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February 28, 2010

PaleyFest: 'Modern Family' going to Hawaii

Some highlights from Philiana Ng's coverage of PaleyFest for THR...

>> News broke that the entire cast -- yes, you read that right -- was heading off to Maui to shoot a vacation episode that happens to have a May airdate; everyone was buzzing about the acclaimed reincarnation (and reinvention) of the family comedy.

>> Moderator Billy Bush, who flew in from the Vancouver Olympics to take part, accurately defined the half-hour series when he said: " 'Modern Family' nails our culture." That statement might as well be engraved into stone. After a screening of the upcoming "Fears" episode, Bush asked the cast whether it was odd seeing themselves onscreen, especially among fans. Ty Burrell, who plays the "militantly positive"-yet-unhip father Phil Dunphy, jokingly replied, "I don't ever like to see my Franken-brow onscreen."

>> The premise for "Modern Family" came about like many television shows do: through conversation. "My partner Christopher Lloyd, we just started talking about what was happening in our lives," co-creator Steve Levitan said, who didn't foresee the show to be a hit. It was created strictly for survival purposes, a way "not to get kicked off the lot," Levitan joked. (Levitan and Lloyd's "Back to You" was canned shortly before "Modern Family.")

>> When it came down to casting the parts, it was kismet for many of the actors. Ed O'Neill (patriarch Jay Pritchett), who starred on "Married with Children" as the iconic Al Bundy, wasn't interested in trying half-hour comedy on TV anymore; however, the writing told him otherwise. "When I read the script, I said, 'Oh my god, I'm going to have to go back to work,' " O'Neill said.

>> His onscreen wife played by Sofia Vergara (Gloria Delgado-Pritchett) had one of the most memorable lines of the night, when she quipped: "I never thought I would be married to Al Bundy!" The two may look like a mismatched couple, but even their work style is in sync. "We work the same way. Let's do this fast and then go home," Vergara said.

>> Burrell, who likens "Phil to a dog that can talk," described his character's brain like a meadow. "It's like going on vacation," he said. People just like him first annoy you, but then they begin to wear you down, Burrell said.

>> Unlike 60-minute dramas, which often ask for 14-hour days, six to seven days a week, "Modern Family" dons a fast pace. "We shoot very short hours," Julie Bowen (Claire Dunphy) said. "It stays fresher that way." Director Jason Winer also added that the show's constant forward motion is definitely by design.

>> The two-way street between the cast and the writers is easily the most transparent on "Modern Family." Scenes like butts touching in "Moon Landing," the gas station confrontation -- which happened to O'Neill in real life -- and the Barkley statue were all ideas that stemmed from either the actors' experiences or Levitan and (Christopher) Lloyd's.

>> And though the show is only in its first season, it has already garnered guest stars like Edward Norton, Elizabeth Banks and Benjamin Bratt. While those actors are not expected to return, the panel did offer a small nugget: Fred Willard will be reprising his role as Phil's father. While they have gotten recognizable names for small arcs, Levitan said that the writers want to "focus largely on the cast as much as possible." Winer agreed, adding that it is "fun to discover new comedic faces," which you can't do with established talent. 

>> Successful mockumentary-style comedies like "The Office" have made their intentions known in regards to what the camera symbolizes, the ambiguity of the "talking heads" and the role of the camera on "Modern Family" is a style choice. " 'Modern Family' is a family show told documentary-style rather than a show pretending to be a documentary," Levitan said, adding that it's a way to get to the story at hand.


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