Written By February/March 2010 : Page 39

D anny Zucker had a kidney stone. It was two in the morn- ing and he lay in bed, writhing in agony. Suddenly his wife disappeared. “The next thing I know, she’s in a fucking sundress with makeup on and her boobs out. I said, ‘You dressed up for the firemen!’ And she’s always denied it.” Denied it, that is, until the entire episode wound up in an epi- sode of Modern Family. Then she came clean, but with justifica- tion: “Yeah, I did it, but the firemen are cute.” You want comedy grounded in reality? Look no further than Mod- ern Family, where no kidney stone goes unturned in the search for real life stories. Within five minutes of sitting down with the writers at the large roundtable in the middle of the Modern Family offices, episodes are being deconstructed to their real-life origins. Ever ice dance with your sister? That’s a plotline. Dad cancelled Christmas? That’s a holiday episode. Shoot your kid? It’s in the pilot. Everybody’s got a family, and every family is bananas. That news is even older than television, but creators Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd have come up with a fresh take on familiar sit- com territory that has caught on with critics and fans alike. Their ABC show is among the few breakout hits of the season. The single-camera comedy, shot documentary style, centers on three branches of a family tree: retiree Jay, his young wife Gloria, and her son Manny; Jay’s daughter Claire, her husband Phil, and their three kids; Claire’s brother Mitchell, husband Cameron, and their adopted baby girl. “The overused phrase in the writers’ room is, What is the real here? ” says Levitan. “I would gladly sacrifice a decent joke for an honest moment. It’s when you get into the choice of an amazing joke and an honest moment that things get tough.” Co-executive producer Dan O’Shannon found both: One holiday season when he was a kid, his parents discovered a gouge in the living room wall. His father asked which of the kids had done the damage, but none confessed. “So my father just blurted out, ‘Then we’re not having Christmas,’ and took down the tree and every decoration.” On Christmas Eve he relented, and everything went back up in a mad dash. “A week later we found out it had been a delivery person moving a piece of furniture.” On the Christmas episode, the gouge was recast as a burn on the couch caused by sunlight shining through a new glass ornament. Also in the episode, Phil’s mother had knit the february/march 2010 WGAW Written By • 39

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