7 Ways CBS' 'Life in Pieces' Is Like 'Modern Family'

Showrunner Justin Adler says his CBS comedy is inspired by ... 'Looney Tunes.'
Courtesy of ABC/CBS
'Modern Family' season 1, left, and 'Life in Pieces'

In terms of family comedy, ABC's Modern Family set a pretty high bar when it debuted in 2009. Between Emmy noms, wins and ratings that eventually went on to solidify ABC’s family friendly comedy block on Wednesdays, Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd found a winning format.

Six years later, CBS is looking to get into the same game. When Life in Pieces premieres on Monday, Sept. 21 in the prime post-Big Bang Theory slot, it will be the network’s latest attempt to launch a single-camera comedy in the wake of one-and-done half-hours Bad Teacher, The Crazy Ones and We Are Men.

It’s also the most like Modern Family of any other pilot to bow during those six years, despite creator/showrunner Justin Adler (Better Off Ted, Samantha Who) telling The Hollywood Reporter that he’s never seen the series. In his mind, the series is inspired by Looney Tunes in terms of telling four stories per episode in mini-vignettes, but he is aware of the comparison to the ABC comedy. “At this point I actually like that I haven’t seen it, because now I feel like I’m making this in a vacuum, in a sense,” he said.

To compare:

1. Both series (sort of) break the fourth

Whereas Modern Family is direct in how it breaks the wall, often leaning into the mockumentary style to drive the humor, Life in Pieces presents each of its vignettes in theater style. Each component is broken up with a title card that lends the sense that the subsequent presentation is being performed in front of a live audience.  

2. Both involve smaller stories revolving around a large, complex family

Much like Modern Family, Life in Pieces features a patriarch with two adult children who are married with kids of their own, though the CBS entry also features another single adult son (The Newsroom’s Thomas Sadoski). Another key difference is that the father in this series (James Brolin) is still married to his original wife (Dianne Wiest), and not a younger woman like Sofia Vergara's Gloria.

3. Both hail from the same studio

20th Century Fox Television, to be exact.

4. Both feature adult daughters with similar families

Modern Family’s Claire (Julie Bowen) is married to a goofier man in Phil (Ty Burrell), and together they have three children: two daughters and a son.

Life in Pieces’ Heather (Betsy Brandt) is married to a goofier man in Tim (Dan Bakkedahl), and together they have three children: two daughters and a son.

5. Both jam a lot of story into 22 minutes

In any given episode of Modern Family there are three or four competing stories that somehow tie up into one big narrative by the end of the half-hour. In Life in Pieces’ pilot there is a bad date, a birthing scene, a couple sending their kid off to scout colleges and then a cumulative funeral scene in which viewers learn that everyone is related. The idea is to maintain that four-stories-per-episode pacing moving forward.

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6. Both pilots were directed by Jason Winer

Winer helmed more than 20 episodes of Modern Family before stepping in to do the Life in Pieces pilot.

7. Both feature (or plan to feature) notable guest-stars in recurring roles

Modern Family has welcomed back recurring guest-stars in all of its main characters’ storylines over the years. Nathan Lane’s Pepper has been a constant presence for Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cam (Eric Stonestreet); Andrea Anders and Steve Zahn have antagonized Claire and Phil; and Chazz Palminteri’s Shorty character has been known to knock back a few drinks with Jay (Ed O’Neill).

Adler plans the same type of universe for his guest-star characters on Life in Pieces. “We have started to evolve and develop satellite shows within our series,” he said. “Someone has a job where we can create a little mini-office comedy within our bigger family show, and return to that world to tell stories of that office and flesh out those office characters. We can do the same thing with the kids at school, for example.”

Life in Pieces debuts on Monday, Sept. 21 at 8:30 p.m. on CBS.

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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