Warning: Death came to “Modern Family” on Wednesday when a familiar character passed away; if you haven’t watched yet, be prepared because spoilers lie ahead.
“Modern Family” showrunner Steve Levitan had been teasing the death of a character in this year’s Halloween episode; the guessing ended when it was revealed that Jay’s ex-wife, DeDe, had passed away “quietly” in her sleep.
Played by former “Cheers” star Shelley Long, DeDe appeared occasionally over the years. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Levitan explained the decision to have the character shuffle off this mortal coil.
“We gather [with the writers] at the beginning of the season and talk about the big arcs and things that we want to have happen — the milestone moments. It occurred to us that death is a giant part of the family experience and while Phil (Ty Burrell) had lost his mother in a previous episode, we’ve never seen the entire family have to deal with such a loss. It seemed like an interesting thing to have happen,” he said.
The writers decided on DeDe, he explained, because “she’s directly involved with three of our characters and she touched everybody’s life in some interesting way. It seemed like the right character to put everybody through something. She seemed like the right character because she so directly affects so many of our characters.”
So how did Long react to the news of her character’s demise? “She was very sweet about it,” said Levitan. “We don’t yet know if we’re coming back for another season and we usually only see DeDe once a year. This was a good way to get a great sendoff. The ramifications and emotional impact of this loss will remain for a little while.”
According to Levitan, DeDe’s death will have repercussions later in the season. “We do a followup episode where DeDe’s widower brings a bunch of things to various members of the family that she wanted each of them to have and [viewers will see] the effect that has on each of them.”
Levitan also addressed the future of the show, now in its 10th season and its final year of renewal.
“There’s definitely interest from the studio and network and we’re all trying to figure out if that’s what we want to do,” he said. “There’s a general desire from just about everybody involved to not say goodbye yet. There are a couple hurdles that have to be climbed. We’ll see if it all comes together.”
In addition to working out new deals with the cast, Levitan pointed out that another factor is “making sure we have the right stories and can put together and bring back most of our writers that have been with us for so long. And that it still makes sense financially for everybody. Part of that consideration is us taking a hard look at if we have anything to say next year or will we start repeating ourselves. Hopefully, there will be a few developments this year that give us new places to go should we decide to continue on.”