Steven Levitan is an American sitcom veteran. He began his career on the long-running multi-cam film Wings, created NBC’s Just Shoot Me!, and is co-parent on Modern Family, which won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series five years straight.
For his latest project, however, Levitan looks at the sitcom through a different lens. “Reboot” on Hulu follows the cast of the fictional sitcom “Step Right Up” as they reunite when Hulu decides to reboot them. There’s Reed (Keegan-Michael Key), pretentious asset An actor who never got his big break; Bree (Judy Greer), returning from a small Nordic country after a royal divorce; Clay (Johnny Knoxville), a dirty stand-up comedian who can’t avoid trouble; and Zack (Calum Worthy), a child actor who never really grew up. Meanwhile, the original series’ veteran comedy writers clash with the young, politically correct writers also on board, and the original series creator is forced to compromise with a new showrunner whose claim to fame is an indie film called “Cunt.” Saw” is.
Ahead of the three-episode series premiere, Levitan sat down with diversity to talk about the meta-nature of Reboot, how the on-screen writer’s room compares to those in Hollywood, and whether he would consider reviving Modern Family.
Hulu is basically a character on the show. Was it always the idea that the network airing “Reboot” would also be the network on the show, rebooting the fictional sitcom “Step Right Up”?
I tried to make every aspect of this show as authentic as possible. So I didn’t want to create a fake streaming service that would immediately put you off. Wherever we went, it was always my plan to use this place [in the show].
Was there any friction or backlash from Hulu regarding your portrayal of the streamer on the show?
Zero. They have been fantastic partners in that regard. There was a time – I wouldn’t even call it pushback – where I had very technical language in that they were talking about demographics and it was absurd. And they said, “No, we wouldn’t say it like that, we would say it like that,” and it was even more absurd. So they were great sports. They find these scenes really funny. I often joke with them about liking the show, and part of the reason is that they think the network executives are the real heroes of this story. But they were nothing but great about it.
How much did you come up with the idea of Step Right Up and did you write full scripts of the fake sitcom?
No I haven’t. This sitcom was created through reverse engineering. I knew I wanted these two male actors, one female actor and one former child actor. So I started with what would be the most interesting thing for me to work with in this day and age. And then I sort of reverse engineered it into a sitcom. So I thought about shows like My Two Dads. My first show was Wings, which had two male leads and one female lead, and I think that was a bit on my mind. And then the desire to add a child just seemed like a natural thing. And then, of course, when I had a father and a stepfather, I needed a really good pun name for the show. So everything came together quickly.
The show plays on Hollywood’s obsession with rebooting shows and recycling intellectual property. What are your thoughts on the television landscape right now? Are restarts good or bad for creativity?
I think if you’re rebooting for the right reasons then it’s fine. If you have a new, creative, exciting approach to something, that’s fine. If it just feels like a makeover and there’s nothing new about it, then maybe we can all try a little harder. I think everyone strives to make something new and there have been some really clever twists on old traits. I think we just live in a time where there are so many products, there are so many things to see, there are so many services that people are looking for a way to be immediately recognized by the audience. I get it, but for me personally, I’d rather try to find something new.
There’s a tension in the Step Right Up writers’ room between the younger writers and the older, less filtered veterans who worked on the original. How prevalent is this dynamic in the rooms of true Hollywood writers today?
I think that’s something that’s been around for a while. It’s a normal generational thing and represents what happens in families all over the world. Parents may think it’s okay to joke about something, and then it offends the kids. Even older people who consider themselves fairly liberal can push the limits of younger, brighter people. And I think that’s a very interesting conversation. It is certainly very widespread in our society at the moment. It seeped into politics. There are many concerns that the pendulum has swung too far in many cases when someone who has never meant anything bad about something makes a comment and loses their job. On the other hand, if we could improve ourselves as a society by being kinder to one another while maintaining our sense of humor, wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing?
Does that make it harder to write comedy now than it was when you started Modern Family“?
It’s always hard to write a comedy. Are there missteps that well-meaning people might inadvertently make? Yes. The rules or what is considered acceptable seems to be changing fairly quickly. And comedy is an art form that has always tried to push boundaries. So I just think we always have to keep a person’s intention in mind. Does that come from a mean place or is it just a matter of taste and getting used to it? It is an evolving process and maybe a learning moment for everyone.
Would you ever consider a Modern Family reboot?
I’m so thankful for Modern Family. It was a dream experience. I couldn’t love this cast more and all the years I’ve worked with it – they exceeded all of my wildest expectations. And I liked that it belonged to its time. We captured that moment in time and I’m pretty happy with it.
https://variety.com/2022/tv/news/reboot-hulu-steven-levitan-interview-modern-family-1235374039/ Steven Levitan talks about ‘rebooting’, the possibility of reviving the ‘modern family’.