‘Modern’ writers didn’t have to look far for material

By David Bauder

LOS ANGELES — A young man arrived at Ty Burrell’s hotel room to stock the minibar and immediately recognized the co-star of the ABC comedy “Modern Family.”

He loved the show.

Thanks, Burrell replied. The man went on to quietly describe how his family gathered each week to watch “Modern Family” together, and because of those group viewings, he was getting to know his younger siblings better.

“I know we’re not curing cancer,” said Burrell, who portrays the earnest goofball dad Phil Dunphy, “but it feels nice to see people affected by the show.”

“Modern Family” is the most critically acclaimed and popular new comedy of the TV season, the centerpiece of ABC’s Wednesday lineup and already renewed for a second season. Not only does it fulfill a comedy’s central mission — provide genuine laughs — it nudges preconceptions and isn’t afraid to show some heart amid a sea of snark and irony on television.

More than heart was on display one recent evening when “Modern Family” commandeered a Los Angeles hotel lobby to shoot some scenes. Hoots and hollers from crew members alerted those whose heads were turned the wrong way that they had missed actress Julie Bowen streaking across a room clad only in a bodysuit.

Bowen, who portrays Claire Dunphy, was about to film a scene in which she’s supposed to be naked underneath a trench coat. You’ll just have to watch the episode that airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. to find out why.

The production team of Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd is behind “Modern Family.” Besides working together on “Frasier,” they have credits that include “Wings,” “Just Shoot Me” and “The Wonder Years.”

Following the failure of “Back to You” on Fox — a sore subject — the team and their writers were kicking around ideas for a new series. To break the monotony, they’d sit around and tell stories about the odd and amusing things their families had done.

They eventually realized that these stories were funnier than anything they were making up. Some are already familiar to “Modern Family” viewers: the wife “busted” for dressing up to impress the firefighters taking her husband to the hospital; the writer who was once an ice-dancing partner with his older sister. Levitan had given his son an air-soft gun and told him if he ever shot someone, he’d be shot himself; that made it into the show’s pilot.

Everyone on the writing staff has a family, Levitan said.

“It’s almost a requirement,” he said. “Only parents come into these situations where the stories come easily.”

Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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