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“Modern Family” goes in for a group hug



This interview contains spoilers for the “Modern Family” series finale.

After 11 seasons, 250 episodes and five best comedy series Emmys, ABC’s “Modern Family” wrapped up Wednesday with an hour-long finale. Still, it often felt more like a beginning than an end, as the members of the show’s extended clan were sent off in new directions.

Phil and Claire (Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen) decided to go on a long-distance RV trip after all three kids moved out of the house; Jay and Gloria (Ed O’Neill and Sofia Vergara) planned to spend the summer visiting their relatives in Colombia; and Mitchell and Cameron (Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet) moved to Missouri after Cameron landed his dream job as a college football coach.

“Not to be overly pretentious about it, but you hand the series over to the viewers in the end to do with the characters what they want,” Christopher Lloyd, who co-created a sitcom with his fellow “Frasier” veteran Steve Levitan, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Launching everyone on these new tracks seemed like a hopeful way to end the series.”

“We always tried to be a happy show,” Levitan said in a separate phone interview. “Everyone was on their way to something that sounded pretty good.”

Showrunners discussed what it was like to have the finale during the coronavirus crisis, the possibility of a spinoff and the section’s tribute to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” These are edited excerpts from the conversations.

Watch other sitcom finals to see what to do and not to do? I loved the tribute to the group hug in the finale “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. It must be very personal to you, Christopher, because your late father, David Lloyd, wrote that episode.

CHRISTOPHER LLOYD I was there to film that episode, so it was hard not to keep it in mind and give it a tip on the hat. But there is a danger in studying too much how other shows have ended because you can over-correct away from what others did.

STEVE LEVITAN I mostly thought of finals that I liked, with “Mary Tyler Moore” as a really good one. What I like in a finale is that the characters get the chance to say goodbye in some way because that’s what the audience goes through. The audience has to say goodbye to these characters, so it’s nice to have that feeling reflected on the screen.

Did you also see a parallel between what the characters experienced and what the roommates and crew experienced – goodbye to loved ones?

LLOYD I don’t think it’s too often that you have actors who know the same things as the characters they portray. But this was the apotheosis because we all felt a tremendous sadness about moving away from this family that we created, and the characters did the exact same thing. So there were very, very real feelings from our actors.

Levitan Over the years, we always knew how happy we were: how the show came together, the awards, the success and the fact that we had a really happy set. Feeling that it ended was a sad idea for us, but at the same time I can’t complain for a second. It was a dream, and to protect the legacy of the show, it was time to release it.

Do you feel that the finale has a different resonance now than when you shot it, before the krona virus crisis had begun to have a major impact on Americans? [The series finished filming on Feb. 21.]

Levitan The most striking thing is the huge group hug. It’s not something you see in real life today, so it feels like we shot it 20 years ago. But I can’t say how many times over the years people have thanked us for helping them through a tough time, whether it’s a death, a divorce, a sickness, or losing a job. I love the idea that during this dark time in the history of the world, hopefully our finale can give people a little break.

LLOYD In a way, it’s nice that people come home and may be inclined to watch the show with their families one last time. People praise themselves for their families, for good and bad, and can hold on to them more than they have done before. It’s really a theme for the finale, so I think there is a resonance.

Would you say Jay’s development as a character – he now embraces both Mitchell and Cameron as his sons and he learns Spanish so he can talk to Gloria – reflects any cultural changes that have happened in America since the show started?

Levitan Jay was the character who started with a foot in the old way of thinking, and he tried to find his way into a new world. In the end, he has completely planted his other foot on the more progressive side. He has gone through a lot, and it is difficult for people who grew up a way to see the world change so quickly. But he seems to have come out better for it.

LLOYD The character made a decision for himself that he wanted a second run in a family and to do better than he did the first time, when he stopped divorcing and was not necessarily the best father of his children. He didn’t know that much would be thrown at him in this case, but it was nice to see him develop. And it is fair to say that he can represent a certain quadrant in our society that has come around on issues such as gay rights and interracial marriage.

Some things still never change: Jay never warmed up to Phil.

Levitan We could never let them get too comfortable.

LLOYD It is not completely unauthorized love. It’s still awkward between them, but Jay accepted and reluctantly loved Phil anyway.

How does this finale feel differently than at the end of “Frasier”, which also ran 11 seasons?

LLOYD When the “Frasier” finale aired, about 60 of us went to a restaurant in New York and watched it together. For this finale, we will all be in our individual homes without co-supervision.

Levitan This feels like the end of an era. “Modern Family” was a big mass-appeal hit. It’s hard to imagine another network show getting the same kind of audience we could get. The audience has so many more choices than they used to. Maybe we are somehow the last of a breed, and it also gives a little poignancy to all this.

What is the status of a possible spinoff?

LLOYD It is being discussed, but we must get an idea that we thought was right and had a chance to succeed. We went through this on “Frasier” after “Cheers” ended. It’s a tough act to follow, and you open yourself to a lot of criticism and hyper-scrutiny when you try it. But we really think about it and we see where it takes us.

Levitan If it comes to a good idea that we all believe in, I’m open to it.

Jay has a line in the finale that life is full of change and trying to make the best of it. How do you feel about life after “Modern Family” and in the coronavirus age?

LLOYD It is not a great synchronicity as there is a natural sadness to say goodbye to what has been a charming life. Getting away from it into a quarantine is not ideal. It would be better to go into a life with many distractions and new things to think about.

Levitan This is such a fascinating time. Our world had come so quickly. Our attention was shared in so many different directions, and there were a thousand opportunities to do things. You would be flooded with Instagram stories of your friends doing fun things and you would think, “What do I do when I’m at home?” It is an extremely rare moment when you can quite relax in the knowledge that you are not missing anything. You can choose to stay home and be with your family, which is a wonderful thing.


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