Is There a GLEE-style Split In MODERN FAMILY?

When I read Josef Adalian’s news that the creators of Modern Family have dissolved their partnership of convenience, it made me wonder whether the show has — or will have — a split between two or more different approaches, the way Glee does.

As you’ll see in the article, the “breakup” of Steve Levitan and Chris “The Other Christopher” Lloyd won’t actually change anything about the show or the way it’s produced. They were two non-partners who decided to form a joint production company because they could no longer get big juicy studio deals as solo writers; now that they have a hit show, they can go off and start developing new projects on their own.

Modern Family has been, and will continue to be, a show produced by two separate writer-producers rather than a producing team. Levitan and Lloyd write episodes separately and, it is said, take turns running episodes (though this is  not an unprecedented arrangement even for actual teams).  Which sounds a bit like the way things are on Glee, mentioned in the article as the Fox studio’s other big new hit from last season. Many people, including Jane Lynch, have pointed out that Glee has three creators and each one of them sees the show a bit differently, so that the show’s tone and approach change depending on who wrote this week’s episode.

So now I feel I should take a closer look at Modern Family to figure out if there is a difference between “Lloyd” episodes and “Levitan” episodes. I’m sure a difference could be found, though it should probably be done by a big fan of the show — and only then with some knowledge of who takes the lead in producing which episode. Here’s how Levitan described the arrangement:

We’ve also devised a system, at least for Season 1, where we alternated showrunning, essentially. I had the final say on the odd episodes; he had the final say on the even episodes. So he would be on the set for his episodes and I’d be on the set for mine.

I don’t know if the tension between Lloyd and Levitan accounts for the problems I find (personally) in the show, the sense that it’s polished to a fault and doesn’t feel very spontaneous. Back To You had the same issues, with Lloyd’s dry theatricality battling it out with Levitan’s nastier humour and ending up on unsatisfyingly mushy middle ground. And it may be that Out of Practice worked better for me because Lloyd created it with a more temperamentally congenial partner (Joe Keenan).

But it may also be — and in fact I’d say this is more likely — that I’m taking my view of the shows and then looking retroactively for some piece of behind-the-scenes information to justify it. That’s the danger of trying to use “industry info” as an explanation of what it’s like to watch a show.

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