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Christopher Lloyd carries on family tradition

By A. James Memmott

March 2, 2010 at 8:34am

True to its title, ABC’s hit new comedy “Modern Family” is about families now, not then, a comic celebration of both the conventional and the unconventional.

The series is a family show in another way, as it’s the product of a son who learned the comedy writer’s craft at the feet of a father who was one of the great behind-the scene figures in television history.

Christopher Lloyd, the co-creator of “Modern Family” with Steven E. Levitan, is the son of the late David Lloyd, a writer for an astonishing number of television hits.

David Lloyd’s credits included “Taxi” (which starred another Christopher Lloyd), “Cheers,” “Lou Grant” and “Frasier.”

Perhaps most notably, David Lloyd, who died last November at age 75, worked on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and wrote the memorable installment, “Chuckles Bites the Dust.”

In the Emmy-award-winning episode, Moore’s character finally breaks down in laughter at the odd death of Chuckles the Clown. (Chuckles was marching in a parade dressed as Peter Peanuts when a “rogue elephant” trampled him.)

David Lloyd did a good deal of his writing out of an office in his home.

Thus, it’s not surprising that two of his sons, Christopher and Stephen, became television writers. (Stephen is now a co-executive producer and writer on “How I Met Your Mother.”)

“Our family dinner table was a milieu not unlike the one you find in a comedy writers’ room, with jokes rewarded, pauses seized upon, and a lurking competitiveness always there,” Christopher Lloyd wrote in an essay about his father published in the online edition of The Wall Street Journal.

Lloyd’s essay was a companion piece to “All in the Modern Family,” a story by Katherine Rosman published online and in the print edition of the Journal.

Rosman places “Modern Family” in a continuum of television programs like “All in the Family” that “broached combustible social issues, but within the safe confines of loving families.”

The loving family of “Modern Family” includes a middle-aged father in his second marriage (this time to a much younger woman), his daughter and her childlike husband and their three children, and his son and his son’s gay partner and their infant adopted daughter.

For sure, there’s embarrassment and even quarreling, but it’s all counter-balanced by affection and acceptance.

In addition, there are always surprises. Cameron, the sometimes flamboyant half of the gay couple, is not just a football fan; he’s also a former Big Ten player. And Manny, the bookish young Mama’s boy, will do just about anything for the love of a girl.

And, as Rosman notes, there’s always at least a figurative concluding hug.

“If you make audiences laugh for 29 minutes and then feel some warmth at the end, they’ll come back week after week,” Lloyd told the Journal.

And so they have. “Modern Family,” is averaging more viewers per episode than “Glee,” “The Office” and “30 Rock,” the Journal reports. And it has not suffered by going up against “American Idol” on Wednesday nights.

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