Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers from the Modern Family episode “Good Grief.”
Modern Family scared up a death for Halloween. The previously hyped storyline played out on Wednesday’s Halloween-themed episode of the ABC comedy as viewers found out that the “significant character” being killed off was none other than DeDe Pritchett (Shelley Long), the polarizing ex-wife of Jay (Ed O’Neill) and mother of Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Claire (Julie Bowen).
The death reveal was made early on and Long did not appear in the episode, although a doll with her likeness turned up to spook Gloria (Sofia Vergara). At the end of the episode, a posthumous voicemail from DeDe was also played as her daughter Claire listened to an apology message that ended with a signature DeDe insult about her hair.
The sad storyline put a damper on Modern Family’s annual Halloween episode as the Pritchett family found out their matriarch died peacefully in her sleep on a trip to Greenland with her women’s group. The sudden death was written into the holiday-themed episode to illustrate how death can come at any time when people least expect it, co-creator/showrunner Steve Levitan told the Hollywood Reporter.
“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.”
Modern Family producers decided to kill off DeDe because she’s directly involved with three of the show’s main characters and she “touched everybody’s life in some interesting way.”
“It seemed like the right character to put everybody through something,” Levitan explained. “She seemed like the right character because she so directly affects so many of our characters.”
“Our casting director, Jeff Greenberg, has known Shelley since Cheers. He called and told her what the story was. We made ourselves available to her if she had follow-up questions. She was very sweet about it. We don’t yet know if we’re coming back for another season and we usually only see DeDe once a year. This was a good way to get a great sendoff. The ramifications and emotional impact of this loss will remain for a little while. …We do a follow-up episode where DeDe’s widower brings a bunch of things to various members of the family that she wanted each of them to have and [viewers will see] the effect that has on each of them.”
Of course, it’s no surprise that not all Modern Family fans were happy about the grim addition to the Halloween episode. Some viewers felt ABC hyped up the death storyline as the demise of a main character while others said the death of the Pritchett family dog, Stella, would have been a more significant loss.
You can see some of the viewer reaction to the Modern Family death below.
— Annette Frawley (@ibannettez1) October 25, 2018
Calling the modern family death a “major character” was false advertising.
Jay or bust
— Jilaria (@jilaria2) October 25, 2018
I can’t believe #ModernFamily hyped a character death as much as they did and it was …Dede. Would have been better if it was STELLA
— kat_writes???? (@BMWwritingGMW) October 25, 2018
I would've prefer Stella the dog or Phil dad instead of Dede. At least they more prevalent to the show. ????♂️????♂️????????????????#ModernFamily
— sab (@brina1511) October 25, 2018
I really though #ModernFamily was gonna pull a "Parenthood" and kill Jay, but they killed DeDe instead
— jess???? (@lorelaiswalker) October 25, 2018
#ModernFamily anybody else give a damn that Dede died? No? Me either.
— LadyAnna27 (@bananamania27) October 25, 2018
Shelley Long’s DeDe Pritchett was introduced in the first season of Modern Family and appeared in seven episodes of the ABC series. The character butted heads with her kids and had a complicated history with her ex-husband Jay and his second wife Gloria.
Modern Family has dealt with death in the past. In the Season 4 episode, “Goodnight, Gracie,” the Dunphy family mourned the death of Phil’s mother, a character viewers had never met.
Modern Family airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.