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"Modern Family" fans aren't necessarily used to getting out their hankies to watch one of TV's most popular sitcoms.
But according to show creator Christopher Lloyd, they'd better get prepared when the show returns for its 10th season later in September.
"We're handling some bigger life events this season," he told Entertainment Weekly. "We do deal with a death, which is certainly a topic that families have to deal with, and on television it's not easy to do because that's a heavy subject. But at the same time, it would seem unusual for a family not to go through it."
But don't expect to get any real clues about who's exiting the show. Lloyd will only say he or she is a "significant character on the series" and the death "will be a moving event — and an event that has repercussions across several episodes."
Big deaths on TV happen all the time, but usually in dramas. Sitcoms handle them in unusual ways (think Maude Flanders on "The Simpsons") and sometimes even have to backtrack (hello, resurrected Dan Conner of "Roseanne"/"The Conners").
But "Modern Family" has a large cast for a half-hour show, which may make pruning a little easier. We'd be awfully surprised if a major player like Ed O'Neill or Sofia Vergara was exiting, and it seems highly unlikely that a sitcom would allow one of the youngsters to pass on. And let's bear in mind that Lloyd said "significant" and not "key" or "crucial" or, for that matter, even "beloved."
So how to wring emotion, yet not devastate fans or the families too much? Though we have no special insight, our money's on Stella, the destroyer of Gloria's (Vergara) belongings, who's been around since season 2. Jay (O'Neill) loves the little French bulldog, though, and her loss could do precisely what Lloyd is suggesting.
As for the other mortality lingering in the air: season 10 is the last one in the ABC contract for the show. Will there be an 11th? Lloyd hopes so.
"Our standpoint was, 'Well, if we can do another season, we may as well.' I'm hoping we have some news on that (soon), and if it winds up that we tried and just couldn't make it work, we will have a great final season for sure."