Modern Family Connection
Jack Powers sits in on the hit series’ production.
By Elizabeth Stoltz ’13
For the past year, Jack Powers, an assistant professor in the television-radio department at Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications, has made multiple trips to Hollywood to experience firsthand how ABC’s Modern Family — one of last season’s breakout TV hits — is written and produced.
Powers became involved with the Emmy-winning show last spring when he was invited to Hollywood by one of the show’s executive producers.
Dan O’Shannon, a longtime Hollywood producer, whose hits include Newhart, Cheers, and Frasier, had previously sought Powers’s advice for a book he is writing about humor. Powers’s insights into the social and behavioral aspects of the television viewing process so impressed the producer that he invited him out to the 20th Century Fox studio lot, where Modern Family is filmed.
During that first weeklong visit, Powers met with the show’s creators and writers, attended a table read (when the actors of the show read the script for the writers and producers), observed the writers, met the cast crew, and went on set to watch the production of an episode. He was even given a chance in the limelight when he was cast as a nonspeaking usher for a scene with Kobe Bryant in last spring’s season finale.
“I was so great in my role that most of my work ended up on the cutting room floor,” Powers joked. “I kept waiting for a call from the Academy for a best actor nomination, but, alas, it never came.”
Powers suspected the show would be a hit and told the producers as much after screening the show’s pilot episode for students in his Introduction to Mass Media class. He knew that if the show resonated with college students, its humor would resonate with larger audiences as well. Powers credits the show’s success to its family-based humor and universal appeal, saying, “We all know what it’s like to experience sibling rivalry, to do things that embarrass us, to get in arguments with a significant other or our parents; it’s the combination of excellent writing and wittiness with heartfelt emotion that makes the show a hit.”
Co-executive producer Dan O’Shannon said, “Jack knows more about how television really works than any college instructor I’ve ever met. He’s experienced the process firsthand; we like having him here.”
Powers arranged for O’Shannon to visit Ithaca College’s Pendleton Center in Los Angeles to talk with students about the elements necessary to succeed in Hollywood as a writer.
During his latest trip to Modern Family, Powers was given the chance to sit with O’Shannon and Bill Wrubel, another top writer/producer, as they began shaping an episode from the initial story idea into a first draft of a finished script. Powers hopes to return to Los Angeles in the spring and continue his involvement with the show.
“Chris Lloyd, Steve Levitan, and Dan O’Shannon — the executive producers of Modern Family — have given me a wonderful opportunity to have unprecedented access to everything about the making of the show — from the writing process, to observing the meetings with network and studio executives, to the filming of episodes — everything, and I am forever grateful,” Powers said. He added that visiting Modern Family “is a fantastic opportunity to be exposed to every part of producing a hit TV show so that I can bring that knowledge back to Ithaca College and share it with our students.”