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This story first appeared in the Feb. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Producer-director-writer Steve Levitan, co-creator of the Emmy-winning ABC comedy Modern Family, will be honored at NATPE/Content First in Miami Beach, Fla., with a Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award and appear Jan. 29 with Frasier co-creator Peter Casey to discuss the evolution of TV.
The Hollywood Reporter: The economic model for TV is now tied into social media and other platforms. How does this impact you?
Steve Levitan: It doesn’t affect the actual job, the most important job, of telling good stories in a compelling way. It affects the part adjacent to the job. You now interact with fans a bit more than we did before. Twitter is a chance to receive immediate feedback and connect with fans. DVR plays a huge role in ratings and consequently our success.
THR: How much of Modern Family viewing is on the DVR?
Levitan: It’s very significant for us — often this season we have jumped to No. 1 when you factor in DVRs. It used to be, if you were unlucky enough to be against a juggernaut like American Idol, you were going to get gobbled up. Now people will watch you the next day or later that night, and you have a much better chance of reaching that audience. You might not reach them the first night, but you’re going to reach a bigger audience now.
THR: Do tweets and other input from social media change things in the writers room?
Levitan: We will often turn to Twitter: “Did people like that story line?” “Did people get that joke we thought no one would understand?” If you start hearing, “Wow, the show just isn’t funny,” it can potentially get you to worry or work harder. Fortunately, we haven’t gotten to that point yet. The key is to try and look for patterns, a strong sense of feedback, rather than taking to heart what a few people might say.
THR: New technology defines how your show is distributed. What about how it is created?
Levitan: It doesn’t really change anything. The job is exactly the same as it was when they were doing I Love Lucy — and that is to make the funniest, most compelling show you can so people will want to watch it no matter how they are able to watch it. And it always will be, by the way. Good storytelling, good characters, good actors, good writers — that’s what matters.
THR: There’s heightened controversy over the depiction of guns on TV. Modern Family might not have gun violence, but you work in a medium that does.
Levitan: I’m very much in favor of stricter gun laws; it’s an important subject to me. Producers need to consider the ramifications of the acts of violence they portray. I’m often amazed at the notes we get about, “Oh, my God, there’s a side boob,” or “You can’t say Jesus Christ,” but you can depict a graphic murder. It’s bizarre to me you can’t see the suggestion of someone’s naked butt, but you can depict a serial killer’s heinous crimes.
THR: What about sex?
Levitan: We know there are 8-year-olds watching the show, so we try to search for the “real” of a moment. Sometimes that might be a bit shocking, but we try to have those come from family and kids. In the episode where the kids walk in on Phil and Claire having sex, that’s a thing that happens in families, so it’s OK to deal with it.
THR: Modern Family is one of the top shows in the 18-to-49 demo. How old are you?
Levitan: Fifty. I’m now out of my own demographic.
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