Art im­i­tat­ing life

Sit­com fam­i­lies in­spired by real-life fam­i­lies.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Tv - By LUAINE LEE

AS far back as Leave It To Beaver, the fam­ily com­edy has sup­ported the back­bone of prime­time TV. Peo­ple can iden­tify with shows like Mod­ern Fam­ily, The Mid­dle and Black-ish be­cause the prob­lems fac­ing the sit­com fam­ily of­ten re­flect what’s hap­pen­ing in their own homes.

Eileen Heisler, co-writer with DeAnn He­line of The Mid­dle ,says she knows the feel­ing. “I think it’s won­der­ful when you’re in the mid­dle of some­thing re­ally hellish, when you want to kill your child at times, and a lit­tle piece of you just steps out and says, ‘I’m hat­ing this now, but it’s go­ing to be re­ally fun when I write it.’ So I’d say the kids are the great in­spi­ra­tion.”

Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Steve Levitan, who com­man­deers Mod­ern Fam­ily, agrees. “So many ideas have come to me per­son­ally in deal­ing with kids, in a mo­ment, in some sort of a funny sit­u­a­tion,” he says.

“My kids start talk­ing about some­thing, or an ar­gu­ment breaks out, or what­ever it is, and I’d start to just grab for my phone and start writ­ing it down, be­cause I’m, like, ‘This is go­ing to be great di­a­logue,’” he laughs.

“And it of­ten leads to some­thing good. But I’m also al­ways amazed at the power of a good writ­ers’ room. You come in with a lit­tle no­tion of some­thing, and you put it on the ta­ble in front of all these re­ally tal­ented peo­ple, it starts to build on it­self and some­body comes up with, ‘Oh, that re­minds me of this and this.’

“It’s just that Mod­ern Fam­ily is the re­sult of so many re­ally smart peo­ple throw­ing their lives and their fam­i­lies at a chal­lenge. And I think that’s why maybe it res­onates so much, be­cause we’re bring­ing so much of OUR lives.”

Be­cause these fam­ily sit­u­a­tions are so univer­sal, the cre­ators are of­ten ac­cused of be­ing mired in the past. “The net­work would say, ‘Peo­ple think your show is in the 1970s’,” re­calls Heisler. “Like, ‘Oops.’ I think it’s be­cause it stemmed from our mem­o­ries.

“I guess it’s such a tiny thing of the times that I think in­flu­enced us when we were cre­at­ing the show ... the house was a two-hand-four­hand house of two par­ents, both par­ent­ing equally. And that was re­ally im­por­tant to us. That maybe was a lit­tle bit of a re­bel­lion ... That’s a sign of these times ver­sus those times we grew up with.”

“Back then every­one had to be mil­que­toast,” adds He­line. “And we have a mum who some­times maybe makes the wrong de­ci­sion some­times. Some­times she’s self­ish.

“Some­times she says, ‘My kids are weird. It’s driv­ing me crazy.’ You know, what­ever it is, I think that now fam­i­lies (on TV) are al­lowed to be a lot more real than they were back then.”

Work­ing with child ac­tors can be tu­mul­tuous be­cause they are con­stantly grow­ing and chang­ing. “We found on our show that even though it was scary to think about things hap­pen­ing like them go­ing to col­lege – and I never like change and it’s al­ways re­ally fright­en­ing – then it starts to make you re­alise that they lead you to more sto­ries,” says Heisler, who has worked with He­line since col­lege on shows like Mur­phy Brown and How I Met Your Mother.

“The scari­est thing was the year that At­ti­cus (Shaffer, who plays Brick on The Mid­dle) came back and his voice was this de-eeep voice, and that was prob­a­bly our scari­est mo­ment. Be­cause peo­ple were like, ‘Did you hear At­ti­cus?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, my God. Like, the show is just over. What are you go­ing to do?’

“And he tried to kind of talk in a higher voice and that didn’t work ei­ther, and it was just re­ally scary. It was like real-ado­les­cence and show-ado­les­cence at the same time, says Heisler.

“We all kind of had to get used to what the new voice sounded like, and he had to sort of feel the char­ac­ter in his new body and voice, and then you’re golden. But it’s cer­tainly not as easy as an­i­mated char­ac­ters.” – Tri­bune News Ser­vice

— Pho­tos: Hand­outs

‘10 things I hate about stand­ing on the bal­cony.’

— Pho­tos: Hand­outs

‘So many ideas have come to me per­son­ally in deal­ing with (my) kids,’ says Levitan, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of Mod­ern Fam­ily.

The Mid­dle has been re­newed for a ninth sea­son, which will also be its last.

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