Acts and Scenes: The Structure of “Modern Family”

ABC / 20th Century Fox Television

ABC / 20th Century Fox Television

Some say TV is predictable. Well, it is. And the genre of the show you’re watching doesn’t matter, because if it’s reality or drama or comedy a formula is followed. Modern Family  is no different. There’s always some form of variation, but usually, it sticks to a standard form. Makes things easier for writers, and let’s be honest: we like predictability. Keeps things stable.

Every show starts with a shot of one of the families houses, which usually gives viewers a clue as to who the main storyline will follow. There’s usually a bit of an intro to the problem, which then ends with a gag that freeze frames into a still that becomes the image incorporated into the title sequence, like so:

Then we get a first look at the second subplot, and more developments in the main plot. At times, there’s some overlap in what one or a few family members may be dealing with in the main plot and the subplot. Then we get a little intro into the very minor third plot, which usually is completely unrelated to the other two, and I’ve found that the plot usually involves the children in some way. This minor plot usually serves to provide more variation to the more dominant story lines, and often the most light-hearted of the stories.

Modern Family itself usually is divided into three or four acts in which each plot develops. The minor plot is usually introduced in the second act. The main plot usually enters a humorous cliffhanger, sometimes completed with a racking focus by the end of the second act, and in typical sitcom fashion, all are resolved and tied up in a nice bow by the end of the last act. Usually, there’s a funny one-liner or closing shot at the show’s end. I almost always bust out laughing at these.

Are you a fan of the structure of the show? I think it suits the style of the show well.


One thought on “Acts and Scenes: The Structure of “Modern Family”

  1. I really enjoy the structure of Modern Family. As you said: we like predictability. Even in the most off-the-wall shows, a structure still lurks somewhere. I have only seen one episode of MF, but it was easy to follow, and I got that feel-good feeling, which I assume most of the episodes end with? I think the opening titles are a little tacky and jarring, but I think that’s what they were going for. The zoom-in to the title is great though.


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