The Office and Modern Family are both mockumentaries. Other shows like Parks & Rec borrowed The Office’s format, but it was clear why the parks and recreations department became the subject of a documentary.
Meanwhile, shows like Modern Family never address why the multi-generational family is filmed in a documentary format, talking heads and all. That lack of meaning bothers some of the people who were involved in creating The Office.
‘Modern Family’ ‘shamelessly copied’ ‘The Office’ mockumentary formula
Andy Green wrote a book titled The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s. In it, Green mentions how some people who worked on The Office didn’t like Modern Family’s use of the mockumentary style.
The book also highlights how Modern Family co-creators Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan never explain the presence of the documentary crew. This is just another aspect of the series that bothered The Office creators.
“Modern Family shamelessly copied The Office,” critic Alan Sepinwall says in the book. “Modern Family came along and did all the same stuff we did with zero justification,” writer Aaron Shure adds. Unlike Modern Family, The Office explains at length why the documentary crews showed up at Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton Branch in the first place.
‘The Office’ documentary crews came after a Dunder Mifflin employee died
Diehard Office fans will remember a character named Tom Peets. He is only briefly mentioned in the episode “Performance Review” when Michael (Steve Carell) reads suggestions from an old box.
“We need better outreach for employees fighting depression,” one suggestion reads. That suggestion came from Tom — an employee who died by suicide the year prior.
“His suicide happened a day before they came in to tape the pilot,” Mindy Kaling explains during a panel at The Office Convention in 2007. “In the pilot episode, Michael is taking around the temp (B.J. Novak) and says, ‘We all just came back from the funeral of Tom.'”
Kaling admits the writers weren’t actively thinking about the timing of the documentary crew’s arrival when they wrote that joke. As this story goes, the documentary crew came to Dunder Mifflin to cover mental health in the workplace. But when they saw Michael Scott’s hijinks, the documentary took a turn.
Episodes of ‘Modern Family’ never explain the documentary aspect
As Levitan explained to Entertainment Weekly when Modern Family was ending, they never even considered breaking the fourth wall. “It’s a valid idea,” Levitan explained. “Obviously, we started out in our pilot having that person be a character. And then the more we thought about, we thought, ‘That might take the audience out of it.'”
Given how Modern Family brought audiences 250 episodes in a mockumentary format without ever explaining the crew’s purpose, “it felt like it might’ve been too meta or too cute,” according to Levitan.
“I think The Office made you aware that they were actual people much more than we did,” he concluded. “We were just using it as a technique more than a sort of an actual reality.”
The original reason for the documentary crew’s arrival at Dunder Mifflin might be dark, but many fans appreciate the crew having a purpose. Regardless, the mockumentary format worked for both shows. Even if fans never got the explanation for why the Dunphy-Pritchett-Tucker families were being filmed in the first place.