Ty Burrell: 'Modern Family' Helps Move Gay Rights Forward

The Whole 'Family'
Kevin Parry

While the writers, including Levitan, often find inspiration for Modern Family from their own experiences with their loved ones, Julie Bowen (Claire) had very strong (read: funny) feelings about Phil's upcoming Disneyland outing in which he gets sick on a roller coaster really being based on events from her life. After Levitan put the kibosh on her theory, on-screen husband Burrell came to her defense. "It waaaaaas," he said to laughs. Added Ed O'Neill (Jay): "Fizbo the Clown in the gas station was me … but it didn't end that way," he joked of the scene in which Cam dressed as his alter-ego defends partner Mitchell.

The Emmy winner tells THR that he thinks shows like his ABC sitcom have the power to help bring about social change, and have done so already.

In this weekend's new comedy Butter, Ty Burrell finds himself in the middle of a thinly-veiled social satire, with a story that takes swings at traditional, prim and proper, conservative midwestern values. The film is a political story thinly-veiled, no question liberal in its perspective, and has sparked partisan debate since its initial premiere 12 months ago.

Whether the film, which features a battle between a rigid white woman and lovable young black girl, will change any minds about affirmative action, race relations and feminism -- the topics it tackles by proxy -- remains to be seen. And while Burrell offers no predictions as to the film's efficacy in advocacy, he does firmly believe that popular culture has the power to shift opinion on hot button social and political issues; as a star of the groundbreaking sitcom Modern Family, he has seen it happen first hand.

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"I have family members that I don’t necessarily need to name, that felt one way [about gay rights] five years ago and feel a different way now," the Emmy-winning actor told The Hollywood Reporter in Manhattan last week. "And I do really think that has something to do -- not just our show, just our general, of seeing, day in and day out, gay people living the same lives as everybody else. And I think that, sort of weirdly enough, that banality, is revolutionary."

The series is a mix of incisive dialogue, sharp storytelling and broad humor about universal conflicts, hardly the recipe for subversive programming. But then, Burrell wagers that it's that formula that make the couple played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet so easily accepted as a main cog in the family-friendly show.

"Just seeing [their characters] Mitch and Cam dealing with the kid trying to sleep, trying to figure out how to dress them for Halloween, fighting about who’s the breadwinner," he explains. "Everything is, other than a few small things, is essentially the same."

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To wit: Last month, Ann Romney the wife of GOP presidential nominee and same-sex marriage opponent Mitt Romney, said that Modern Family is her favorite TV show. Ferguson quipped that she was invited onto the show to officiate Cam and Mitch's wedding, but that she named a show with an open, child-rearing gay couple was a major sign that the gender makeup of the domestic units is truly becoming an afterthought -- at least in the suspended disbelief world of television.

Polls show that the United States is shifting toward acceptance of same-sex marriage, and while anecdotal evidence is hardly proof of a trend, Burrell nonetheless senses the change, even if it's slow -- sometimes very much so.

"I know several conservative people that were saying one thing five years ago, and are now changing their tone," he explained. "Some super conservative people I know are not necessarily prepared to advocate for gay marriage, but I hear them defending gay people. I mean, literally, if something is said about gay people, I have heard those very same people who would have been on that other side of the argument, saying like, ‘Well, you know, it’s not easy for them. They’re trying their best.’ Even if it’s still a little patronizing, it’s changed its tone."

thinks it's ridiculous and silly that her father's having a kid; and at the same time, there's that question: 'Oh God, am I old? And I'm done having babies?'" Julie Bowen tells THR."]