A blast with the past

Pre-loved goods ... <em>Modern Family has vintage cameos in store this season.
Pre-loved goods ... Modern Family has vintage cameos in store this season.

It's a modern-day marvel. Well, that's what most television viewers think when they tune in to Modern Family. Australian fans of the wonderful comedy have plenty of reason to celebrate tonight, as the new-season episodes return to air here after a lengthy break over the festive season.

Sofia Vergara, playing the pregnant Gloria, is the focal point of this season, with fans waiting eagerly to see how and when the newest member of the Pritchett family arrives. (Although the episode has already aired in the US, we won't be sharing any plot-spoilers here.)

But aside from the new-baby storyline, there are some great guest roles in store for the season. Ed O'Neill, who of course plays the patriarch Jay Pritchett, was best known previously for his role as Al Bundy on the hit sitcom Married … with Children, which began in 1987 and ran for a decade.

Eagled-eyed Married … with Children fans will have something to look out for on Modern Family. Expect a guest appearance from David Faustino, who played Bundy's son Bud in Married … with Children. (One wonders whether Christina Applegate will also turn up in Modern Family.)

There is another 1980s connection: Fred Savage, who was famed as a child actor in The Wonder Years, has turned his directing talents to Modern Family. And despite all the creative know-how he must have displayed on set, Savage still looks about 12.

The cast of the show is so strong, it's hard to imagine a better mix of actors on the small screen. Despite not winning anything at the Golden Globes this year (which came as a surprise to most television fans), the cast won the top television award at the Screen Actors Guild Awards last month - and deservedly so.

One of the other true strengths of Modern Family is the continual inclusion of very gifted performers in smaller, guest roles. Keep an eye out for return appearances from Benjamin Bratt (as Gloria's former husband and Manny's father) and Shelley Long as Jay's former wife.

Modern Family airs on Sunday at 7.30pm on Channel Ten.

Healthy balance

Dr Andrew Rochford is pretty much the only presenter from Ten's failed Breakfast experiment to have survived with a job at the network. (His fellow presenters Paul Henry and Kathryn Robinson both exited Ten after the show was cancelled in late 2012.)

Rochford is not only an occasional presenter on The Project but has also scored a role as The Living Room's medical expert.

He is one of three new guest presenters on the show - the other two are Lilly van Epen on gardening and Jason Cunningham on money matters.

It's a boost to the profile of the show, although genial host Amanda Keller and co-presenters Chris Brown, Barry du Bois and Miguel Maestre remain.

Rochford says it's a sign Ten is investing long-term in lifestyle options for viewers. It's also clearly aiming at the market occupied by Channel Seven's hugely popular Better Homes and Gardens.

''Like any new show, it takes people time to get to know each other … and to obviously offer something that is an alternative to Better Homes and Gardens,'' he says. ''The nice thing is there's been definite growth. It's nice the network is giving this a chance. They're saying, 'we're going to back this show'. It gives it a chance to grow and become an entertaining alternative and I like that.''

Rochford says he is committed to making the confusing space of medical information much clearer for viewers.

''I enjoy my role as somebody who communicates the truth about health and medicine,'' he says. ''I really enjoy having the chance to make it easy for people [to understand].''

As for what happened to Breakfast, Rochford says he was disappointed by its failure. (He left five months before Ten cancelled the show.)

''From the beginning, when I knew I was going to be part of this, I took it very seriously,'' Rochford says. ''I was thoroughly disappointed that it didn't go the way I'd hoped or thought would potentially be the best direction for that show. But when I saw how things were playing themselves out, I was a big boy and decided [to leave]. You can dig your heels in as much as you like but you can only do so much.''

Rochford admits he would love another role on morning television at some point but for now is happy juggling his real-life medical career with his guest roles on The Project and The Living Room.

''At the moment I'm doing about one or two days [of medical work] at a private hospital in Sydney, then balancing the rest of it.''

Rochford admits some patients get a surprise when he's the one operating on them.

''It can make for some odd conversations. People wake up and go, 'You're not a real doctor!' So we have a bit of fun with that.''

The Living Room airs on Friday at 8.30pm on Ten.

In her element

Keep an eye on Stephanie Rice's newfound television career as she continues to build her profile on Channel Nine.

Apart from being a contestant on the next series of Celebrity Apprentice, Rice is taking baby steps into morning television by working as a guest presenter on Today. Rice is, of course, a natural fit for its health and fitness segments. She will also be presenting some information about food but thankfully the show has also retained its resident nutritionist, Dr Joanna McMillan, who is an excellent television presenter.

For Rice, it will be interesting to see whether all the intensive media training that sports people receive (from their early teens onwards) pays off for her on the small screen.

Celebrity Apprentice is being filmed in Sydney and the show might as well have been labelled the ''sports edition'' with Rice, Jeff Fenech, Dermott Brereton and John Steffensen among the contestants. Not to mention the incredible Dawn Fraser.

It will be fascinating to see who impresses Mark Bouris - and who doesn't.

This story A blast with the past first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.