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Several Baltimore reasons to watch Golden Globes

There are more reasons to watch the Golden Globe Awards show tonight than at any time in its history.

The biggest one is that for the first time the live telecast will have a host, and he's an unpredictable one who could create some genuine, unrehearsed fun: Ricky Gervais. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has also given more control to Dick Clark Productions with the mandate to create a television event worthy of prime time - rather than an awards dinner geared to a hotel ballroom in Beverly Hills filled with celebrities.

But for Baltimore viewers, there are even better reasons to tune into NBC at 8 p.m., starting with Baltimore native Mo'Nique being up for a supporting actress award for her acclaimed performance in the film, "Precious." (A red-carpet pre-show starts at 7 p.m.)
The comedian and one-time Baltimore radio show host is facing some pretty tough competition: Penelope Cruz, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and Julianne Moore. But strong competition is only one more reason to tune in.

I'll be focused on another category and doing some serious hometown rooting for ABC's "Modern Family." It's nominated as best comedy or musical, and it is also facing some pretty tough contenders in NBC's "30 Rock" and "The Office," HBO's "Entourage" and red-hot "Glee" from Fox.

One of the folks in the "Modern Family" entourage at the Beverly Hilton tonight will be Baltimore native Jason Winer, an executive producer of the series. The Friends School of Baltimore graduate also directed the pilot for the sitcom - an effort that has been rewarded with a nomination from the Directors Guild of America, which will have its annual awards dinner on Jan. 30.

Look at the company the 36-year-old Winer is in for the DGA trophy: Paris Barclay ("Glee"), Larry Charles ( "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), Ryan Murphy ("Glee") and Jeff Schaffer ("Curb Your Enthusiasm").

Winer's pilot, which skillfully introduced viewers to three interrelated families, was the most-talked-about sitcom pilot of the fall - praised for everything from its enlightened look at multiculturalism, gay identity and the American family to its use of multiple cameras in achieving an improved and highly energized version of the single-camera, mock- documentary comedy format.

"I'm blown away, over the moon and just absolutely thrilled," Winer said last week when asked about the two nominations.

Not only has he never been nominated before, Winer has never been to an awards show. "So this will be my first experience Sunday night at the Golden Globes," he says.

One of the best aspects of awards shows is that they can lead viewers to quality programs that they might not have previously found amid all the hype, noise and clutter of our popular culture - especially when it comes to a network TV fall season. "Modern Family" has done just fine in terms of finding an audience: It is the highest-rated new network comedy of the year, with more than 10 million viewers a week. And it was just renewed last week by ABC for a full second season.

But I believe many critics and viewers have yet to discover what a funny and culturally significant comedy series Winer is involved with. That is in part the result of a conventional wisdom that says cable TV has all the new and innovative comedy and drama, while network TV is lowest-common-denominator programming.

And there is some truth to that, based on the gains cable has made in quality TV. Look at some of the other nominees, like "Entourage" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

I would argue, however, that "Modern Family" is every bit as smart, funny, cutting-edge and sociologically significant as any sitcom on cable. And Winer is one of those rare members of the Hollywood creative community who can explain what makes his show that way.

"What's both fresh about this show and familiar is that degree to which our characters love and adore each other," Winer says. "That's something that used to be true in family sitcoms, and then we moved through this era of cynicism and sarcasm. And that was very hip for a while and still works very well for some shows that are still on the air. But what I think is refreshing about our show is its earnestness."

Winer points to two other nominated shows that are representative of the cynical sitcom: "The Office" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

"Maybe every once in a while, the characters have an affection for each other," says the one-time teen correspondent for WJZ's "Evening Magazine" program. "But for the most part, particularly in 'The Office,' there is a lot of conflict and cynicism between them. In 'The Office,' Jim's [played by actor John Krasinski] looks to the camera are basically how ridiculous he feels the people around him are, and that's where the comedy comes from. And that's a quote coming from somebody who loves that show."

Highlighting the difference between technique and sensibility, Winer explains that "while our show certainly has a hip, new format for the family sitcom, in that the mockumentary hasn't yet been bred with the family sitcom, the emotion of the series is a throwback" to the classic family sitcoms of the 1950s and 1960s.

Furthermore, he says, by using three interrelated families, he can triple the pace of action - another way that creators Steven Levitan ("Just Shoot Me!") and Christopher Lloyd ("Frasier") have reimagined the family sitcom with Winer's directorial help.

"Because of the short attention span of the modern viewing audience, the fact that you have three very different but equally engaging story lines to cut back and forth between keeps you on your toes, engaged, and keeps the show moving along at a crisp pace that is new for the family sitcom," Winer says.

The show has also broken ground by having as one of its three featured families a gay couple (played by Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson) with an adopted Vietnamese baby.

"I would say we deal with matters of multiculturalism and gay issues quite matter-of-factly," Winer explains. "It just exists and is accepted. ... In some ways, Cameron and Mitchell, the gay couple, are the most traditional family in the show."

If all of that isn't enough for Baltimore viewers to care about "Modern Family" and how it fares at tonight's Golden Globe Awards telecast, try this: There is also a more traditional TV family featured in the sitcom: mom, dad and three kids.

The mom, who is the center of that household, is played by another Baltimore native, Julie Bowen.

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