Every now and then a TV sitcom comes along that captures the hearts of viewers, defines a generation and becomes a contender for a future classic sure to land a prominent place in rerun heaven. The latest sitcom - a genre that was almost extinct just a few years ago - to join the ranks of All in the Family. Roseanne and Home Improvement is ABC's Modern Family. The series, which debuted on ABC in the fall of 2009, is a mockumentary style sitcom focusing on the lives on three families. NBC and CBS turned down the show before it was picked up by ABC. Since then, the show has become a ratings hit - credited with helping to revive the sitcom in much the same way The Cosby Show did a generation ago.
Award-winning screenwriter Christopher Lloyd created the show with Steven Levitan. The pair worked together on previous sitcom hits including Wings, Frasier and Just Shoot Me. Modern Family centers on three families united through family patriarch Jay Pritchett (former Married...with Children star Ed O'Neill) and his much younger wife Gloria (the show's breakout star, Colombian native Sofía Vergara). The two work together to raise Jay's son Manny (Rico Rodriguez). The second family in the series is Clair and Phil (Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell), who have three children: Haley (Sarah Hyland), Alex (Ariel Winter) and Luke (Nolan Gould). Mitchel (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) lives with his partner Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and together they raise an adopted Vietnamese girl.
Like any good ensemble show, a big part of the show's success is the recurring characters who pop up from time to time. Veteran actor Fred Willard appears now and then as Phil's father. Former Cheers star Shelley Long has appeared as Jay's ex-wife and Mitchell and Claire's biological mother. Tony-winner Nathan Lane made two guest appearances. The show, only in its third season, has earned an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series twice. Modern Family was recently sold into syndication for the fall of 2013 to certain Fox affiliates and the USA Network, an early sign of the show's road to immortality. Entertainment Weekly quickly hailed the show as the "best new sitcom" of the season when it debuted. TV Guide called the cast "our favorite family" when welcoming the show back for its second season in 2010.
Now, as for why Modern Family is such hit. As with any sitcom, it is not really one thing that makes it a success. It started with an idea conceived by the show's creators and executed by a unique team of actors. Many promising shows have this part down, but still fail. What really makes a sitcom a hit is the ability to connect with an audience. This is what makes us care about seemingly real characters like Roseanne and Dan Conner, Tim and Jill Taylor and Archie and Edith Bunker. There is some inherent quality that we find appealing, compelling or just plain funny. With Modern Family, it could also be that each family represented on the show is a reflection of the families that make up our society today. Even the show's core character, Jay, isn't your typical father figure. He's married a much younger woman who has a dynamic personality, to say the least. It's a combination of these elements that make Modern Family an anticipated weekly visit for millions of viewers.
Looking at what has worked for previous ensemble comedies illustrates what makes Modern Family work so well. Cheers, for example, had a collection of characters with very different personalities. It is highly unlikely anybody would care about a show that just focused on bartender Sam Malone or barmaid Carla Tortelli. When you add in characters like a know-it-all mailman and an often out-of-work accountant who spends more time at the bar than doing much of anything else, you have a cast of characters people are willing to invite into their homes week after week. The same is true with Modern Family. If you just focused on just Jay and Gloria or Mitchel and Cameron, you would have an entirely different sitcom. When you add in the other characters - from the kids to the revolving door of special guests and regulars - you have a group of characters people find engaging enough to welcome into their living room every week. It looks like Modern Family will be with us for a while.
Tom Demers is an avid blogger and writes for Massachusetts Local Business Guide.