Levitan Expects To Get His Butt Kicked

ABC’s Modern Family, which bows Sept. 23 at 9 p.m., has been one of the best-reviewed shows of broadcast’s new class. It brought down the house during upfront week, when the network boldly showed the entire pilot to huge laughs at Lincoln Center in New York.

But it has not gotten anywhere near the promotion that ABC has given fellow Wednesday night rookie Cougar Town and its recognizable sitcom star, Courteney Cox. Needing to launch an entirely new comedy block, the network’s marketers put their muscle behind the former Friends star.

Modern Family—which stars Ed O’Neill as the patriarch of an eclectic brood that includes a same-sex couple who recently adopted a baby girl from Vietnam, and O’Neill’s own recent marriage to a Latina many years his junior—also has formidable competition from Fox’s Glee, NBC’s still-strong Law & Order: SVU and CBS’ reliable performer Criminal Minds.

So creator Steve Levitan, who has been in the broadcast TV trenches going on a couple of decades, is keeping his expectations in check. “I fully expect us to get our butts kicked on Wednesday,” he says.

Levitan stressed that he’s happy with ABC’s promotional efforts for the show, which were limited by the fact that Modern Family does not have a big, marketable star to drive awareness (like Cox) or a premise easily distilled into an instantly recognizable tagline (ABC has come up with “Three Households. One Unique Family.”) “I think it’s smart of ABC to build a comedy block,” Levitan says. “I think as long as they’re patient and their expectations are acceptably low, we’ll be fine.”

Levitan knows that changing people’s viewing habits is a directive that requires a measure of patience. And, he adds, he and ABC president Steve McPherson are on the same page on that one.

“I do believe that ABC and Steve specifically get it,” Levitan says. “I don’t think that if we come on and don’t do that well immediately, he’s going to panic and pull us.”