It all ended with a big hug. ABC’s Modern Family wrapped its 11-season run with two back-to-back episodes which introduced a new Pritchett baby and new beginnings for all the characters. It featured a big family and friends celebration and a long group hug of the entire Pritchett clan, showing just how much the world has changed in just a few weeks between the time the finale was filmed and the time it aired at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. when everyone is urged to stay at home and practice social distancing.
Since early in the show’s run, Modern Family co-creators Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd have been working separately, each overseeing every other episode. That continued til the end, with Levitan and a team of writers penning the penultimate episode, directed by Levitan, and Lloyd and another group of writers penning the Gail Mancuso-directed last one whose several group hugs were reminiscent of the iconic The Mary Tyler Moore series finale, co-written by Lloyd’s father, David Lloyd.
In the second to last episode, Phil and Claire go from being squeezed out of their own house by their three grown-up children, as well as Haley’s husband Dylan and their twins, all living under their roof, to becoming empty nesters when Haley and Dylan find their own place (It is revealed at the end of the series finale that it’s Mitch and Cam’s old house), Alex’s new job takes her to Switzerland, and Luke gets into an Oregon college.
Mitch and Cam’s house-warming/baby-reveal party takes a surprise turn when Cam receives a call that the dream Missouri coaching job he lost out on is now his. While there already has been a lot of change in their lives with the adoption of their newborn son and the move to a new house, Mitch supports his husband’s dream and agrees to move.
The final half-hour is one long goodbye — Cam and Mitch stop by Claire and Phil’s house where all Pritchetts have gathered to bid them farewell. They have one emotional parting, and a second, and a third when, every time Cam, Mitch and their kids head to the door to go to the airport, they get a flight delay alert.
Fittingly, both parts of the hourlong finale were a throwback to the pilot in their own way. The structure of the penultimate half-hour mirrored the pilot as it followed the hectic lives of the three Pritchett families who converge at Cam and Mitch’s house in the end to meet their new baby. Meanwhile, the last episode featured exactly the same characters as the pilot, in which Reid Ewing (Dylan) was a guest star (plus the kids born during the series’ run.) “The pilot and the finale are bracketed that way by Haley and Dylan moments,” Lloyd said of the parallel.
The finale tried to give all main characters a moment, with many different pairings getting a final scene. Meanwhile, the second to last episode featured two of Modern Family‘s favorite recurring characters, Sal (Elizabeth Banks) and Ronaldo (Christian Barillas).
In separate interviews with Deadline, Levitan and Lloyd spoke about the surreal timing of the finale, what would’ve happened if they hadn’t been able to wrap production on the 18-episode final season before all Hollywood production shut down over the pandemic, why they opted against flash-forwards for the characters, and how they envision the characters’– and their own — futures.
On that note Levitan and Lloyd weighed in on a possible Mitch & Cam in Missouri spinoff and other potential offshoots, shared their favorite Modern Family experiences and reflected on the series’ legacy as an Emmy juggernaut and milestone in LGBTQ on-screen representation.
DEADLINE: Have you thought about how the hugs in the finale would play in a time of social distancing?
LEVITAN: Yes, immediately. that’s the first thing I thought of, that, through the prism of this virus, the finale’s final moment is going to look very odd. But it just goes to show you how fast things are changing in our world. A month ago, this was a perfectly normal thing to do, and now it’s completely abnormal. Very strange.
LLOYD: Of course I think about that. I also think about the fact that if we had gone a regular season — we were doing 22-24 episodes a season prior to this year, when we did 18 — we would have been in this strange position of probably shooting right up until the last one and then taking a break for who knows how long, six months, before our finale would have aired.
That’s a surreal thought. Who knows, with no shows in production we might have taken that opportunity to say well, why don’t we just come back and do another season next year and finish it up then?
DEADLINE: Are you tempted to do another season? Do you have more stories to tell?
LLOYD: It’s certainly tempting because we have such a great group. We had a wonderful cast, we had a reliable, excellent, top-notch writing staff, it was a great place to go to work, people for the most part enjoyed each other’s company, and we were proud of the product we were making. Look, no one foresaw this, and altogether it was the right decision to end after 11 years which is 250 episodes. That’s a long run in any era, a particularly long run in the era we’re living in now where a Netflix show that runs 40 episodes is considered a marathon. So I don’t think we will look back on it as a bad decision.
LEVITAN: I don’t feel like I left anything on the table. I personally don’t go like, oh, if only we had another season we could get into this or that. I feel like we made a really nice show that entertained a lot of people, that brought some joy and laughter into people’s lives, and it was time to go.
DEADLINE: Chris, can you break down the finale? It looked like you were going through the different combinations of characters and trying to create a moment for every pair.
LLOYD: There was a lot of conversation about how to bring it all around. The guiding principle for me at least was that a good ending is really a good beginning, and we should be sending all of these characters off to do lives that the audience will be happy imagining them on the new journeys. Given that we had people moving on, Mitch and Cam going to the Midwest, Alex moving to Europe, Luke going off to college in a different state, Manny going around the world for a year, there’s a lot of change.
So what we were really examining was the dissolution of this family unit that had been together for 11 years. and we wanted to both have some important goodbyes between Claire and Mitchell, Phil and Jay, Gloria and Cam. But, more importantly, we also needed everyone to have a chance to say goodbye to the family, sort of a joint goodbye to this unit that they have really come to lean on and that they know will never be in the same constitution again.
And in so doing it, it gives the audience a chance to say goodbye to the family as a whole, too, that this group — they’ll be around each other, in each other’s lives, but it will never be a day-to-day solid unit again after this moment.
That was the main thing we wanted to craft. There was a lot of conversation about how to make that into a story, so that’s where the ideas, like having the aborted goodbyes came to be, that they start out very sentimental and then halfway through the day they’re all like, all right, can we just say goodbye already. It seemed a funny way to take the over sentimentality out of the moment.
DEADLINE: Was the long family hug an homage to The Mary Tyler Moore finale, which your father co-wrote?
LLOYD: There may have been a bit of homage in there…mostly it was a chance for our characters to do what we hope our audience does…give this family a last hug before a goodbye.
DEADLINE: Steve, the penultimate episode featured the introduction to the family of Mitch and Cam’s new baby. Despite Cam experimenting with ways to top the Lion King moment for Lily, there was no big reveal for her little brother. Why was that?
LEVITAN: Well, because we did the Lion King moment with Haley’s kids last year, we felt like going to that a third time was probably too much. I always felt like the end of last season, that moment would have been a nice bookend for the show but we decided to do this 11th season.
DEADLINE: You never know how long exactly a show will go, but was the current series finale ending something that you had envisioned early on? Did you always know that Cam and Mitch will go to Missouri?
LEVITAN: It wasn’t always. I think it’s the last year or two when we started to think that that was a potential thing to happen. Like I said, another potential event for the ending would have been the birth of the next generation as Haley and Dylan had their baby. I honestly thought that season 10 would be it, and then we got Haley pregnant so we couldn’t stop that train once it was going when we decided to do one more season.
So we needed another version of an ending and, I’m just speaking for myself, I really like show finales where there’s some sense of goodbye, where the characters are experiencing what the audience is experiencing in saying goodbye to some people or characters that they love.
DEADLINE: But Mitch and Cam in Missouri also is a potential spinoff idea that has been talked about for years. Did that play at all into the decision to send them off there?
LEVITAN: No. At the moment I’m personally not thinking about that. I think that there are a couple of writers who are thinking about well, is there a Mitch and Cam spinoff, but they’re literally just thinking about it. They’re using this time that we have now to think about it, if there’s something there. I’m not driving this but I’m a huge fan of Jesse and Eric, and those characters are of course near and dear to me, and I certainly think that they’re strong enough to carry a show. For me, I really felt that what I needed creatively was to work on something new after working on Modern Family for 12 years and pretty much exclusively.
LLOYD: No. We wanted to have them off on a new journey, and it seemed symmetrical to have Mitchell follow Cam some place and maybe be around Cam’s family because Cam had played that role in Mitchell’s life for the last 11 years. Cam had this opportunity to do something wonderful and exciting, Mitchell felt okay, that makes my obligation to let him chase his dream, and I will go with him and see what that life is like for me.
Now having said that yes, it does present a possibility for us. Will that happen? I’m not sure but we would be probably dumb to not explore it. However, doing a spinoff is fraught in a lot of ways and we won’t do it unless we feel confident there’s something there, I don’t want to say it’s a long shot, it’s under discussion but we’ll see. We don’t want to jump into something like that, particularly because Modern Family is a tough act to follow, but that is a possibility.
DEADLINE: Any other spinoff possibilities you would like to pursue, like Haley and Dylan as a new family or empty nesters Phil and Claire on an RV trip?
LLOYD: I would be thrilled to follow any of those people. I have enjoyed living with those characters for a long time. I would love to see what happens to Phil and Claire in that RV, and I would love to know what Dylan and Haley’s life is like as they turn into Phil and Claire, but in some ways, that’s what the audience will do. That’s the reason that you send people on new journeys because the audience can then almost take over the writing for you and they get to imagine what those new episodes would be.
DEADLINE: For yourself, do you have ideas what might be next for each of the characters?
LLOYD: I haven’t written these never-to-be-aired episodes in my head. I have thoughts, I think that Alex, she probably will grow living in Europe and kind of become…she’s always been a little bit estranged from the family, maybe a little bit more in that direction but always with a feeling of obligation to check in on people and be a reliable one in the family.
I think if I’m projecting, I think they’ll get together for Thanksgiving and Christmas and eventually weddings and all of that, but they are, like I said, off on new journeys. Luke is finally going to a four-year college, he might mature and find himself in a new industry. Back at home Phil partnering with Gloria in the real estate business is interesting to think about.
DEADLINE: Why didn’t you do the type of flash-forward many shows end with; did you deliberately want to leave the door open to revisit the show one day or for potential spinoffs, so you don’t lock yourself into what happens to the characters?
LEVITAN: I think there was a pitch that there was a shot from the future. Ultimately we decided not to do that. I think what we tried to do was let the audience know that there were good things in store for these characters and let their imaginations fill in the rest.
LLOYD: Flash-forward seemed like a terrible idea to me because that’s science fiction where you’re time traveling, so we didn’t go too far down that road. But it’s hard and there were a lot of good (finale) ideas that were proposed and were considered. We chose to give space in the episode for several pairings. The three kids had a moment, Claire and Mitch had a moment, Jay and Phil had a moment, Gloria and Cam had a moment, but you could just as easily I suppose have said the moment should be between Jay and Claire or Jay and Mitchell, or the parents and the Dunphy kids. We just had to choose which goodbyes we wanted to give the spotlight to, and those were the ones that we settled on. I think it was nice to have the kids, the kids who have been through a lot of adventures together, to give them a private moment.
There’s a nice private moment between Phil and Claire where they were in the upstairs bedroom which is now empty and they were reflecting back over the last 20 years of their life and that seemed right. Sure, it would have been nice to have another 15 minutes of airtime to give a few more people a few more pairings, maybe a final moment, but then you get into an issue of well, when is a finale just too long. I feel like we accomplished it in a fairly short and sweet way and that’s better as far as I’m concerned.
DEADLINE: Looking back, what will you miss the most and what would you remember the most from your years on Modern Family? What were some of your favorite type of episodes or stories?
LLOYD: What I will miss personally is the day. You get to go to work with people who are smart and creative, interesting, usually quite funny, you get to make something together, and that’s about all you can ask for in life. You are around people who stimulate you, and you make something better with them than you could make on your own. That’s just a creative experience I will miss.
In terms of the show, I love some of our flat-out farces because those are difficult to pull off and they’re audience favorites, I love our Las Vegas episode, we did one this year, we brought Stephen Merchant back, those were fun. But probably my favorites are the ones that have a mixture of comedy and some pathos to them, there’s quite a few of those that have something that touches you in a way you didn’t expect to be touched in the episode.
We did one where Phil and Haley go to try to repair Lily’s broken doll but in the course of it Phil comes to learn that Haley’s no longer a virgin and in discussing the doll he sort of works out his feelings about his daughter and this passage in life. It’s a funny episode but in that moment quite touching, that would be an example. Some of the Clive and Juliana stories were my favorites because it was so fun to see those characters (Phil and Claire) in their alter egos but it also gave a little insight into the genuine love that they had for each other. Those were sweet.
The Mitch and Cam wedding episode was nice for us because we saw a nice moment where Jay rose to the occasion and walked Mitchell down the aisle. It was nice for cultural reasons, that we saw gay marriage on television. But there are also smaller episodes that had a lot of emotions in them and there’s one I can remember where Haley was dating an older guy, played by Jason Mantzouka, just to be rebellious, and Claire was advising Phil to not take the bait and to act like everything was fine. He finally says, how can I not say something, this is my little girl, I’d do anything for her, and Haley’s there to observe it, and it wound up being a very sweet moment between the two of them.
LEVITAN: We had a wonderful time working together and I can point to certain moments or experiences, like the Emmys, that I’ll never forget. The trips were very special. We got to go to a lot of incredible places together, Hawaii, Australia, Paris, Wyoming, Lake Tahoe, that’s an unusual thing for a network comedy to do on a fairly regular basis.
Some of those were really big, ambitious shoots and we had a great time doing them. This year, for example. in Paris, what was so exciting and great about that was we took everybody on the crew, whether we’re going to use you or not, you’re invited, and we’re paying for you. There were so many people on the crew who had never been out of the country, and I can remember some people coming up to me while we were in Paris and, with tears in their eyes saying, I never in my life thought I would be here and I can’t believe I am. Those kinds of experiences are what I will always remember.
I built a tremendous sense of pride that we did good work for a long time and the incredible sense of closeness with the number of writers who contributed so much of their own lives to the show, some of them from the very beginning. It’s been an amazing time.
DEADLINE: What is next for you?
LLOYD: Well, I don’t know, I don’t think any of us is going back to anything too soon, but look, I’ve been doing it for 35 years so it’s hard to imagine a life where I don’t. I have a couple things that are in early stages, and I hope that those come to fruition in some form. I am intrigued personally by the idea of doing a shorter-order thing, but having said that, I’ve worked in network television for 35 years, so I feel like I know that world and that form and I may stay there, or may do a combination of the two. But for the moment, I’m trying to clear my head a little bit.
LEVITAN: I’m in the process of working out a bunch of other ideas, I’m working with a couple people, we’re writing a pilot right now our first draft is almost done on that. I’m currently at creative meetings on that, and I think, at last tally, it was three or four other shows. So I’m trying to keep my days filled, it keeps me from going crazy; I think yesterday I had six and a half hours of Zoom video conferences on three different projects.
DEADLINE: And are you done with family comedy for the moment, are you looking to do something completely different?
LEVITAN: I’m not even thinking about it in those terms. The first project I’m working on, there are a lot of family elements to it but it’s wildly different in tone and in subject matter and yes, it’s the first thing I wanted to do.
DEADLINE: What are your hopes for the finale in the context of the time it’s airing in?
LEVITAN: We’ve always tried to do a show that made people laugh, that brought joy to people. I think it’s interesting that our finale is airing in such a turbulent time for this world. I just hope that when people are in need for a little joy, people are scared or grieving or lonely, that this finale brings them a little bit of joy.
LLOYD: I think that Modern Family always had an appeal to people and families because it was a little more sophisticated than most family shows. Family shows typically were kind of gooey and a little bit more into the kids than the parents, and then adult comedy on television more often would be a workplace comedy or something that kids didn’t have too much interest in, so we attempted to write something that could appeal broadly to basically the whole family and not in a wholesome way necessarily but in an honest way, and I think that through our 11 years families would watch it together and people did enjoy that experience of watching a show that there was something in that show for everyone.
And I hope that the same thing happens with our finale at a time when people are stuck in their houses and a little scared and a little anxious, that this episode will give them a chance to laugh and maybe have a last moment with these characters that they enjoy and could give them 30 minutes or an hour of distraction from the tough times we’re at. That would be great for us as a show to know that we could have maybe lifted people’s spirits even for an hour in the midst of this, that would be great.
Ahead of tonight’s finale, Modern Family was recognized by Disney executive chairman Bob Iger:
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