'Modern Family's' Christopher Lloyd: How the Show Could Have Gone Horribly Wrong

The co-showrunner reflects on all the ways in which he got lucky: "What if Ty Burrell had given up acting as he threatened to do, or if Sofia Vergara had gotten an earlier start on her campaign to rule the world?"
From left: 20th TV's Gary Newman, Chris Lloyd, Steve Levitan, 20th TV's Dana Walden and ABC's Paul Lee celebrate the big event. "If I knew at episode one what I know at 100, I'd have invested every penny I ever made in Tesla Motors," quips Levitan.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

One reaches a point in one's career where the only cake with a "100" on it that one can foresee standing next to is the one they wheel you out to at the Motion Picture Home after wrestling you into the good pajamas and Windexing up the football helmet. So I felt unspeakably lucky a couple weeks ago, standing on our soundstage next to just such a cake. And not for the first time. I get asked a lot what the key is to creating a hit show, and I have a standard answer: Do everything right and then get lucky 10 ways. I'm sure we've exceeded that number.

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What if Ed O'Neill had decided to retire and not do another show? The man does more with a raised eyebrow than most actors do with a soliloquy. What if Julie Bowen (eight months pregnant when we shot the pilot) had been a little more pregnant and out of commission? Who else has that mix of comedic skill and neurotic grace?

What if Sofia Vergara had gotten an earlier start on her campaign to rule the world? What if Ty Burrell had given up acting, as he had threatened to do, or Jesse Tyler Ferguson had sat out that pilot season and gone to New York, as he'd planned to do, or Eric Stonestreet had been cast in a show ahead of ours? I look at these three comic powerhouses and can only imagine the number of producers of failed comedies from the past 10 years who have asked, "How come I never saw that guy?"; how many casting directors must cringe hearing that question?

Where would we be without our immensely talented children? I'm speaking, of course, of Danny Zuker, Dan O'Shannon, Bill Wrubel, Brad Walsh and Paul Corrigan, our deeply stunted original writers (still with us) who've graciously mined their disastrous personal lives for our storytelling purposes. Abraham Higginbotham, Jeffrey Richman, Elaine Ko, Ben Karlin, Megan Ganz -- this was our second wave of maladroit outcasts, and had any one of them not been available, ours would be a vastly lesser show. We are also lucky to have found ourselves at a network that is supportive and unmeddling, a network known to many as ABC and to me as not-Fox.

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My father was a writer on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and at that show's conclusion, a plaque was placed outside of their soundstage that read, "On this stage a group of friends came together and created a classic." We are a long way from achieving "classic" status, but we are doing our best to emulate that ethos.

So I find myself in a place where, with minimal exception, people put themselves second and the show first, where people challenge themselves to do their best professionally, but even more to be friendly and encouraging, and for that I feel lucky every day. A hundred times every day.