After 11 seasons, three families, and thousands of interviews with an unseen documentary crew, Modern Family concludes its sitcom reign on Wednesday evening, freeing its clan of Dunphys and Pritchetts and Delgados into eternal syndication heaven (and, more importantly, eternal syndication checks). To give the show a fitting send-off, ABC aired an hourlong documentary A Modern Farewell prior to the series finale, which was pretty much a lovely excuse to reminisce about everything from the casting process to the series’ spectacular award show rise and fall. One anecdote, though, caught our attention: When the character of Phil Dunphy, a goofball family man and amateur magician, was being cast, ABC initially wanted nothing to do with Ty Burrell, who would go on to be nominated for eight Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series Emmys for the role. Oh yeah, and he won the award twice.
“We wrote the part of Phil for Ty Burrell, and we went to the network and said, ‘We want Ty Burrell for this,’” Modern Family co-creator and showrunner Steven Levitan explained. “They weren’t big fans.” The network’s quibbles were that they wanted Phil to have a slight bit of edge — in fact, Friends star Matt LeBlanc was offered the role, but he passed due to believing he couldn’t embody the character well enough. “I got word that it was basically over,” Burrell recalled. “They’re not finding you appealing, charming, funny. Basic things about you personally that they don’t like.” Tony Hale and Steven Weber were among the 232 actors who also auditioned for Phil.
Levitan’s solution for the casting impasse was a fun one: He and Burrell “grabbed a camcorder and created a scene from my life with my son,” which they recorded and passed along to the powers that be. (That scene, depicting a dad accidentally hitting his son with a BB gun, would go on to be included in Modern Family’s pilot between Phil and Luke.) “The network saw it and said, We get it, all right, good, go,” Levitan said. “And that was it.”