Showrunner Gun Summit

The 'Modern Family' executive producer gathered 50 fellow writers and producers to discuss gun safety issues with's co-founder.
Steve Levitan
Steve Levitan, "Modern Family"

For “Modern Family” executive producer Steve Levitan, the topic of guns in America is personal.

Levitan, who has lost two friends to gun violence, gathered a group of A-list showrunners Wednesday on the 20th Century Fox lot to discuss the issue. Levitan is involved with, and invited co-founder John Feinblatt to address around 50 TV writers and producers at the Daryl Zanuck Theatre.

Showrunners and writers in the audience included “Homeland” executive producers Alex Gansa and Chip Johannessen, “24: Legacy” executive producer Howard Gordon, “New Girl” creator Liz Meriwether and “Scream Queens” executive producer Brad Falchuk. Fox TV Group chairman Gary Newman and 20th Century Fox TV president of creative affairs Jonathan Davis were also in attendance.

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“We want to educate, make people aware, maybe get them involved in any way, financially or via social media — and maybe content,” Levitan said.

Everytown for Gun SafetyLevitan has been involved with several gun control groups over the years, including Safety For All, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Sandy Hook moms, many of whom he has met (“It was gut wrenching.” he said).

“It always struck me that this lobbying group, the NRA, has so much power,” Levitan said. “It’s a perfect symbol that something’s wrong, that things aren’t right in our country. The injustice is so overwhelming that it’s hard to ignore and it just pisses me off.”

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Levitan added that for a long time he felt that battling the NRA “was futile, that we were pissing in the wind a little bit on this issue and never getting anywhere.”

Now, in the wake of mass gun-related murders in cities like Orlando, he believes the country has reached a “tipping point… Because of social media and a Clinton presidency on the horizon – god willing at this point – and the death of Scalia, we are at a point where things can change.”

Feinblatt gave the writers an update on advances in gun safety legislation across the country, including recent victories in states like Washington. He also pointed out that events like Sen. Chris Murphy’s recent Senate filibuster led to a quarter of a million calls to Congress in support of gun safety.

Questions from the audience included the state of online gun sales; why there isn’t one unified gun safety group to counter the NRA; and the divide between NRA members (most of whom support background checks) and its board.

Meriwether asked Feinblatt the key question: How can someone get involved in the movement.

“The first is to get involved” — with groups like Everytown or Moms Demand Action, he said. Also: “Donate, at any level. You have to build a large class of donors. It actually shows power.” And the third thing: “If any politician asks for a check, ask what their position is on something like background checks.”

As for Hollywood, “when you’re working on a show and there’s potential story lines about gun safety, you all send important cultural messages,” Feinblatt said. “If there’s a fit in a storyline or can naturally be put into a storyline, about gun safety or background checks, that’s extraordinarily helpful.”

Feinblatt specifically pointed out Julianne Moore, who created the Everytown Creative Council. He lauded Moore’s “amazing political instinct”: “In unbelievable quick order, there are 125 artists who she actually directs, in a fascinating way.”

He also said he didn’t believe Hollywood contributed to the issue of gun violence. “Canada and the UK, same video games, same movies, same television shows. Gun violence rate looks nothing like ours.”

Levitan said the event wasn’t necessarily about pushing other showrunners to add gun storylines in their series; he points out that such a story line wouldn’t be the proper fit for “Modern Family.”

“It’s tricky,” he said. “For a show like ‘Modern Family,’ its tonally not right for us. I wish we could. We don’t really do ‘very special episodes’ in that way.”

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