Christopher Lloyd is co-creator and co-showrunner with Steven Levitan (his Q&A here) of last year’s Emmy winner for Outstanding Comedy Series, Modern Family. But Lloyd didn’t go onstage to accept the accolade. This recipient of eight Emmys for his work on comedy series including Frasier and The Golden Girls prefers to stay in the shadows and let his chatty partner bask in all the public limelight. Now, Lloyd breaks his silence and talks to Deadline TV Contributor Diane Haithman for an interview one TV publicist claimed was harder to nab than “a sitdown with Osama Bin Laden”:
DEADLINE: Obviously, I first have to ask why do you rarely speak publicly about Modern Family, and why do you let Steve Levitan do all the talking about it?
LLOYD: I think Steve started out wanting to be a broadcast journalist, an on-camera guy. He likes doing things that I don’t like to do. I tend to avoid things like award shows and panels and interviews, not remotely because I feel I’m above them or wish to cultivate the image of the intriguing recluse. I’m just not very good at them. There are some comedy writers who came up on the performing side and might welcome those sorts of events. There are others to whom an auditorium full of people looks like a welter of angry torch-bearers. I have nothing against the first group but when I see members of my own tribe in public appearances sweating like murder suspects and spraying the front row with Xanax flecks, I wonder why they didn’t choose, like me, to stay home. Look, the work we do on the show gets plenty of accolades, and I get plenty of pleasure from it. But I sense from people that they get frustrated with me for not being out and about. But I guess I’m a shy boy.
DEADLINE: What’s the division of showrunning between you and Steve?
LLOYD: He goes off and talks to the camera and gets every interview, and I stay home and do all the hard work with the writing staff. (laughs) But seriously, we have a large staff of 10 writers including myself and Steve, and we can fairly easily divide the room in half: he takes four, and I take four. We generate stories separately, but that’s early on in the process. Once we get on track, we confer with one another and feel free to intermingle the groups. A lot of the work with the actors we do separately because we each take every other episode and see it through to the end. We have a five-day shooting schedule, 10 hours Monday through Friday, all the way through the season. That’s one of the more fun aspects of the job. It would be overkill to have both of us onstage. Plus, if we did that, I don’t know what would be happening with the writers back in the room. Given that we have slightly different styles, it’s a good system.
DEADLINE: What does an Emmy mean to a show that’s already successful?
LLOYD: It’s wonderful acknowledgment of what you’ve done. What comes with that is a challenge not to repeat yourself, and to keep the show good, and maybe even to make it better. Continuing recognition says you’ve done that job. No one wants to be in charge when the show starts to slide and people say: ‘Meh, it’s seen better days.’ But then there are those shows that go away and come back. Everybody Loves Raymond was in that category. And I think Cheers. I’m not an Emmy historian, but there is some fun andsome challenge in a show being thought of as on top, then a little passé or whatever, and then comes back and proves everybody wrong.
DEADLINE: After winning in your first season, is the press gunning for you this year?
LLOYD: Among certain segments of the blogosphere who first anointed the show that everybody is supposed to be watching, there’s another rush to declare that it stinks now. You have to accept that’s the cycle we’re facing right now. And then there will be others who’ll want to say ‘I told you so’ when it wins again.
DEADLINE: Are there misconceptions about the show?
LLOYD: I think there was too much made about the gay kiss. People kept asking, ‘When are we going to see these two guys kiss? It’s a travesty that they haven’t.’ And then there was an episode when they kissed, and those people felt very righteous that they forced us into that. That was really a lot of horseshit. We wrote characters and, clearly, one of them was a little shyer about public displays of affection. And it made perfect
sense that they weren’t jumping on each other every five minutes. It was a bit of a tempest in a teapot. And I guess there was criticism about why aren’t we seeing every ethnicity represented on the show. Well, you can’t have a show that looks like a Benetton ad. We are doing our best to tell something that’s real, and over time perhaps we will.
DEADLINE: Last year, the comedy series nominees included a dramedy like Nurse Jackie as well as a musical like Glee. Does that heighten or hurt the competition?
LLOYD: It always seems that it would be really hard for those shows to actually win for best comedy. I mean they could win for an episode, or writing, or a performance. But we don’t write the show in order to try to win Emmys. We try to write the show to win viewers, and viewers want that extra.