Now that fans, critics and new viewers of the series have had some time to digest the new episodes of Arrested Development, show creator Mitch Hurwitz took some time out to discuss those episodes, as well as the future of the series.
During the interview, the show’s executive producer/writer talked about how the movie that was first talked about evolved into these episodes, that there’s a lot you can do in television that you can’t do with a film, whether a possible movie would be a theatrical release or something else that’s available solely through Netflix, how much he’s paid attention to the positive and negative reviews of the new episodes, that he sees this story as a continuing saga, that things would have been different if he could have had this entire cast together for every episode, how he feels about the people who are re-editing the episodes to put the scenes back together, and his advice to show creators who are looking to extend the life of their series. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Question: There was talk, for a long time, that this season would be leading into a possible movie. Does the format really lend itself that well to a movie or would it be better to just do another season?
MITCH HURWITZ: That’s a great question. I think it’s really interesting, isn’t it? With my colleagues, I mapped out a whole film, and then, as I started writing it, I realized, “Wait a minute, I’ve got a 90-minute movie versus an eight-hour show,” and I start using some of the good stuff from the movie for the show. So, there were things that we did end up using. There’s a lot that you can do in television that you can’t do with a film, theoretically. At the time, the only possibility was to do a movie. It seemed like it was the only way to get the cast together. The television thing really did start much less ambitiously, to just introduce the characters, and lead up to that. My interest is in telling the story of this family. If it was a movie canvas, we would absolutely tailor it to that. But, the life of a family does seem to play out, episodically. I think there’s an argument for both things. Maybe we can do it as a series of articles. Remember when Woody Allen got turned into a comic strip? I think we should go with the comic strip format.
If you did do a movie, would it be a theatrical movie, or would it be another event on Netflix?
HURWITZ: Well, my hope was and is that we would do a theatrical movie. This is all complicated by the fact that there are existing rights, so it’s not really the kind of thing where we could go out and say, “Okay, Warner Brothers wants it, New Line wants it, etc., etc. Who wants it most?,” and create that kind of action. It is the property of Fox, so if they were willing to do it as a theatrical release, then we could. I’m just talking over my head because it’s really all in the deal making. I suppose there is a scenario where there could be a made for Netflix movie, we just haven’t really explored it yet.
Everybody likes their work to be noticed, but the blowback for this has been phenomenal. I don’t think any show, and certainly not a comedy, has ever been scrutinized to the point this has, in the last 10 days or so. Is that all good to you, or is it giving you a colossal headache? Do you read much or any of it? What is your whole take on that?
HURWITZ: I try to have a pretty open attitude about it. I do have to remind myself that I took this Netflix opportunity and tried to completely exploit it as creatively as possible. I think everybody wants to be loved, all the time, but it’s not realistic. It’s also not realistic, if you’re going to be ambitious, in terms of changing the form or evolving. There are risks, either way. I think if I had done the exact same show that I did last time, there’d be blowback to that. What’s interesting about the show is that I don’t think it was considered, at the time, to be this enviable classic. It’s so flattering that people have such esteem now for the old series. I didn’t really realize the height of that, and I’m glad I didn’t. Although we had positive feedback, back then, there was very critical feedback, too. With every season and every episode, people would be critical and say, “Oh, it’s gone downhill. It’s changed.”
I think part of my ambition, back then, was to not really be that repetitive. I even tried to burn down one of the sets – the banana stand – in the second episode, and was talked out of it. So, when I entered into the Netflix thing, they gave me this freedom. I had all sorts of restrictions, based on the cast availability, and I just really, really fully embraced it as a way to use the new media to tell a different kind of story, to not give people exactly what they want, and to surprise them. And, if you do that, it’s inevitable that people are not going to be on board, at first or maybe ever, but that’s just a risk that I very willingly took. I’ve also been somewhat self-effacing about bad reviews. I’m reminded by my wife, quite a bit, that the majority of them are really good. There’ve been some really amazing ones. It is all very interesting to me. I do try to learn from it, of course, and I do. My least favorite kind of criticism is the kind that I agree with. There are certain things that I agree with, and certain things to grow from. But, I really wouldn’t trade the opportunity.
What are you going to do, as far as continuing the story? Are you writing a movie? Do the actors have time?
HURWITZ: What I was trying to do, at the end of the last episode, was to make people disappointed that the show was ending, before Michael and George Michael confronted each other. I don’t know how successful we were at that. No matter what I do, there’s always going to hopefully be the suggestion of another step. It’s a saga, in a way. I’ve always trusted that our little family wants to work together and wants to continue telling the story, so not only are there opportunities for that to happen, but there really is a whole storyline behind it. I did feel like, even if we’re to never come back again, you could look back on the last episode of this season and say, “Wow, look at that! He broke out of the blue circle. The whole show is a circle and everybody is arrested. Everybody keeps falling back to the same patterns without doing too much dramaturgy.”
Which episodes do you feel were the best for you, in terms of really wanting to get them out to the fans?
HURWITZ: I will tell you that I really didn’t think of these as episodes. They are episodes, and every one does have a story, but as soon as we got into this Netflix model, what became clear about the all-at-once streaming or dropping, it wasn’t so much that people could watch them all at once, but like a novel. It’s a part of one bigger thing. That really is how I approached it. It’s how we wrote it, and it’s how we shot it. On the first day of shooting, we shot things for five different shows. We would end a week and have 50 pieces from 15 different episodes. As a result, the story itself just became one giant saga and, within that, everyone had their story. On the old show, everybody had their story, and it took place in 20 minutes. The stories in this iteration are braided through it.
HURWITZ: You mean George Michael’s mother, Tracy? The deceased wife of, “My deceased wife had red hair.” It was a couple of things. We just wanted to sneak it in there, and we wanted to also slowly point out that she really was similar to Rebel Ally, the deceased wife of Michael Bluth. There are a couple of other reasons that have yet to be revealed, so I can’t tell you.
How do you feel about people re-editing the episodes to put the scenes back together?
HURWITZ: I love it. I think it’s like sampling. It’s really interesting. To me, the beauty of the Netflix thing is that you can jump from place to place. We talked about that with the tech team. I bet you that’s coming on Netflix. I feel such a kinship to them because they really like looking at this with fresh eyes. It’s been very inspiring. Netflix puts everything out at once, but that is a radical idea that flies in the face of everything going back to radio serialization to bring them back the next week. So, I’m very gratified that people are taking this material in and ingesting it. What could be a better thing? I love the fact that it inspires creativity in people. That’s a great thing. I think it’s very cool.
If you could have had all of the cast available to shoot the season, what would you have done differently?
HURWITZ: It’s hard to know. I think I would have done a lot differently. As you know, writers need restrictions. If somebody just says, “Hey, do you want to write a novel, or an article, or a movie, or a short story, you get shut down.” But, if somebody says to you, “You need 700 words by tomorrow,” you apply your creativity fully to that task, and in a funny way you’re even grateful for it. So, I have discovered, in my own creative life, that the more I paint myself into corners, the more I have to really tap into a lot of creativity to get out of it, and I think you get great stuff from that. Had I had all the characters from the start, I absolutely would have told a massively different story.
If I’d had just a regular TV series to do, it probably would have looked more like the old series. But, knowing that it was on Netflix, I’m sure I would have tried to find a way to do something that could only be done on Netflix. There would still be a hidden master story that would have been pretty similar, except all the characters would have been in every episode. I don’t know. I would have had to find some way to differentiate it from the other seasons. I don’t think I would have been able
to just do the old show. I will say that I had always wanted to do an anthology series, and I’ve always wanted to do a series with a shifting perspective from a shifting point of view. I’ve just always loved that in novels. I think that’s a great way at getting at a story, through the prism of everyone. We edit and create our own truth, as we kind of go along, and I loved exploring that.
Since this is the time of year when other shows are getting cancelled, and given the success that Arrested Development has had with its survival, do you have any advice for show creators who are looking to keep their shows alive?
HURWITZ: From a business perspective, whenever a new model comes along, it’s really challenging to a lot of people who make a living off the old model. There was a time when even DVDs coming out of a show that wasn’t successful seemed like a long shot. The first year of our show, why would they make a DVD of it? And yet, they did, and that led to a lot of success for the show. So, the first thing I want to say is that Netflix is really good for the TV model, and certainly for studios, because suddenly you’re in a situation where you don’t have to appeal to nine million viewers to stay on the air. We know that when you try to appeal to nine million people, you’re going to give something up. You’re going to give up some creativity and you’re going to file off the edges of a comedy, so as not to offend, and all those things. So, I don’t think it’s unrealistic. I think there are a lot of shows where, suddenly if you’re only getting three to four million viewers, it could be very, very positive for Netflix. I think that’s really good.
The advice I would give is to do it, if you have a story to tell. If you don’t have a story to tell, then don’t do it. One of the great things about TV is the story to tell can be very internal and really character-based. I actually think there’s going to be a lot of life for a lot of these guys. There are so many good shows that get cancelled, just because they don’t immediately hook a big audience. Everybody Loves Raymond was on for two years before anybody was watching it, and because CBS chose to stick with it, it became this monster hit. Even Mad Men got a million viewers the first year. Over the summer, on Netflix, it got five million viewers, and then the next year it came back on the network with six million viewers. So, it’s really an amazing opportunity. Even if the show doesn’t turn into that kind of hit, I bet you there’s a financial model to support it.
One of the great things about this season is that the episodes are just
so densely layered that it’s just impossible to catch everything in one viewing. How important was creating that re-watch ability factor, in developing this season?
HURWITZ: Well, it was really important, but it bled into this idea of designing the whole world, like they do on The Simpsons or maybe how James Cameron did it in Avatar. I’ve always liked the idea of, “Well, if we’re going to go to a restaurant, let’s create what the restaurant is. If they’re going to a movie, let’s have some fun with what’s on the movie screen. If anything is featured, let’s take the opportunity and see if we can fill out the world of our characters. Not just for the sake of having a crazy restaurant in the background, but to somehow tell the story of this time and place.” Those things both fill up the world and create re-watch ability. And then with this particular story, because of the fact that the stories were happening simultaneously and I didn’t have all the characters at the same time, it became one of the themes.
One of the themes is really that nothing is what it seems and we really don’t know what other people’s lives are. We can see how people’s lives look, but we really don’t know what they are until we’re in their shoes. I think those things do contribute to re-watch ability, but they really are done conceptually and comedically first. I know that, even in my own experience with the show, and it’s always been this way, it gets into your head. We would shoot it and edit it, and then we’d get into the mix stage and mix it, put all the sound in and go back through to clean up the sound. And suddenly, in that final pass, everybody was laughing, myself included. That’s a fun thing for me, personally.
When can fans expect more new Arrested Development content?
HURWITZ: One of the reasons we eventually said, “Okay, let’s do this as an anthology series,” was to manage expectations that had built up over time for the movie, but also to give the fans something more satisfying than 90 minutes of content because we had promised them, for so long, that it was coming. I don’t want to give a date yet, but as soon as we have one, I will tell you.
Arrested Development is available to view on Netflix.