In Modern Family, America saw itself reflected on the screen. By shedding light on families with multiple marriages, age gaps, and diversity, the show tackled functional dysfunction and celebrated identity. Audiences have now been cackling at the silly situations the Dunphy and Pritchett families wind up in for over a decade!
Characters are the root of the show: the slapstick self-dubbed “cool dad” Phil Dunphy makes fans smile, and the much younger Columbian stepmother Gloria — along with the uptight happily married gay son Mitchell — warm all viewers’ hearts. So, with such a huge ensemble cast, naturally, a lot happened off camera that factored into the show’s success…
1. Ed Saw Opportunity: When Ed O’Neill — who played Al Bundy in Married… With Children — first read through the Modern Family script, he recognized greatness. So much so that he predicted the show would last ten years. And wouldn’t you know it, it did!
2. Almost Not Phil: Ty Burrell is Phil Dunphy. However, initially, the show’s creators weren’t convinced the actor was right for the part. To test him, they had him and Sarah Hyland act out their father-daughter roles in the creator’s own home.
3. Possible Phils: Other actors could have potentially taken the role of Phil had his audition not gone so hot. Rob Huebel regretted passing up the part, but he scored a spot as Phil’s rival, Glen Whipple. Two other curious choices were Matt Leblanc and Hollywood novelty Brendan Fraser.
4. Sarah’s Health: Her character might be a bit of a shallow teenage goof, but Sarah Hyland has had to face serious personal hardships. In 2012, she received a kidney transplant from her father while battling kidney dysplasia. Unfortunately, her body rejected it, and she had to undergo a second transplant from her brother in 2017.
Sarah Hyland / Instagram
Since the procedure, her health has improved, but her daily life includes regular medication, steroids, and at times, bed rest. Luckily, the show took steps to ensure Sarah’s healing took precedence: the cast and crew wore surgical masks to avoid the possibility of infection.
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5. Jesse Inspired Mitchell: Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s dad had to be told three separate times his son was gay for it to actually stick in his brain. When the writers learned about Jesse’s threefold coming-out story they had to make Mitch do the same.
6. Family Friction: Nowadays, Ariel Winter is an Instagram Queen known for spreading the message of body positivity, but her upbringing wasn’t always been the most supportive. On the set, Ariel’s mother caused a lot of controversy by criticizing her daughter’s weight and acting ability.
Eventually, the cycle of negativity was broken. In 2012, Ariel was removed from her home after claims of emotional and physical abuse were launched against her mother. Thankfully, in 2016, she was granted emancipation from her parents.
Ariel Winter / Instagram
7. Cam The Clown: Long before he ignited spit-takes on primetime, Eric Stonestreet loved the rush of getting a good laugh. With supportive parents and a grandma that was an ace on the sewing machine, he juggled and entertained at local birthday parties as Fizbo The Clown.
8. Wealthy Family: Though it’s unclear why, demographics revealed rich people are big fans of Modern Family. In fact, the show ranked #2 in households earning $200,000 plus annually. The most popular among the well-to-do? The Walking Dead.
9. First Kiss: A casual kiss between Mitch and Cam in the background of a scene was the first kiss by a gay couple to air on primetime television. Pass the tissues, this show’s historical impact can’t be understated!
10. Hiding The Evidence: Julie Bowen auditioned for Claire on the brink of giving birth! In the pilot, cereal boxes conceal her massive belly, as Julie was expecting her twin boys, John and Gus.
11. Natural Blonde: Show makers felt Sofia Vergara’s naturally blonde locks would confuse people, as some viewers might not realize Columbian people are often blonde. Sort of ridiculous to think that’s the reason they dyed her hair darker, but she rocks both!
12. Ju-Jitsu Jay: In season 1, Jay puts Mitchell in a sleeper hold as an example of his Brazilian fighting prowess. He says, “I learned this joke from the Gracie brothers.” In reality, the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy is a popular martial arts studio, where Ed O’Neill actually earned his black belt.
13. Lin Before Hamilton: Back in 2011, fresh off his other smash hit musical In The Heights, Lin Manuel Miranda auditioned for a bit part on Modern Family. Ever the charmer, Lin impressed casting agents with his superfan-level fervor. The Hamilton creator landed a role as Gloria’s dog trainer.
14. Smarty Pants: Luke Dunphy is lovingly known as one of the dullest crayons in the box, but actor Nolan Gould actually has much more brain power. His IQ is 150. For reference, the average rage is between 90-110. It’s called acting, folks!
In fact, the brainy young man graduated high school at the tender age of 13. His hectic film schedule didn’t hold him back, as Nolan began taking college courses shortly after. Plus, he has the coolest bragging rights of all: he’s a member of the high IQ society MENSA.
Nolan Gould / Instagram
15. Seamless Ensemble: With so many comedic powerhouses on one show, you’d think some rivalries would rear their ugly heads. Not for the Modern Family crew! They made a pact in season one to only submit for supporting roles for award ceremonies. In that way, they are never bridesmaids, only brides (or maybe vice versa?).
16. Behind The Camera: Shows in the mockumentary genre beg the question: whose filming this? The original show description outlined who would be fascinated enough to film the Pritchett/ Dunphy crew. Apparently, a former Swedish foreign exchange student turned movie director stayed with Phil back in his younger years and returned to make a film.
17. It’s Britney, Mitch: One of the biggest super fans of the show made some calls to land a spot. Yep, the one and only Pop Princess Britney Spears wanted to dip her toe in the comedy pool.
Producers were all for the idea, so in 2011 they reached out to her people to make it all happen. Brit, of course, was plenty busy, so by the time she returned the calls, season 3 was already fully mapped out.
18. The Other Jay: Before the show secured TV veteran Ed O’Neill as the Pritchett patriarch, they were romancing another big name— Craig T. Nelson. Mr. Incredible himself was intrigued by the part, but ultimately, he wanted more money and passed.
19. Manny’s Sister: The old soul Manny is portrayed by actor Rico Rodriguez. In real life, Rico followed in the footsteps of his older sister, Raini, who caught the acting bug first. You may recognize her from her roles in Paul Blart: Mall Cop films and in Disney’s Austin & Ally.
Maximo TV / YouTube
20. Jay’s Paper: One amusing Easter Egg in the show to look out for is Jay’s daily newspaper. Over the years, actor Ed O’Neill probably memorized each article, since it’s the exact same paper he used on the set of Married… With Children.
21. Ed O’Neil’s killer audition: To win the role of Al Bundy, O’Neil was given a simple task: walk through the front door of the Bundy home. Before doing so, O’Neil slumped his shoulders and sighed, and that sealed the deal.
22. The show’s original name: Before settling on the now-iconic name, producers used another name for what would eventually become Married… With Children: Not The Cosbys.
23. The show made people mad: Certain circles of folks weren’t exactly jumping for joy when they saw Kelly’s skimpy outfits and flirtatious behavior broadcasted into their living room at prime time. They filed several formal complaints.
24. These complaints made the show popular: Married… With Children really took off once a family activist started a letter writing campaign to condemn the show for anti-family values. Once in the media spotlight, the show flourished.
25. Katey Sagal’s audition: When trying out for the part of Peggy, Sagal wore a short dress, tons of makeup, and her hair up all big and tall. In other words, she dressed as she envisioned Peggy, and producers appreciated that.
26. The other Al Bundy: Before producers awarded Ed O’Neil the iconic role, there was another in contention for the part of Al Bundy, Michael Richards! Had he earned the role, he might not have ever played Kramer on Seinfeld.
27. Producer’s other choices: Ed O’Neil and Katey Sagal were not the first choices for Al and Peggy. Producers originally selected Sam Kinison and Roseanne Barr for the roles, but apparently, those selections fell through.
28. It was expensive to produce: Every episode of the show cost Fox $1 million to make, an exorbitant fee given that episodes weren’t exactly brimming with special effects and explosions.
29. Ed O’Neil’s birthday surprises: A true man of the people, O’Neil often called fans on their birthdays or holidays; a man true to his character, O’Neil only made these calls collect, meaning the recipient had to accept the charges.
30. The Dodge’s secret: Al Bundy frequently referred to his “mighty Dodge,” but the car wasn’t actually a Dodge at all. It was a 1972 Plymouth Duster.
31. The lost episode: Fox refused to air a season three episode titled “I’ll See You In Court” after a powerful anti-obscenity activist got advertisements pulled from the show. The episode, which features Al and Peggy being unknowingly recorded in a motel room, was eventually released in 2003.
32. Kelly and Bud swap: Ed O’Neil never met the actors who were first cast as Kelly and Bud. When he did finally meet them, he didn’t like them and demanded a change. That’s when Fox found Christina Applegate and David Faustino.
33. Episode one re-shoot: Before O’Neil realized the original Kelly and Bud actors were as pleasant as a kick to the shins, the cast had already filmed the pilot in its entirety. When the actors were replaced, they had to re-shoot the entire first episode.
34. Christina’s side hustle: As her popularity skyrocketed thanks to the show, Applegate took on modeling and other acting gigs. Producers agreed to give her time off every now and then (she made a guest appearance on Friends) — and fans weren’t happy!
35. Kelly’s hair: In taking on those other roles, Christina Applegate dyed her hair a brunette color. This wouldn’t work for her blonde character, so while filming later seasons, she wore a wig.
36. The on-set feud: On-screen, Al and Peggy got along well with their neighbors, Marcy and Steve. In reality, Ed O’Neil had great contempt for Marcy-actress Amanda Bearse. He was the only cast member she didn’t invite to her wedding.
37. Hooray for the dog: The family dog, Buck, was played by the same pooch for 10 seasons! After that, producers felt the aging dog earned his retirement, so they threw him a party as a sendoff.
38. Ed O’Neil’s vision for the ending: The actor had thoughts on how the show should end. He wanted the Bundys to win the lottery! Only to have a tornado tear through town and wipe out their home — and the winning ticket — during a celebration.
39. News of the show’s demise: While out for a meal on vacation, Ed O’Neil overheard a couple talking about a newspaper article announcing the show had been canceled. This was how he learned he was out of a job!
40. Ed O’Neil made some cash: By the time the show wrapped up after 11 seasons, O’Neil was earning about $500,000 per episode, making him one of the highest paid television actors at the time.
41. No love?: Despite a massive cult-following — and becoming the longest running, scripted live-action show in Fox history — Married… With Children never won a single Emmy. It was the longest running show to go without one (until Baywatch ended).