The largely teased and anticipated Modern Family death finally came during Wednesday's episode when the show killed off DeDe Prichett (Shelley Long), the mother of Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen) and Mitchell Pritchett (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), an ex-wife to Jay (Ed O'Neill).
Co-creator Steve Levitan told The Hollywood Reporter just why the writers decided a death needed to happen this season.
"We gather [with the writers] at the beginning of the season and talk about the big arcs and things that we want to have happen — the milestone moments. It occurred to us that death is a giant part of the family experience and while Phil had lost his mother run a previous episode, we've never seen the entire family have to deal with such loss. It seemed like an interesting thing to have happen," Levitan said.
As a result, the writers landed on DeDe — who died in her sleep — because of her ties to every part of the intertwined family.
"She's directly involved with three of our characters and she touched everybody's life in some interesting way. It seemed like the right character to put everybody through something. She seemed like right character because she so directly affects so many of our characters," he said.
The executive producer said that Long, who knows casting director Jeff Greenberg from their days together on set of Cheers, took the news well.
"She was very sweet about it," he said, adding that Greenberg called and delivered the news to Long. "We made ourselves available to her if she had follow-up questions."
"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," Levitan added.
He said DeDe's death didn't come from a result of the writers sitting down and saying, "'Let's do a death episode — who can we kill?' It came from [a conversation of], 'What would happen if DeDe died?' That's how it started."
Levitan said after losing his own mother two years ago, he thought the experience of "getting that call and [gathering] as a family" was an interesting idea for the series.
"I thought that was the interesting part and biggest challenge was how do we get this big monumental and sad moment and still get some comedy out of it. We liked that challenge," he continued.
Finding the comedy in DeDe's death came with the decision to have her die on Halloween. "I've always been enamored with stories where people are very inappropriately dressed for very serious moments. It's been a thing of mine for as long as I can remember," Levitan added.
"That's what happens with death: It comes at very strange and bizarre moments and can strike at any time," he continued. "By setting this during Halloween, we could find some comedy on such a sad day."
Viewers can expect the impact of DeDe's death to be felt throughout the season, with Levitan teasing that her widower will be paying a visit to the family in an upcoming episode with some of DeDe's belonging.
Modern Family airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.