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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Modern Family 1x01 - Pilot

Hello folks!  Today I'm tackling a half-hour comedy known as Modern Family.  You may have heard of it.

What we have here is a Revised Second Draft, dated December 9th, 2008 and written by Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd  (download here).  What's interesting about this script is the original title for the show:

"My American Family"

It's a cute title, but I can completely understand why it was changed -- Modern Family just encapsulates the show so much better (and I'm sure it's a much easier sell on the International markets).

Another interesting thing about this show is that this is a 31 page script with four Act breaks (4/11/10/6).  I always thought that it was sort of pushing it to get three act breaks into a half hour show, but here they manage to get four in and it doesn't seem too incredibly rushed.

In fact, one of the great things about this script is that even thought it moves along at a decent clip, every character has a small moment to shine -- it's not a ton, but it's fantastic in that every character gets a scene that completely tells you who they are.

ie:
INT. STAIRWAY -- DAY
Luke has his head stuck between the railings.  Phil rubs baby oil on the railings and on Luke's head.

PHIL
Why do you keep doing this?

LUKE
I thought I could get out this time.

*blink*

Okay, if that doesn't give you the dime tour for who Luke is... man, I don't know what to tell you.

And the whole script is like this, a fantastic economy of character moments -- just exactly what you need to know about these people when you need to know it.  Add in that the script itself is pretty funny -- grin funny, not laugh out loud funny -- and has some nice character chemistry and I can understand how this became a hit (though the actors really did take this script and push it to the next level, in my humble opinion).

It's got a little something for everyone.

And yet this draft is still a quite a bit different from the episode that made it to air.  Even without watching the pilot I can tell you that a good amount of dialogue's been changed -- but one thing that really stuck out, one thing that I immediately noticed that this draft is missing (the one thing that really made Modern Family the 'Modern Family' we saw on the air) was this:

It didn't have the warm 'we belong together in spite of our differences' family moment.  In fact, this draft actually had the complete opposite of that, ending after sort of a nasty moment where Claire is criticizing everyone behind her family's back to Mitchell and everyone overhears them.

Wow.

It's pretty neat to get this sort of peek behind the curtain, to see what would become a hit show still in it's raw, unfinished form, to see spots where they zigged but then went back and decided to zag. 

There's a lot here that made the cut, but a quite a bit of stuff that didn't -- that was replaced with much better content (including Jay's memorable final speech at the end -- the thing that made me first love the show).


In the end, I think my only concern with this script mostly translates to the concern I've had for the show, having watched it regularly since the pilot:  With so many characters, so much story to try and fit into twenty-two minutes and four act breaks, I worry about things starting to get too shallow.  This story, as they all are, are nice, light and breezy... but I wonder how long they can stay that way.  There's not a whole lot of room to dive deeper.

But then again, that's really a wonderful problem to have, isn't it? -- to be on the air so long that you start to run out of stories?

There certainly are worse fates.

Tomorrow I'm reading Pushing Daisies 1x01 - Pilot.  I somehow managed to miss this show when it was on the air, but it got a ton of critical love... so I'm looking forward to it.

Cheers!
Brandon

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