EXCLUSIVE: ABC‘s flagship comedy Modern Family, which is coming off a fourth consecutive best series Emmy win, may be getting a spinoff. I’ve learned that the network and producer 20th Century Fox TV have met to discuss potentially spinning off the hit comedy. Details are sketchy as conversations are in very early stages with multiples ideas discussed, but I hear one offshoot concept that is being explored is for a show built around standout Modern Family guest player Rob Riggle and the character he played in two episodes last season. The idea is being spearheaded by Modern Family executive producers Paul Corrigan and Brad Walsh who would run point and write the script. (Modern Family co-creator/executive producer Steve Levitan would likely have some involvement, while fellow co-creator/exec producer Christopher Lloyd is expected to remain solely focused on the flagship series, now in its fifth season.) Riggle’s Gil Thorpe is Southern California’s most successful real estate agent and rival of Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) who briefly employed Phil’s wife Claire (Julie Bowen). Thorpe is abrasive and has a penchant for inserting his name in words, like “Thorpedoed” and “Gil Pickles.” Corrigan and Walsh, who became a writing team when they met in NYU’s film school, have been on Modern Family since after the pilot. They wrote one of Riggle’s two Modern Family episodes, “Career Day” (check out the video below).
Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
Without revealing any plot spoilers, the first episode of Modern Family’s upcoming fifth season will take on the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in California. At tonight’s onstage “table read” of the episode for an audience of Emmy voters at Fox Studios, executive producer Steven Levitan pleaded with tweeters not to spoil any surprises while at the same time acknowledging that a plot tweet was likely to escape. (Co-creator Christopher Lloyd, who sat in the audience, already had said in interviews that the “gay marriage” issue might crop up on the Emmy-winning ABC sitcom.) And after the reading, which featured most of the cast members, the writing staff was quick to talk about how the same-sex marriage issue came to the table. Jeffrey Richman — writer of the episode, titled “Suddenly Last Summer”, which premieres September 25 — joked of the June 26 Supreme Court ruling, “I’m gay, and I was happier as a writer.” Then he added, “It was great for the gays, too.”
Related: EMMYS: Comedy Series Overview
Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor.
How many writer-producers does it take to make an Emmy-winning comedy? In the case of Modern Family, it’s a staff of 12 including co-creators/executive producers Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd. Like many series creators, Levitan and Lloyd mostly tapped colleagues from comedies they had either created or worked on to assemble a writers room where the team speaks the same language. Before creating Modern Family, Levitan and Lloyd worked on three comedies together: Wings, Frasier and the short-lived Back To You, which the pair co-created. Most members of Modern Family’s creative family are descendants of those three shows and/or two other comedies created by Levitan: Just Shoot Me and Stacked. AwardsLine has ventured deep into sitcom history — stripping the banana peel all the back way to 1990 — to trace the writing roots of Modern Family. Please note that this is not intended to represent each writer-producer’s complete, or necessarily best, credits. It covers only comedy series that have at some point included two or more Modern Family writer-producers on staff (as writer-producers unless otherwise noted).
Related: EMMYS: Comedy Series Overview
How would hit ABC comedy Modern Family look and sound like if it aired on cable? The show’s writers offer a peek in a promo for the Emmy-winning series’ upcoming off-network launch on USA Network in September. The video was a highlight at today’s USA upfront presentation, where Modern Family, its cast and co-creator Steve Levitan were the main attraction. Enjoy and keep in mind that the video is the result of what I hear were 17 cuts to tone the original down and make it suitable for public (but definitely not family) viewing.
When a show creator thinks about distribution methods “then you’re not doing your job,” the executive producer told Bloomberg Television’s Trish Regan on Street Smart. ”At the end of the day you have to be truthful to the characters and the story.” But Steven Levitan recognizes that platforms have different demands. “If we were doing a show about dating, we would want to be on cable… When you are telling stories about a family you can do it in a way that works for a network. We feel like we’re in the right place.”
Greg Daniels, The Office (NBC)
Why He Was Nominated: Being nominated for Emmys is simply what Daniels does. He’s reeled in 19 Emmy nominations all told, including three in this category and three noms this year alone. He’s won here once before, in 2007 for the celebrated “Gay Witch Hunt” episode of The Office. And Daniels has five Emmy trophies to his credit all told, also including previous wins for King of the Hill, The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live.
Why He Has To Win: In earning a nomination for star Steve Carell’s final episode, Daniels becomes something of a prohibitive favorite to win for writing, particularly since he’s already taken one home here previously. The super-sized episode, “Goodbye, Michael,” was heavily hyped by NBC and exceptionally well-received by viewers and the industry. “Greg did a terrific job of walking the line between comedy and sentiment,” one producer told me, “which was quite a feat.”
Why He Can’t Possibly Win: Sentiment doesn’t always go over so big with the TV academy crowd, whether talking about shows or individuals. Voters could well also figure that giving an overdue Emmy to Carell for acting is plenty and need not adorn the farewell with coattails. Plus, there are a couple of other exceedingly worthy contenders here, like a particularly buzzed episode of Modern Family.
Beth McCarthy-Miller, 30 Rock (NBC)
Why She Was Nominated: Because the trick that McCarthy-Miller turned here in handling a pair of live performances (one for the East Coast, one for the West Coast) was a huge one, recalling the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants trials from TV’s earliest days. It’s her seventh Emmy nomination and second for directing on 30 Rock (the other coming in 2009). Yet McCarthy-Miller still is seeking her first win despite being one of TV’s most respected directors.
Why She Has To Win: It’s safe to say that no one had a bigger series directing challenge during the past year than 30 Rock’s “Live Show.” As McCarthy-Miller told Deadline last month, “It’s fairly hard when you’re live to do that quick kind of dialogue and not fall flat on your face. … There were 108 camera shots before the first commercial break.” In case voters needed added incentive, no woman has won the Emmy for comedy directing in 18 years, or since Betty Thomas took it home for HBO’s Dream On in 1993. Talk about overdue.
Why She Can’t Possibly Win: See above about the last time a woman won in this category. Thomas’ win in ’93 also was the only time a woman earned the Emmy for directing, period. So the TV Academy may have issues giving this statuette to that gender. Too, Modern Family has three entries, and all are awfully strong. That mockumentary style is a director’s dream.
Christopher Lloyd is co-creator and co-showrunner with Steven Levitan (his Q&A here) of last year’s Emmy winner for Outstanding Comedy Series, Modern Family. But Lloyd didn’t go onstage to accept the accolade. This recipient of eight Emmys for his work on comedy series including Frasier and The Golden Girls prefers to stay in the shadows and let his chatty partner bask in all the public limelight. Now, Lloyd breaks his silence and talks to Deadline TV Contributor Diane Haithman for an interview one TV publicist claimed was harder to nab than “a sitdown with Osama Bin Laden”:
DEADLINE: Obviously, I first have to ask why do you rarely speak publicly about Modern Family, and why do you let Steve Levitan do all the talking about it?
LLOYD: I think Steve started out wanting to be a broadcast journalist, an on-camera guy. He likes doing things that I don’t like to do. I tend to avoid things like award shows and panels and interviews, not remotely because I feel I’m above them or wish to cultivate the image of the intriguing recluse. I’m just not very good at them. There are some comedy writers who came up on the performing side and might welcome those sorts of events. There are others to whom an auditorium full of people looks like a welter of angry torch-bearers. I have nothing against the first group but when I see members of my own tribe in public appearances sweating like murder suspects and spraying the front row with Xanax flecks, I wonder why they didn’t choose, like me, to stay home. Look, the work we do on the show gets plenty of accolades, and I get plenty of pleasure from it. But I sense from people that they get frustrated with me for not being out and about. But I guess I’m a shy boy.
DEADLINE: What’s the division of showrunning between you and Steve?
LLOYD: He goes off and talks to the camera and gets every interview, and I stay home and do all the hard work with the writing staff. (laughs) But seriously, we have a large staff of 10 writers including myself and Steve, and we can fairly easily divide the room in half: he takes four, and I take four. We generate stories separately, but that’s early on in the process. Once we get on track, we confer with one another and feel free to intermingle the groups. A lot of the work with the actors we do separately because we each take every other episode and see it through to the end. We have a five-day shooting schedule, 10 hours Monday through Friday, all the way through the season. That’s one of the more fun aspects of the job. It would be overkill to have both of us onstage. Plus, if we did that, I don’t know what would be happening with the writers back in the room. Given that we have slightly different styles, it’s a good system.
DEADLINE: What does an Emmy mean to a show that’s already successful?
LLOYD: It’s wonderful acknowledgment of what you’ve done. What comes with that is a challenge not to repeat yourself, and to keep the show good, and maybe even to make it better. Continuing recognition says you’ve done that job. No one wants to be in charge when the show starts to slide and people say: ‘Meh, it’s seen better days.’ But then there are those shows that go away and come back. Everybody Loves Raymond was in that category. And I think Cheers. I’m not an Emmy historian, but there is some fun andsome challenge in a show being thought of as on top, then a little passé or whatever, and then comes back and proves everybody wrong.