Norman Lear, the greatest TV comedy producer of all time, can’t get a series made these days, he says. The Producer’s Guild of America may have named its episodic comedy award after Lear, but good luck getting a Lear-made episodic comedy on the air now. In a TV-transforming run through the 1970s, Lear tackled the most controversial issues of the time – including racism, abortion, sexism and so much else – but he says the only time he’s ever been censored is today.
Lear, now almost 92 and reflecting on his legendary career in a packed session at the PGA’s Produced By conference, said no one ever told him, “You can’t do that,” while he was producing ground-breaking shows such as All in the Family, Maude, and The Jeffersons. But today, when he pitches a comedy that’s set in a retirement village, nobody wants to hear about it.
“They don’t want to touch the demographic,”he said. Apparently, he said, there’s only room for one old person (that would be another comedy veteran, Betty White, who actually is a few months older than Lear) on network television today.
The name of the show Lear has been pitching is Guess Who’s Dead?, a title that got a huge laugh from the audience. It is particularly ironic that Lear, whose People for the American Way organization long has fought for free … Read More »
UPDATED: Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan is staying with his TV family, signing a new four-year overall deal with 20th Century Fox TV, the studio behind the Emmy-winning ABC comedy series where he has been for over a decade. Under the rich pact, Levitan will continue as executive producer/co-showrunner on Modern Family, which he has been co-running alongside fellow co-creator Christopher Lloyd. (Lloyd has no deal for the series beyond this season and is not pursuing an overall or new show deal at the moment.) Additionally, “I will be keeping an eye open for interesting projects to shepherd and will be looking for well-written pilots to direct,” said Levitan, who won a directing Emmy for Modern Family in 2012. Levitan also is contemplating writing a new show, either by himself or with a partner, during the hiatus from Modern Family. “I have a couple that I’ll pursue as soon as I have enough time off to feel bored — if that ever happens.” All that would be welcomed by 20th brass, led by co-chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman. “Steve’s been at this studio almost as long as I have, and he’s still as passionate about the process of making TV as the day I met him,” Walden said. “Of course, he’ll continue to work with Chris on Modern Family, but we intend to take advantage of his talents every way we can, whether it’s directing pilots or supervising writers or creating another hit series of his own.”
Levitan said he didn’t look elsewhere before re-signing with 2oth TV, where he knows virtually everyone. “They’ve been very kind to me,” Levitan said. “Gary & Dana are the Jay Z & Beyonce of television executives. They are good friends and I feel like I have a home here.” But probably the biggest draw for Levitan, who previously created NBC comedy Just Shoot Me, was the opportunity to stay with Modern Family. “A wise friend once told me, ‘Hollywood is 10,000 people running to the spot where lightning just struck,’ he said. “I was lucky enough to be there when it did — I see no reason to run away from it.” Past experience and regrets also factored into his decision. “I left Just Shoot Me too early and I really didn’t want to make that mistake twice,” he said. “It’s important to me that Modern Family maintains its quality and that it finishes strong, and I want to be part of that.” Read More »
Here are four top series creators — Modern Family and Just Shoot Me‘s Steve Levitan, Lost‘s Damon Lindelof, CSI‘s Anthony Zuiker and Heroes, Crossing Jordan and Touch‘s Tim Kring — sharing what they really think about pilot season, network notes, agents, Nielsen ratings as well as Nikki Finke and Deadline. The word association quiz conducted by Young Hollywood during last week’s NATPE confab, prompted answers ranging from “powerful” and “necessary” to “irrelevant” and “abominable.” Here is the video:
Community creator and recently ousted showrunner Dan Harmon took to Twitter to react to the show’s surprise best comedy series win at last night Critics Choice TV Awards and indicated that he was not invited to the ceremony. “Congrats, Community, and thank you, critics,” he wrote. “Sorry I was unable to have been invited!” Harmon was acknowledged onstage by Community star Joel McHale, who accepted the series’ first major award. “I want to thank Dan Harmon, who created the greatest show on television,” McHale said.
Also last night, Harmon and McHale got a shoutout from Steve Levitan, co-creator of awards juggernaut Modern Family, which won the best comedy prize last year and had been favored to repeat. “A big congrats to @danharmon, @joelmchale and everyone from Community for their big win tonight! Thrilled for them!!” Levitan tweeted. Replied Harmon: ”@SteveLevitan thank you, sir. Now it’s official, by one metric, we are equally successful.”
The highest-profile casualty at Fox, which picked up three new comedy series today and passed on everything else, was the Steve Levitan-produced pilot Rebounding. The single-camera project was written on spec by Joe Port and Joe Wiseman under the watchful eye of Modern Family co-creator Levitan. Inspired by Port’s real-life experiences, the 20th TV-produced project is described as an uplifting comedy about a man recovering from the death of his fiancé with the help of the idiot buddies on his pick-up basketball team.
It has had a roller-coaster ride. First the spec didn’t create a bidding frenzy as it hit the marketplace very late, on January 30, when networks were pretty much done with their pilot orders. There were also some concerns over the subject matter and whether it could translate into comedy. Fox ultimately stepped up and gave Rebounding a pilot order, bringing Levitan back to the network where he had refused to return for several years following Fox’s controversial 2008 cancellation of the Levitan-Christopher Lloyd comedy series Back To You after one season. Jason Winer, who directed the Modern Family pilot, signed on to direct Rebounding and, after a long search, Saturday Night Live alum Will Forte was cast as the lead. There were early reports from the set of the pilot about a good chemistry between Levitan and Winer reminiscent of their work on the ABC/20th TV hit Modern Family. Then the finished pilot came … Read More »
Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
In a fun PaleyFest finale tonight, Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan declared that even if he had the chance, he wouldn’t switch from the grueling 24-episode-per-season broadcast schedule at ABC to the far less taxing 12 or 13 episodes found in cable. Why? “Because of the kids (on the show),” Levitan admitted. “They’re growing. We tried to stop it and it’s not working. For that reason alone, we want to get as many stories in as we can while they’re going through these years. So we’re going to try to maintain this pace for as long as we can.”
During the the panel, moderated by Variety’s Cynthia Littleton, which was an even mix of earnest and silly, co-stars Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet expressed their gratitude in being permitted to portray such a positive gay couple. “I think we’ve shown that you don’t need to be a man and a woman to give a baby a healthy, happy, loving home,” Stonestreet said. “There was also one teenage kid who wrote me, ‘I just want you to know that I finally had the courage to come out to my mom because of you guys. And mom’s response was, ‘Well, are you Mitch or Cam?’’ ”Added Levitan: “The greatest stories we hear are from gay teens that never talk to their parents but now are watching the show with them, and are finding acceptance because of … Read More »
Steve Levitan is back at Fox. The network has picked up Rebounding, a single-camera comedy from the Modern Family co-creator, Joe Port and Joe Wiseman, with Modern Family helmer Jason Winer on board to direct. The pilot order comes a couple of days after 20th Century Fox TV — where Levitan, Port and Wiseman are under overall deals — sent the comedy spec to the broadcast networks. Written by Port and Wiseman, Rebounding was inspired by Port’s real-life experiences. It is described as an uplifting comedy about a man recovering from the death of his fiance with the help of the idiots on his pick-up basketball team. Levitan, who has been very involved in the development of the project, was originally attached to direct but his schedule is not permitting, so Winer, who directed the pilot for Modern Family, will helm Rebounding, exec produced by Levitan, Port and Wiseman. This is a second pilot directing gig for Winer this season, along with the NBC comedy 1600.
Levitan and his Modern Family co-creator Christopher Lloyd had a falling out with Fox over the 2008 cancellation of their multi-camera comedy series Back To You after one season. Levitan and Lloyd spoke publicly against the decision and famously refused to shop their followup … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Let the bidding frenzy begin! A mostly sleepy January TV spec market is being shaken up today by Rebounding, a single-camera comedy from Joe Port, Joe Wiseman and Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan. Port and Wiseman co-created and wrote the script, inspired by real events in Port’s life, with Levitan, who has been involved in the development of the project, on board to direct the potential pilot. All three are executive producing. Rebounding is described as an uplifting comedy about a man recovering from the death of his fiance with the help of the idiots on his pick-up basketball team. I hear the spec, from 20th Century Fox TV — where Levitan, Port and Wiseman are under overall deals — is being sent to all the networks today. It arrives fashionably late to the party as the nets are wrapping their pilot orders (with 13 half-hour pickups, NBC is believed to be done), but all networks undoubtedly have emergency reserves for a marquee offering with A-list auspices. UTA reps Levitan, executive producer on blockbuster ABC comedy Modern Family, and Port & Wiseman, who served as co-executive producers on Fox’s freshman hit New Girl earlier this season. The pair are now consulting producers on another 20th TV-produced freshman comedy, ABC’s Last Man Standing.
Harvey Weinstein, TV producer Steve Levitan, ICM’s Chris Silbermann, UTA’s Rob Prinz, manager-producer Jason Weinberg and talent managers Eric Ortner, Greg Mertz, Bruce Flohr, Michael Green, Steve Moir and Bill Silva were among Hollywood figures invited to meet with President Obama on Tuesday before he left for San Francisco. These ardent supporters were not hit up for donations, according to Tina Daunt, but were singled out for their perceived ability as “influencers” who could shape political debate as campaigning heats up in the months ahead. Invitees also included CAA music agent Rob Light and music industry bigwigs Craig Kallman, Karen Kwak, Livia Tortella, Tom Sturges, Livia Tortella, producer-songwriter Bruce Roberts, showbiz attorney Chuck Ortner and actor Kal Penn plus IDPR’s Kelly Bush and Mara Buxbaum.
Deadline’s Diane Haithman and Ray Richmond were backstage at the Primetime Emmy Awards tonight to hear what the winners had to say.
Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell came backstage together after winning the awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress and Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. The Modern Family stars were asked first about being part of a show that is breaking ground for gays. Burrell said, “I don’t know, in terms of America, it feels very, very good to be on a show that seems like it’s slowly changing a lot of minds. Eric [Stonestreet] and Jesse [Tyler Ferguson] deserve all of the credit for that, and our amazing showrunners. It’s a great thing to just peripherally go to events and just basically start to talk about those characters like any other characters, relating to their life — it’s pretty cool.” Bowen joked, “As a straight woman, and part of a straight couple on the show, I feel marginalized.” On a more serious note, she added: “It’s absurd that it’s even an issue, but where it’s an issue, I’m glad that we are part of helping change minds.” Using the word “straight” in a different context, Burrell praised Bowen: “It’s even greater credit to what Julie does that the straight-person wins an Emmy, I don’t think that happens very often. In a couple there’s usually a straight-man and a wilder character. It’s due to her resourcefulness as an actor.” On going back to the set with an Emmy when other cast members were also nominated, Burrell said: “Eric won last year, and Ed [O'Neill] actually just said something really sweet right before the award, ‘whoever wins deserves it.’ I feel like we’re trying to enjoy this moment more than anything — we know this doesn’t last forever; we’re having a lot of fun.” Bowen said about her surprise win, “I kinda thought it was a lock on Betty White. If I didn’t have a dog in this fight, and I had two, I would have voted for Betty White. Claire is not necessarily fall-down funny every time.” She credits the writers for having found ways to make her character have many dimensions and “not just be the mom.” …
Later, Steve Levitan and Jeffrey Richman, winners for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, were asked how it feels for Modern Family to be sweeping the awards so far, with wins in every category they’ve been eligible for. Levitan: “We’re beyond thrilled with the way things have gone, obviously. It’s an embarrassment of riches, and from the bottom of our hearts we feel that Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen deserved to win. (Outstanding Director in a Comedy Series winner) Michael Alan Spiller, not so much. To tell you the truth, it’s a little surreal.” They were then asked what they did to ramp up the stories and quality of Modern Family in Season 2. Levitan: “We feel like we know the characters a little bit better this year. There was such dedication this year to keeping the quality up. We all live in fear of the quality dipping so we work extra hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. … I’ll also tell you that our kids are the unsung heroes of the show. What they do on this show is amazing. We ask them to do such complicated turns and they nail it constantly. They’re playing at the same level as the adults and that’s a rare thing.” … Read More »
Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
When a comedy writer moderates a WGA panel of his peers, the audience is bound to get more jokes than straight answers. That’s what happened tonight at this year’s ‘Primetime Sublime’ panel featuring Emmy-nominated writers moderated by The Simpsons’ Mike Scully. Joking “Let’s start on a light note – The Killing!”, Scully turned to the AMC mystery’s showrunner, Veena Sud, who was nominated for the pilot. “So you were looking for something dark, coming off Cold Case? I like that [your] scenes don’t end with David Caruso tipping his sunglasses and saying: ‘This seems like a case of sour rapes.’”
Next, Scully moved on to Peter Gould, writer of the HBO movie Too Big to Fail, based on the non-fiction book of the same title by Andrew Ross Sorkin which dissects that 2008 financial meltdown. “It’s about banks closing, businesses going under: how do you make that shit up, man?” Scully asked Gould. As Gould attempted to explain the difficulties of writing about controversial real-life characters, Scully jumped in to inform the audience that as a writer Gould also had to contend with HBO pressuring him to “add a vampire … or have Turtle from Entourage drop by with some crazy financial scheme.” Scully also cracked wise that if the script had been based on a book by Aaron Sorkin, and not Andrew Ross Sorkin, the film “would have won an Academy Award, not an Emmy.”… Read More »
His eponymous FX comedy may have been snubbed in the best comedy series category, but comedian Louis C.K. still managed to become the most nominated person at the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards with four noms, sharing the honors with The Lonely Island’s Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Louis C.K. was nominated in the lead comedy actor category for his role on FX’s Louie, in the writing for comedy series category for penning the Poker/Divorce episode of the show, as well as in two Variety, Music or Comedy special categories for his Epix comedy special Louis C.K.: Hilarious — for writing and for editing. Three of Schaffer and Taccone’s four nominations were in the Original Music and Lyrics category, in which The Lonely Island’s Schaffer, Taccone and Andy Samberg have a regular presence, often in tandem with Justin Timberlake, having won an Emmy together for Dick In a Box. This year, Saturday Night Live is completely dominating the category with four of the six nominations: three for Schaffer, Taccone and Samberg’s digital music videos I Just Have Sex, Jack Sparrow and their latest collaboration with Timberlake, 3-Way, and one for the song from host Timberlake’s opening monologue. Schaffer and Taccone’s fourth Emmy nomination is in the writing for VMC series category for their staff-writing duties on SNL.Read More »
After 20th TV chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman’s uproarious Modern Family-flavored holiday video card last year written and directed by Steve Levitan, it was natural for the duo to turn to the studio’s other monster hit, Fox’s Glee, for greeting card inspiration next. Here is this year’s video, written by Glee co-creator/executive producer Ian Brennan, who writes Sue Sylvester’s (Jane Lynch) dialogue on the show, and directed by Glee co-creator/executive producer Ryan Murphy.
20th Century Fox TV has locked in 2 key Modern Family writer-producers, co-executive producers Paul Corrigan and Brad Walsh, with a two-year overall deal. The pact will keep them on Modern Family as well as allow them to develop new projects. The duo has written 6 episodes of the sophomore ABC comedy so far, including last week’s Earthquake episode. They also recently shared Modern Family‘s best comedy series Emmy award with the rest of the show’s producing team led by co-creators/executive producer Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd. (Levitan and Lloyd’s own new overall deals with 20th TV have been in negotiations for months, with Levitan’s pact getting close.) Read More »
Feature Precious, series Glee, Modern Family, The Good Wife and Nurse Jackie and movie Temple Grandin were among the winners at the 36th Humanitas Prizes awarded today at a luncheon in Beverly Hills. The monetary prizes recognize writers whose work “entertain, engage and enrich the viewing public.” Geoffrey Fletcher won the feature film category for Precious, competing in a field that included Oscar winner The Hurt Locker. Read More »
Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan looked like a single dad tonight, accepting alone the show’s awards for Best Comedy Series and Best Writing for a Comedy Series. Where was fellow co-creator Christopher Lloyd, the executive producer who co-wrote the pilot that won the writing award? ”He has an aversion to crowds and public speaking, but he supports the show and we will celebrate at the Governors Ball,” Levitan said backstage.UPDATE: Lloyd indeed was on the party circuit. I caught up with him at the Fox and FX’s shindig in Downtown. “I just don’t like going to awards shows,” he said in explaining why he’d skipped the ceremony. Levitan gave a shoutout to 30 Rock, which Modern Family dethroned this year. Noting that instead of female celebrities like Paris Hilton, “you need a role model make Tina (Fey). It’s still a damn funny show, and we feel lucky to be here.” There are no hard feelings between Levitan and Glee creator Ryan Murphy, either. “I saw Ryan afterwords, and we hugged,” Levitan said. “I really admire the fact that Glee has broken the mold. My daughter went to a Glee concert, and I think there is room for both shows.”
Asked why Modern Family has so clicked with audiences, Levitan said: “The show has embraced emotion. I think emotion in comedy has gone out of vogue, and maybe people were hungry for it a little bit. They wanted to laugh but they also wanted to feel something.”
During a coffee break at TCA today, Modern Family co-creator/executive producer Steve Levitan dived straight in about Steve McPherson’s sudden exit from ABC Entertainment. “My genuine reaction was this sucks. I’m sorry to hear it,” Levitan said to reporters, noting that he’s a long-time friend going back to when McPherson was a network exec on his NBC comedy Just Shoot Me. “We took Modern Family to ABC in large part because of Steve and that relationship. And because he promised us that he would launch us and support us, which he did. He’s always been a straight shooter. You knew where you stood with Steve, and I respect that. While I hear wonderful things about [McPherson replacement] Paul Lee, certainly I’m very sorry to see Steve go.”
Levitan shared the casting news that Nathan Lane has been tapped to guest star in the fall. He’ll play Cameron’s and Mitchell’s mentioned-but-never-seen flamboyant friend Pepper. Personally, I’m pretty psyched to see Lane go toe-to-toe with Eric Stonestreet’s Cameron; I always felt Cameron was modeled after Lane’s character in The Birdcage.
Levitan said he doesn’t have any immediate plans to do a show at Fox where he and Modern Family co-creator Christopher Lloyd’s previous series, Back to You, was canceled after one season. But “I’m open to the idea if they create an atmosphere that is conducive to my style of comedy,” he said.
Steve Levitan, 47, is known for creating the TV series Just Shoot Me! Stark Raving Mad, Stacked,Back to You, with varying degrees of success. He’s also known for being highly vocal in his displeasure with the networks (like NBC and Fox) at times. And, in the words of one producer, “for being the only Jew in Hollywood who wears a 44 long”. But the veteran writer/producer — who won an Emmy Award as executive producer of Frasier and has written for the Larry Sanders Show, Men Behaving Badly, The Wonder Years and other comedy shows — is now a happy guy at the helm ABC’s Wednesday night sitcom hit Modern Family, which he co-runs with Chris Lloyd. While he has some strong feelings about the state of the TV industry, he admits in this Showrunner Q&A with Deadline contributor Diane Haithman — done beforeModern Family was nominated for Emmys — that these days he’s finding it pretty hard to complain:
SL: Obviously, everything I say in this interview is [about] myself and my writing partner Chris Lloyd, we were doing this together.
DH: OK. How did you come up with the mix of characters for Modern Family and decide: This will be our neighborhood?
We knew we wanted to do something about family, and we started to realize we wanted to do something in the documentary form. We wanted to do multiple families, because we both liked the adult relationships. We didn’t want to be constantly doing kid stories, we wanted to be able to do both. Frasier was based on an adult brother relationship, and an adult father-son relationship. Just Shoot Me was a complicated adult father-daughter relationship. So then it was a matter of populating it with multiple families, and the idea was, how has family changed recently? So let’s start in the middle with a very conventional, right down the middle family — a working husband, a stay-at-home mom, and three kids. And the kids were kind of loosely based on my family in terms of the sexes and ages of the kids. And then we wanted to do a gay couple. And we wanted to do something cross-cultural as well. And what was nice there was the older man/younger woman thing. We could have done three siblings, and one of them was married [to someone from another culture]. But we liked the idea of the father being with the younger woman because you’ve got multiple things going on. There was nice conflict and tension. Read More »
Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s 2010 Emmy and TCA coverage.
Ty Burrellisn’t quite an overnight success. It only seems that way. He had been working steadily in Hollywood for nearly 10 years before shooting to the next level this past year with his career-defining role as the cluelessly hilarious dad Phil Dunphy on the freshman ABC comedy hit Modern Family. He found out on July 8 that he’d earned his first Primetime Emmy nomination for supporting comedy actor, one of three noms for Modern FamilyRead More »