Modern Family creator explains why he “can’t stand” reality TV, people followed by cameras
Modern Family was my favorite new network single-camera comedy of the fall (I have to be specific, because I have lots of favorite shows), and it borrows from The Office with its mockumentary style. Just like in that series, characters break the fourth wall and look directly into the camera, indicating that they are aware they’re being filmed. But last week, the show’s co-creator, Steven Levitan, actually and oddly distanced himself from the kind of shows and people that his show references.
Levitan told TV critics that he and co-creator Chris Lloyd first decided that their three interconnected families were being followed by “a Deutsche documentary film-maker named Geert Floorjte, who — it was actually really clever. He was doing this documentary. But what we’ve learned in the pilot was that, as a teenager, he was an exchange student who lived with the family. He had a major crush on Claire as a kid, and Mitchell had a major crush on him as a kid. And so he was going to come back and be part of it.”
They excised him because having a documentary filmmaker character “felt like an appendage, like we didn’t need it,” Levitan said, and now the absence of that character raises other questions. “Is it a true documentary, or is it a family show done documentary-style? I prefer the latter because I don’t like those families who let cameras in their houses in real life. I just can’t stand those shows. It would make me question them a little bit. Who would allow all of this to be filmed by a crew? I like the idea that it’s just our style of storytelling,” he said.
It certainly is their style of storytelling, and it works—I love the show, and its smart writing and strong acting—but it seems ridiculous to avoid the connection to reality TV or even documentary. Having the characters acknowledge the cameras be interviewed and acknowledge the cameras absolutely enhances the show, in part because it taps into the authenticity that we associate with unscripted TV (at least for the shows that don’t text their cast members lines).
Meanwhile, during the same press conference with ABC comedy showrunners, there was a funny exchange about American Idol, which will air its results shows Wednesday nights during the same hour that two ABC sit-coms broadcast.
Although Modern Family airs on ABC, it is produced by 20th Century Fox Television, and that prompted Cougar Town and Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence to say, “What about the bullshit of Fox scheduling Idol against its own show? … Fuck. Why does a network start trying to attack its own assets, man?”
Referencing the fact Lawrence’s show airs at 9:30 while his series, Modern Family, airs at 9, Levitan replied, “I’m not that upset about it because I kind of feel like it’s more your issue since nothing happens until the last five minutes.”