News Column

'Modern Family' director, suburbanites up for Emmys

September 22, 2013

YellowBrix

As a kid, Gail Mancuso and her family would eat pizza together in their Melrose Park living room and watch shows like "Creature Features" or "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."

Flash forward to today, when Mancuso is the one families will watch on TV.

Mancuso is an Emmy Award nominee for Outstanding Directing of a Comedy Series for ABC's hit show, "Modern Family." Specifically, she's nominated for directing the episode where college freshman Haley (Sarah Hyland) gets arrested.

It's Mancuso's second Emmy nomination, and one of many connected to the blockbuster show, including Outstanding Comedy Series. Mancuso's first directing nomination was in 2011, also for her work on "Modern Family."

show airs at 7 tonight on CBS. In a black Victoria Beckham gown, Mancuso will walk the Emmy red carpet with the show's celebrity cast and also her husband and two adult sons.

"It'll be a very special time. I'm more excited about my family being with me than being at the Emmys," she joked. "I'll have both families with me. My 'Modern Family' family and my real family."

Both families have suburban Chicago ties. The show's co-creator, Steve Levitan, is a Glenbrook South High School alumnus.

"Modern Family" is just one show in Mancuso's massive resume from the past 20 years. She's worked on dozens of famous TV shows, including "Roseanne," "Friends," "Scrubs" and "Dharma & Greg."

Mancuso considers herself a dark horse in Sunday's awards. (She's up against directors for "Girls," "Glee," "Louie" and "30 Rock.")

But just in case she pulls out a win, Mancuso started thinking this week about what she'd say at the podium. It's led her to reflect on her career, and feel nostalgic for her suburban childhood.

"When I was young, my family embraced television. It was our togetherness. I watched a lot of TV. My parents never really gave me a time limit on TV ... and that kinda worked out!" said Mancuso, who lives part time in River Forest and part time in Los Angeles.

It also made her think about the inspirational teachers she had at Jane Addams School in Melrose Park, and at Proviso East High School in Maywood.

Being a shy kid, she still recalls the many teachers who helped her express herself. Jane Addams teacher Bill Bright changed her life, she said, because he encouraged students to write, direct and perform skits in front of the whole class. She also fondly remembers a class with Jane Addams teacher Mary Murphy, who had students listen to Carly Simon and Elton John albums and discuss what the lyrics meant. Mancuso credits Proviso East photography teacher Paul Witt with teaching her how to frame pictures, something that would ultimately lead her to become a successful Hollywood director.

"I had a wonderful upbringing and teachers who nurtured my creativity," she said.

The "Arrested" episode that earned Mancuso her Emmy nomination was filmed exactly one year ago. When the cops break up a college drinking party, Haley tries to make her escape -- and winds up in legal trouble.

Mancuso said everything aligned to make the show extraordinary.

"Number one, the script was so well written. It has this scene in it that I really, really love. The character Phil, Ty Burrell's character, really stands up and becomes a father. If you look at that scene, there has never been a scene like that in 'Modern Family.' Phil is usually the friend of his children ... but here, he was the dad. That, to me, when I read this scene, I was like 'Whoa. Ty's going to blow that out of the water.' And he did."

Shooting the episode, Mancuso knew it was special.

"The whole show was just peppered with moments people can relate to. Every parent has gone through something like this," she said. "That relatability of 'Modern Family' to real life is just amazing. You don't get that with every show."

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