In the fall of 2009, ABC debuted a new sitcom called Modern Family. Except for TV veteran Ed O’Neill, it had no huge stars. And apart from its trendy mockumentary style, it promised no gimmicks. Yet this simple story of three families became a ratings hit and unbeatable Emmy winner for ABC.
1. THERE WAS AN EXPLANATION FOR THE MOCKUMENTARY STYLE.
Why are the Dunphys and Pritchetts always talking to the camera? There’s no reason, but originally, the show had one. Modern Family was initially conceived as a documentary shot by Geert Floorjte, a Dutch filmmaker who had lived with the Pritchetts years ago as a teenage exchange student and came back to the U.S. as an adult to film them. But Geert got cut before Modern Family entered production because show creators Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd (no, not the actor) decided he was unnecessary. The show was simply shot “documentary-style,” without the fictitious camera crew.
2. CRAIG T. NELSON WAS OFFERED THE ROLE OF JAY PRITCHETT.
Like many things in Hollywood, Nelson's decision to pass on the project came down to money. "I really wanted to do Modern Family," Nelson said. "I really liked the script and I liked the people. I just said, ‘You know what? I’ve been doing this too long.’ We’re in the middle of a cutback here, ladies and gentlemen, in Hollywood and salaries have gone way, way down ... I just felt disrespected to tell you the truth." The next year, Nelson signed on for Parenthood.
3. ROB HUEBEL "AGGRESSIVELY TURNED DOWN" THE PART OF PHIL DUNPHY.
Rob Huebel was being considered for the part of Phil Dunphy, but "When I read the script for it, I just hated it," he told Splitsider. "That’s what an idiot I am. It’s the most popular show in the country, and I love that show now ... I’m just a f***in’ idiot because I read the script for it, and I didn’t even go into the audition because I just hated it so much. I told my agent I didn’t just wanna pass on it. I wanted him to call them and aggressively pass, which is not even a real thing." Clearly there were no hard feelings, as Huebel went on to play Glen Whipple, Phil’s nemesis, in one episode—fittingly titled “The One That Got Away."
4. JULIE BOWEN WAS VERY PREGNANT DURING THE FIRST EPISODE.
When Julie Bowen auditioned for the role of Claire Dunphy, she was heavily pregnant with her twin sons Gus and John. Although she was convinced this would take her out of the running, she won the part anyway. But she still hadn’t reached her due date when it came time to shoot the pilot, so she masked her belly with strategic cereal boxes.
5. A SET OF TWINS PLAYED BABY LILY, AND THEY HATED IT.
Speaking of twins: Mitch and Cam’s adopted daughter Lily was initially played by twin sisters Ella and Jaden Hiller. The baby girls appeared in the series for the first two seasons, but acting quickly wore them out. As their mom Michelle explained to Woman’s Day, “Halfway through season two their personalities had started to develop, and it was really clear to us that they weren’t enjoying their time on set. So we told the producers the girls wouldn’t be coming back.” Those producers apparently tried to sway the Hillers with more money, but they wouldn’t budge. So Aubrey Anderson-Emmons was chosen as a replacement. She has played Lily ever since.
6. ERIC STONESTREET WAS FIZBO THE CLOWN AS A KID.
Stonestreet began dressing up as Fizbo when he was nine years old (his dream was to be a clown in the circus). By the time he was 11, he was performing at kids' birthday parties. "It was my way then as a young man to express my desire to entertain and perform," he told The Kansas City Star. "I didn’t know what I was saying then was that I wanted to be an actor. I had parents, fortunately, who didn’t think I was weird. They thought it was funny and cute and encouraged me to do it. And I had a grandma who would make my costumes." He's not sure where the name Fizbo came from.
7. THE WRITERS WROTE JESSE TYLER FERGUSON’S ATTEMPT AT COMING OUT INTO THE SHOW.
In real life, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (who producers initially wanted for the role of Cameron) had to come out to his father three times in order for him to accept it. So the writers made that part of Mitchell’s story on Modern Family.
8. SOFIA VERGARA THOUGHT ED O’NEILL SPOKE SPANISH.
Sofia Vergara watched Married ... with Children growing up in Colombia, where the voices were dubbed into Spanish. She didn’t realize that it wasn't Ed O’Neill saying Al Bundy’s lines in Spanish, and was surprised to find that he couldn’t speak her native language when they first met. “He had a very sexy Antonio Banderas voice, the guy who was dubbing him,” according to Vergara.
9. O’NEILL’S CHARACTERS HAVE BEEN READING THE SAME NEWSPAPER FOR ALMOST 30 YEARS.
Eagle-eyed viewers noticed that O'Neill's Jay reads the same prop newspaper on Modern Family that O’Neill’s Al Bundy read on Married...with Children.
Many shows use the same prop newspaper because all of the photos and text have been cleared, legally.
10. THERE WAS A SECRET DOG SWITCH.
Jay and Gloria’s dog Stella was played by a French bulldog named Brigitte in seasons two and three, then replaced by another dog named Beatrice. The animal acting agency in charge of subleasing Brigitte dropped her as a client for unknown reasons.
11. LUKE DUNPHY IS ACTUALLY A GENIUS.
Nolan Gould’s character may not be bright, but Gould has been a member of Mensa since he was four years old. He has an IQ of 150 and graduated from high school when he was 13 years old.
12. THE SHOW IS ESPECIALLY POPULAR WITH RICH PEOPLE.
Each year, Nielsen tracks data on TV viewership to find out who’s watching which shows. After the company released its 2015 stats, Vulture discovered this interesting fact: rich people love Modern Family. It was the second most popular show among viewers in the 18-49 age bracket whose households earned an average annual income over $200,000. (The Walking Dead was number one.)
13. THERE’S AN INSIDE JOKE ABOUT ED O’NEILL’S JIU JITSU SKILLS.
In season one, Jay shows off his Brazilian jiu jitsu chops when he puts Mitchell in a sleeper hold. “I learned this choke from the Gracie brothers,” he tells Mitch. Jay is referencing the legendary Gracie martial arts family. The Brazilian clan has produced several generations of competitive fighters, who have passed on their techniques through the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in California. O’Neill is actually a student there. He’s a black belt now, but it took him a while to earn that status. Watch him recap his very first lesson here.
14. THERE WAS A FACEBOOK PETITION FOR MITCHELL AND CAMERON TO KISS.
15. LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA HAD A PRE-
A full four years before Hamilton became the hottest Broadway ticket in town, the Modern Family casting team decided to tap Lin-Manuel Miranda for an episode. Miranda, who was little-known at the time, won casting director Jeff Greenberg over with his impressive knowledge of the show. “He came in and quoted episode after episode, line after line, joke after joke, and we loved him,” Greenberg told The Observer. He gave Miranda a part as Gloria’s dog trainer, and was rewarded handsomely. “Thank God we did [cast him] because now he gets me Hamilton tickets,” Greenberg said. “Lin remembered!”