"Modern Family" cast strategizes Emmy submissions

Ed O'Neill of "Modern Family" in Anaheim, September 10, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The age-old Emmy question of how to deal with an ensemble is coming to a head on ABC’s rookie hit “Modern Family,” where the cast is nearing a decision on who (if anyone) will be submitted as a lead actor and who will compete for supporting.

With the April 30 deadline approaching, sources say four separate scenarios are being mulled: either all six adult regulars (Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ed O’Neill, Sofia Vergara and Eric Stonestreet) will compete as leads; all will go supporting; everyone will go supporting except O’Neill, who, as the only major pre-“Family” star, could separate himself as lead; or Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen, as the show’s “traditional” parents, will go lead and the rest supporting.

A tough choice, and recent Emmy history offers little guidance. “Friends” is perhaps the last true ensemble comedy to break out like “Modern Family” has. That cast was initially nominated only in the supporting category (Lisa Kudrow and David Schwimmer, with Kudrow winning in 1998) but in 2002 co-stars Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc squared off in lead -- both were nominated but neither won (Ray Romano did). Perry then stepped back to supporting, while LeBlanc stayed in lead -- and still, neither won.

Nevertheless, when fellow “Friends” co-star Jennifer Aniston moved to lead in 2002, she brought home the trophy. Even if the “Modern Family” cast opts to run against each other, multiple nominations and even a win are possible. In 2005, “Desperate Housewives” scored three lead actress (comedy) nominees (Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman) and Huffman ended up winning.

Same goes for supporting. In 2002, “The West Wing” fielded four of the six contenders in supporting actor (drama) -- and John Spencer won for the show. In 2004, “Sex and the City” fielded three of the five names in supporting actress (comedy) -- and Cynthia Nixon won for the show. Between 2002-05 “Everybody Loves Raymond” co-stars Peter Boyle and Brad Garrett paired up in the supporting actor (comedy) lineup -- and Garrett won three of the four times.

More recently, however, “30 Rock” co-stars Tracy Morgan and Jack McBrayer faced off in the supporting actor (comedy) category last year and neither won. Also last year, “SNL” co-stars Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig both earned supporting actress (comedy) nominations but neither won.

No easy answers, and producers are leaving it to the cast members to decide. Maybe “Modern Family” should just submit the iPad -- a recent timely plot point -- as a supporting player and be done with it.