At the TCA Press Tour presentation for Netflix, Arrested Development show creator Mitch Hurwitz and most of the actors got together to discuss the new chapter for the comedy series, which includes 14 new episodes being released in May. Fans of the show have been anxiously awaiting the project, since talk of a movie started, some time ago. Instead of that movie, for the time being, they will get to see stories focusing on different cast members for each episode, at times overlapping with other stories, and this time even including some nudity from one of the principal actors.
During the panel itself and giving some extra time for a bit after, producer/writer Mitch Hurwitz talked about how he didn’t realize how big of a challenge it would be to finally get this going, that fan fiction has scooped possible storylines, how they had to learn to not be precious with the material, bringing actor Michael Cera into the writers’ room this time, that they’re trying to make the episodes just under half an hour while they’re in the post-production process, how the movie is in a bit of limbo until they see how the new episodes do, that there are things that harken back to the old incarnation of the show but that he also feels new viewers will find these episodes very accessible, and how he hopes to have extras available on Netflix at some point. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: Did you have moments where you thought this day would never come, or has it come later or sooner than expected?
MITCH HURWITZ: It didn’t seem as impossible to me until we got into it and I realized how impossible it was. I’m close to all these people. We’ve all remained close, in different ways. So, I just always held out hope that this would work out, and it was a very naive hope. It’s a good point. We shouldn’t be here.
When you sat down to actually start writing episodes, it had been a long time. Was there a brief period where it felt like you were almost writing Arrested Development fan fiction?
HURWITZ: There were a couple times when we started working out the stories – and I was doing this with Jim Vallely and our friend Dean Lorey, who was on the show originally – and we were working on a movie. There would be some fan fiction things that would scoop us. It happened a couple times, where I thought, “Well, we can’t do that!” One of the challenges of the show has always been trying to be surprising, and that was easy to do when nobody was watching it. Now that people have started watching it, they get ahead of us. We’ve all started really guarding the material, just to make it fun for the audience. I always feel funny when I don’t reveal things, especially to you [the press], who have supported us so much and are really the big reason we’re here. But, we hold back information about the plot because we want to reward the fans for sticking with us, and that’s so much fun. That’s the funnest part of it.
Were you worried, at any point, that if this didn’t work, you might tarnish the legacy of the show?
HURWITZ: I could vomit, right this moment. I literally could vomit on cue. Yes. Here’s the truth of that. We didn’t have a big audience, obviously, when we made the show. Very early on, we made a decision that we were going to try to give the fans and the people that were loyal to us something that they felt was special. We started gearing our content more to what makes us laugh and stories we wanted to tell, and we had to decide, early on, to not be precious about it. Thanks to the critics and thanks to the Emmys, we got all sorts of great reviews and notices and awards, at the start. Part of it is that it’s great fortune to have something to live up to, but as creative people, we all have to just put that aside and go forward, make the best product we can, have as joyous of an experience as we can, and really remember that the spirit of this was to surprise the fans with something that they didn’t see coming. There was so much talk about the movie and we thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to still do the movie, but to give everybody this thing they didn’t see coming?” Even with the number of episodes, it was reported that there was going to be 10 episodes, and then there was talk about adding more. We always knew there were going to be 14. The idea was, “Let’s say there are 10, and then the fans will be so happy when there’s even more.” But then, that got out, which made it easier because it was getting tough to be cagey about that, all the time, without using any profanity.
What did Michael Cera bring to the writers’ room?
HURWITZ: Michael is such a brilliant guy, and he’s such a great writer. I really did bring him in because I thought, “He’s such an open guy and he wants to learn this other craft, or whatever you call what TV writers do.” And then, suddenly, we were very dependent on Michael Cera being in the writers’ room. He completely understood this complex story. He added to it. He pitched in character. It became clear that Arrested Development is his first language.
With the way you’re telling the story in these new episodes, did you have to be 100% locked in on these scripts, by the time you began filming? How much flexibility was there, in changing things?
HURWITZ: It was very tight. We got very locked in on the story. It was incredibly complicated. We still owe some pick-ups because we’re in second position for most of these actors. We’re telling a complicated story that jumps around in time and has all these intersections, and we’re shooting it way out of order. It was a lot of pieces to juggle. We started writing the shows in order, and then very quickly had to jump to, “Oh, we got Tony Hale today and Jessica [Walter.” We’ve got to jump ahead and write that stuff that’s in Jessica’s show. Fortunately, we knew the story, but it was challenging.
What will the length of the episodes be?
HURWITZ: We’re just starting post-production. We have a lot of post to do. There are a lot of pieces, and a lot of storytelling, so some of the storytelling will be in flux. We will be looking at things like the confluence of a scene, and we still have all these creative decisions to make. In general, we’re going to just try to make these under a half-hour. We’re going to try to take that kind of cable TV comedy model.
Is there going to be a recommended order, in which to watch the episodes, or can people just pick and choose, as they feel fit? And given the fact that you’re very reticent about spoilers, what are the challenges of debuting all the episodes, at the same time, on Netflix?
HURWITZ: They’re all really interesting questions. First of all, there is absolutely an order that we have put together to create the maximum number of surprises, but that’s just part of our storytelling. So, if you watch in the order we prescribe, you will get to Episode 4 and realize, “Oh, that’s why he did that in Episode 1.” That being said, a lot of our audience now discovered this show after it was already out. There are going to be surprises that will be ruined by spoilers, but that would have happened, anyway. So, it’s happening maybe on one day for hardcore fans, but the stuff just now exists. It just lives out there. And Netflix is a very interesting company. These guys are really experimental, fresh thinkers. Arrested Development people like to watch through binge-viewing. It’s not how we came up watching TV. It’s not how I looked forward to seeing The Sopranos. But, you’ve got to follow audience. You’ve got to stay fresh. You’ve got to keep challenging yourself. So, we’re just embracing it.
With the simultaneous storylines, does that mean the whole series takes place in a short period of time?
HURWITZ: That’s an excellent question. The form came out of the function because it is for the audience that already knows the show, while hoping to get a new audience, too. We figured the interesting question for them is, “Where has the family been since 2006, since the last time we saw them?” So, part of the time, we had to spend answering that question. Then, inevitably, it goes up to a point of crisis, in everyone’s show. There was just no getting around that it was about 2006-2012.
Will viewers see the same events from different points of view?
HURWITZ: No. There are elements of that, where you’ll see a scene again and you’ll recognize it, but I wouldn’t say it’s got one conceit like that, at all. It definitely has those jokes, but it would be wrong to say this is a show where, every time you see it, you see a new angle.
So, it takes place six years later?
HURWITZ: Yeah, I owned all the time from after the last episode, when nobody saw what happened to the family because they were opposite China’s Olympics to the present day, for four episodes until mid-2012.
Where does the movie stand now?
HURWITZ: Well, it started with that. We mapped out the whole movie, and then worked backwards from that to do these shows. It might not be a movie. It might be something else.
Is your heart set on the movie?
HURWITZ: I’d be happy with it as Colorforms, at this point. It’s so fun to just be with them. But, it’s not just up to me. I don’t own it.
Is there any way in for new viewers?
HURWITZ: Yes, I think it actually makes more sense for a new audience than the old show did because we’re focusing on one character at a time. It’s all conjecture why somebody didn’t watch, but one of the theories was that there was just so much information, even in the trailers and promos, of all these different people. At the time, I used to say, “We should market this like Everybody Loves Raymond. It’s just a guy dealing with his family.” Instead, it was irresistible to show all these funny people. So, I actually think this could be more inviting to a new audience because they can just watch one character, find out what’s going on in his life, and then meet another character and find out what’s going on in her life, and then see how it intersects the other one.
Wasn’t there talk with Showtime, after it went off of Fox?
HURWITZ: Well, at the time, you have to remember that we were not successful. The Showtime offer, as it was presented to me, was half the money for half the show. I was not interested, at that point, in doing a smaller cast and a more simplified Arrested Development. I felt like I would lose the one thing we had, which was the devotion of the fans. It seemed like there was a Showtime offer and Mitch said no. In fact, it was, “Would you do a version of the show with less budget and less everything else?” And it just didn’t make sense, at the time.
You would’ve had to choose half the cast to go?
HURWITZ: I don’t know how that budget would have been worked out, but that was the initial idea. Obviously, we couldn’t have had a show with nine expensive actors in it. It was very nice that they were even interested in doing that. But, I was so proud of what we’d done that I couldn’t think of a compelling reason to do a lesser version of it.
So, instead of paying nine actors for every episode, you’re paying each actor for a few episodes?
HURWITZ: Well, that’s not my department, but I will say that you couldn’t get Jason Bateman to star in a TV show. I don’t think there’s enough money. Well, he might be a bad example because he is actually in all of the episodes. With Michael Cera, we were like, “So, Michael, will you be the star of an episode? Will you do a special? Will you do a chapter of this story? Can we negotiate that?” Having said that, you then have to find out how much they would charge to come on set for a day and be in someone else’s show. But, I don’t make those deals, so I could be totally misrepresenting this. The very design of the thing was, “Hey, you don’t have to give us eight months of your life.” Now, as it turns out, Michael did because he was on the writing staff, so that’s also a bad example.
You paid him as a writer?
HURWITZ: We did pay him. We paid him great. But, if you were to go to Jason and say, “We need your undivided attention for eight months,” he couldn’t do it. We could say to Jason, “Are you available these two weeks, or these three weeks? And can you come back for this Will Arnett show?,” then he can do it. And by the way, there were contractual obligations that prevented us from doing that. You couldn’t get Will Arnett to do a series. He’s on a series.
They don’t consider this competition?
HURWITZ: People have outs for numbers of episodes, usually, written into their contract. Some studios will say, “We’re going to let Julia Louis-Dreyfus off of Veep to do three episodes, but not three episodes of the same show.” But, that’s all business affairs, so I’m talking over my head here.
You mentioned Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Are you looking into getting her back?
HURWITZ: No, Julia’s not in it. I’m trying to be very, very delicate about the HBO people because they’ve been very generous in letting us use Tony Hale. I love her, though. I’d use her in a second. I just didn’t want to be too pushy with HBO.
Now that you’ve done this new form, would you start a series from scratch for Netflix?
HURWITZ: In a second. I’ve never had a working relationship like I have with them. I developed a lot of the design of this show with them. That conversation was about, “What are your needs? What are you looking for? Will this work for you guys? Will a show work where you’ve got one episode per character?” They really were a creative partner. They wanted the next progression of Arrested Development and helped me find it, as opposed to telling me how to do it.
Is there a standards and practices department, or any kind of censorship?
HURWITZ: There doesn’t seem to be, although we do that internally. I have two daughters, so I found that I would just resist some of the more risque stuff we could do. That being said, 20th Century Fox owns the property and they’re going to try to have a life with this afterwards, so I’m also being mindful of having an edit that they can use. We’ll have a clean version. There is nudity, from one of the principals. That’s a big teaser.
You mentioned that there will be nudity, but what about language and violence?
HURWITZ: We’re still bleeping.
You are or they are?
HURWITZ: We are. Violence has not really been an issue. Even in my wildest hopes, I wasn’t trying to get violence in.
Will we see winks back to the old show, like the banana stand?
HURWITZ: There are a lot of things that are in the show that harken back to the old show, but I really wanted to resist doing a greatest hits. It was irresistible to do a greatest hits, but it was almost too easy. There are things that I know are still ahead of us, in the future of whatever Arrested Development brings.
With this delivery system, is it tempting to continue tinkering with the show, even after it’s on Netflix?
HURWITZ: You just solved all my problems because the post is really accelerated. It’s a very accelerated post process, and I’m worried about it. That being said, there will be a lot of material, which is way too long, that won’t make it in.
DVDs have extras. Is there a way to do Netflix extras?
HURWITZ: I think there is. I hope to take advantage of the Netflix organism and see if there are ways to get in new material and see if there are ways to do deleted scenes.
Will you release this on DVD?
HURWITZ: I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m sure they have the ability to. I’m sure there’s a window. That would be my guess.
How does the overall budget compare to the old show?
HURWITZ: It’s pretty much the same budget.
Is it adjusted for inflation?
HURWITZ: It’s not really inflation adjusted, but it is the same budget, which is great. How many times did you have the cast together, in a scene? Was it just once, or was it many times?
HURWITZ: Even on the old show, we would maybe not all be in the scene. Sometimes there would be a penthouse scene and everyone would get together. But, even in that context, it would be because somebody was missing. I think we did one when Jeffrey Tambor’s character, George Sr., was supposed to have died and Jeffrey was actually in the room as Oscar. So, we were together in various versions, and everybody overlapped. The truth is that we couldn’t afford to do the show with what these people are worth now, so we did this crazy idea of one king, every week.
Arrested Development will have new episodes available through Netflix in May.