Eric Stonestreet on Modern Family’s Future and Breaking His No-Hosting Rule for ‘The Toy Box’

Plus, why he doesn't appear in more ad campaigns

During his Modern Family hiatuses, Eric Stonestreet says, "I have tried to choose things that I'm passionate about."
ABC/Jeff Neira

After eight years as Cameron Tucker on the hit sitcom Modern Family, Eric Stonestreet has become the latest ABC star to moonlight as a host on the network. He’s emceeing The Toy Box, a new reality competition premiering Friday in which inventors vie for approval from a group of toy experts followed by a panel of kid judges. At season’s end, Mattel will manufacture the winning toy, which will be sold exclusively at Toys R Us stores after the finale.

Stonestreet’s second ABC job comes as the future of his primary one is up in the air—he and his Modern Family co-stars’ contracts expire after this season, and the network and studio haven’t yet hammered out new deals to continue what is still one of TV’s top-rated comedies.

The actor spoke with Adweek about breaking his no-hosting rule for The Toy Box, whether this is the end of the line for Modern Family and why he has kept his advertising work to a minimum since landing on the hit show.

Adweek: How did this come about? Were you looking to host something?
Eric Stonestreet: The opposite of looking to host something. I get asked to host things all the time, and I never see the upside of hosting anything.

Did you have a bad experience once?
No. I always feel like if you kill it as a host of something, the reward is, “Oh, he was really great,” and that’s about it. And if you’re terrible at it, it’s a PR nightmare. So I never really wanted to host anything. I think Modern Family is at a level where whatever I choose to do in addition to Modern Family needs to meet that same criteria.

So what changed your mind?
It was the hook of getting to work with the kids, the idea that the kids are going to be these judges and then in addition to that meeting these inventors. My personality is much dryer and darker than the character that I get to play on TV, so I thought it was going to be a fun opportunity to have awkward moments with adults and then rely on my ability to interact with kids from my days of wanting to be a clown. And I love toys. I consider myself a big kid, so the notion that I was going to get to be around toys and kids and have awkward moments with adults, I was like, “This all sounds great!”

"I always feel like if you kill it as a host of something, the reward is, 'Oh, he was really great,' and that's about it. And if you're terrible at it, it's a PR nightmare."
Eric Stonestreet on the perils of hosting

You’re acting with kids every week on Modern Family, but were you worried whether that rapport would translate to this environment?
I never really considered it, because I’ve always been able to engage with kids. I was performing at kids’ birthday parties when I was 11 myself, so I’ve just always had a good rapport with kids. I think it is because I don’t treat them like kids. I talk to them just like they get every ounce of my sense of humor, and that’s how it was with the kids on the show. I won’t say that I internally don’t lose my patience just like everyone, but it really comes down to knowing that they’re learning to be there just for themselves, too, so you have to meet them on their ground a little bit.

This show is a bit like Shark Tank, but Shark Tank doesn’t have a host. How did you determine what your role in the show would be?
That was all in the discussion in the beginning, because I am a fan of Shark Tank and was like, “OK, where do I fit into this?” because you also have the mentors, the three adults who are looking at the toys before they come into the Toy Box. I’m like, “Am I just going to seem like just gratuitous good looks? Are you guys just casting me for the ladies so they tune in to see a hunk?” (laughs) No. I did have those questions, and they walked me through what the process was.