The data from ABC’s attempt to build a comedy night: good ratings for Modern Family in its second week, a larger decline (but still pretty good numbers) for Cougar Town, and the “Back To You Twins” — Kelsey Grammer’s Hank and Patricia Heaton’s The Middle — won’t last long. The upshot seems to be that, as expected, Modern Family has the most hit potential out of this group; it’s got a durable format, a good team and, most importantly, it has something resembling a breakout character who can forge interesting, unusual comedy relationships with other characters. I’m talking, of course, about Ty Burrell’s Cool Dad character. His “why the face?” immediately became the big catchphrase of the pilot, and the choice of “The Bicycle Thief” as the second episode may have had something to do with the fact that he had a big part in it. (I read somewhere that this was not the second episode in production order and that it was aired second because it would make the strongest impression after the pilot, but I can’t verify that.) In my mammoth sitcom post the other day, I somehow neglected to mention the importance of having at least one character/actor combination that takes off and goes beyond the easy TV stereotypes; Burrell, who makes his character seem weird and lovable rather than pathetic, is that guy.
Speaking of Burrell, I barely remembered that he was on the creators’ previous show, Back to You, but he was; he just didn’t have a great part, though he did what he could with it. And before Back To You, Chris Lloyd used Burrell on another flop, Out of Practice. I like it when a creator uses the same non-star actor more than once, taking a good actor from a recent flop and putting him/her into a new show with more potential. A famous example is Linda Bloodworth-Thomason taking two of the stars of her flop Filthy Rich, Delta Burke and Dixie Carter, and putting them into Designing Women, but in some ways it’s even better when the actor wasn’t a star in the previous show, if it’s just someone the producer knows, likes and wants to use again. Lloyd clearly knows Ty Burrell is good and will keep using him until he gets to be in a hit; Modern Family may be it, but even if it isn’t, I approve of the method.