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‘Modern Family’ Co-Creator Explains the Decision Behind Halloween Episode Death

Last month, the creators of Modern Family revealed that season 10 would include a “significant” death – and it arrived during the Halloween episode. At the top of the show, Jay (Ed O’Neill), Claire (Julie Bowen) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) found out that Claire and Mitchell’s mother, DeDe (Shelley Long), had passed away. Long first appeared on the ABC sitcom in season 1 and returned as a recurring guest star six times through the 10 seasons. While she may not be who fans were expecting, the writing team had a specific reason for deciding to kill off the character.

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“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,” co-creator Steve Levitan told The Hollywood Reporter. “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 right character because she so directly affects so many of our characters.”

Shelley Long Modern Family Death
Sarah Hyland, Shelley Long and Ariel Winter in ‘Modern Family.’ ABC/Eric McCandless

However, that doesn’t mean they decided to kill her simply because they wanted to “do a death episode,” he told the publication.

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“It came from [a conversation of], ‘What would happen if DeDe died?’ That’s how it started. I don’t know that this was part of it at the time, but I lost my mom suddenly two years ago and that experience of getting that call and gather as a family was very fresh to me,” Levitan said. “I thought that was the interesting part [of the story] and the biggest challenge was how to do we get this big monumental and sad moment and still get some comedy out of it. We liked that challenge.”

Ed O'Neill Modern Family Shelley Long Death
Ed O’Neill on ‘Modern Family. ABC/Tony Rivetti

It was also a conscious decision to have the family find out about her the during the Halloween episode, in which most of the characters were in costume.

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“I’ve always been enamored with stories where people are very inappropriately dressed for very serious moments. It’s been a thing of mine for as long as I can remember. I love stories like that,” he said. “That’s what happens with death: It comes at very strange and bizarre moments and can strike at any time. By setting this during Halloween, we could find some comedy on such a sad day.”

Modern Family airs on ABC Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET.

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