15 Surprising Facts About Modern Family

ABC
ABC

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.

YouTube

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.

YouTube

Many shows use the same prop newspaper because all of the photos and text have been cleared, legally. 

YouTube

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.

In 2010, the “Let Cam & Mitchell Kiss on Modern Family!” Facebook petition was launched. In September of that year, the characters kissed on camera for the first time in the background of a scene.

15. LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA HAD A PRE-HAMILTON CAMEO.

YouTube

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!”

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER