Friday, April 27, 2012 - 10:30am - 9:00pm
Pollock Theater, UCSB

A Free Public Event

See Also: Participant BiosPre-Conference Roundtable

All in the ... modern family

The All in the…Modern Family conference focused on the powerful, constantly-changing genre of television scripted comedies. The conference explored the cultural and social impact of comedies throughout their long history (they actually started in radio) and today. It also celebrated the creative process that has kept the genre vibrant and popular, despite its many obituaries over the years.

The event featured clips from iconic half hour television comedies, as well as workshops, speakers, and panels of scholars, entertainment journalists, and people who have worked in comedy, both in front of and behind the cameras. Sponsored by the Carsey-Wolf Center with support from the Film and Media Studies Department.

All in the...Modern FamilySchedule of Activities

10:30am - 12:30pm Welcome and Session 1: Why We Need Scripted Comedies

1:30pm - 3:00pm Session 2: Writers Room Workshop

3:30pm - 5:00pm Session 3: Elements of Scripted Comedy

7:00pm - 9:00pm Session 4: Modern Family - Pilot Screening


Session 1: Why We Need Scripted Comedies

A panel of scholars, entertainment journalists and people who have worked in comedy explored the social and cultural implications of half-hour scripted television comedies. Panelists discussed: the relationship between economic cycles and the demand for humor and comedies; comedies as a reflection of our society's anxieties, fears, and hopes; and comedies as political satire. Panel was moderated by Howard Rosenberg, Pulitzer Prize winning former television critic for the Los Angeles Times.


Participants included:

  • Jane Feuer, Professor Film Studies, University of Pittsburgh
  • Bambi Haggins, Professor Film and Media Studies, Arizona State University
  • David Marc, Author, Educator and Associate Editor Syracuse University Magazine
  • Phil Rosenthal, Executive Producer (Everybody Loves Raymond)
  • Tom Yellin, The Documentary Group: Executive Producer (America in Primetime)


Session 2: The Writers Room - A Workshop

How do writers on a television comedy develop their material? Writers from current and recent comedies come together at the Pollock Theater. They take stories "ripped from the headlines" and discuss how they would handle them in their shows - through jokes, characters, and stories. 

Participants included:

Writers from television comedies: Cheers, M*A*S*H, Frasier, According to Jim, Ellen, Drew Carey, Newhart, Bob, and The Simpsons


Session 3: Elements of the Scripted Comedy

Four short presentations explored the development of television comedies, the elements that (arguably) have contributed to their success, and challenges they face. Each presentation was followed by an audience Q&A. Topics included: edgy comedy for the youth market; history of the laugh track; directing the sitcom pilot; and comedy and the Internet.

Participants included:

  • Barnet Kellman, Professor School of Cinematic Arts, USC and director (Murphy Brown, Mad About You)
  • Lisa Kudrow, Friends and creator of Web Therapy
  • Ethan Thompson, Professor of Communication at Texas A&M
  • Jacob Smith, Professor of Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University


Session 4: Modern Family - Pilot Screening

Steven Levitan, creator of the successful comedy, Modern Family, screened the original pilot and followed it with a discussion of the creative process, the relationship of the pilot to the series itself, and the role of a creator/show runner. An audience Q&A session wrapped up the day.