Okay comedy writer, here’s your assignment:
Create a pilot with the following –
Make it a family show, and even though there have been family shows on television for sixty years, find an entirely fresh new approach.
It must be enduring so that you could generate stories for five years.
You must create ten distinctive characters. They all must funny, relatable, edgy, flawed, and yet endearing. They all must relate to each other in some way. You need to set up relationships, dynamics, conflicts, alliances.
You must cast these parts perfectly, preferably with fresh faces we haven’t seen ten thousand times. And if you do use a familiar actor he’s got to be so right for the role you can’t imagine anyone else in his place.
You need to set a tone. Quirky but grounded. “Out there” but believable.
You must introduce all of these elements in twenty minutes, giving each character ample time to establish him or herself. You must create story threads that all dovetail so that the show has a nice flow.
You must make it genuinely funny.
This must be a network show. You have no leeway on language.
You must tie it all together at the end.
And again, all of this in only twenty minutes.
That’s MODERN FAMILY that premiered last Wednesday night on ABC. Without a doubt it was the best comedy pilot I’ve seen in years. It was damn near a master class in writing and a producing a half hour sitcom.
Kudos to Steve Levitan & Christopher Lloyd, two sitcom “veterans” (imagine that – old guys) for concocting this delicious stew. Stand-out characters for me were Eric Stonestreet as the flamboyant gay boyfriend (pictured left), Ty Burrell as the clueless “cool” dad, and Ed O’Neill as the family patriarch married to a hot young Latino wife. But all the characters are good. And by midseason I bet I’ll have two more favorites.
MODERN FAMILY is the story of three intertwined families, shot as a reality show. Happily, the purpose of this convention isn’t just to capture the characters in humiliating situations. The story arcs are ingenious, the sight gags and slapstick moments score, and the dialog is hilarious. I say “dialog” because it’s not a series of one-liners. The characters just happen to say funny things that come out of their personalities.
I hope the subsequent episodes are as good. Given the pedigree of the creative staff I like their chances. I would just implore ABC to leave them alone. Let them do the show they want. They already pulled off a spectacular pilot. And it wasn’t as easy as it looks.