Thursday, January 13, 2011

Writing a Modern Family Episode: Part I - things to consider.

Well, it won the Comedy series Emmy so let's pay more attention to Modern Family:

Originally posted by me on:

I managed to write a Modern Family spec recently and made some observations about what works and what doesn't work on the show. I thought it would be nice if I'd share them here.

This is obviously not a complete list but I hope the reader nevertheless finds these tips helpful. Crucial points while writing a script in my opinion are:

1) Interviews shouldn’t be used after the cold open.
2) Don’t put too many characters in one place / episode.
3) Cam & Mitch are the funny characters.
4) Avoid story arcs that are too convoluted.
5) Don’t run out of your story too early.
6) Try to avoid storylines that don’t add up & forced happy endings.

1) Interviews are okay and sometimes really funny. However, they mainly serve as expositionary devices. They also slow down the episode and pull you out of the story. So if you use these later in the episode, the chances are overwhelmingly that you’re making a really big mistake.

2) Having too many main characters in the same scene/room is a big problem too. It makes the show feel directionless and even claustrophobic. That’s why I’d recommend to avoid the Dunphy house as much as possible (yikes!).

You should also limit the amount of main characters in your episode to give your episode some clarity. I dropped the kids from my spec script by the way.

Having said that, it’s okay to use guest stars and one/two line part characters. Also, make them go to new places as much as possible – because unlike in the multicam sitcoms – in this format they can and should go.

3) About Cam & Mitchell. These two are the best part of the show. Eric Stonestreet is the funniest guy on tv. Mitch and Cam are believable, relatable, refreshing and charming. In short, they are the main reason that the show won the comedy series Emmy.

If you don’t have them in funny situations and making funny comments, you’re script is toast. The rest are very hard to make funny so pay attention to the gay couple.

4) Convoluted storylines: there was this one episode that looked like it was going to have a solid beginning, middle and an end. However, the episode fell apart when it came to the resolution of the Claire/Haley watching tv in the bed together.

We had two other separate storylines that were going on and then there was this storyline where Haley thought that Claire was talking about herself (mom) and Claire thought that Haley was talking about herself (daughter). It was way too convoluted.

The point here is that you have to keep the storylines simple and straightforward. If you don’t, your script won’t work.

5) Story runs out too early: remember the episode where Mitch dressed as a spiderman at his work? Mitch in the booth wearing the costume trying to hide from his co-workers. Hilarious, absolutely great stuff.

Except that the episode continued for like 7 minutes after the climax. I think this was another of those “Claire has a thing for” episodes. The halloween scene after that at Dunphys’ was painful, miserable and tedious. Avoid mistakes like these.

6) Finally, the most problematic part of the show in my opinion: an emotional wrap in at least half of the episodes that we have seen. It almost always comes out of nowhere.

The characters haven’t learned anything in the episode or they might be at each others throats – but 15 seconds later a voice over or a couch interview or some kind of a montage with music resolves it all. Don’t do this unless you and the characters on the show have earned it.

Part II coming up soon!

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