'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Boss on Unpredictable New Season: Larry David Was Sitting on a "Gold Mine"

"The finale does end in a way where it could be the final 'Curb' ever — because there’s always that chance — or not," executive producer Jeff Schaffer tells THR while previewing the ninth season of the HBO comedy.
John P. Johnson/courtesy of HBO
Larry David with executive producer Jeff Schaffer on the set of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'

Curb Your Enthusiasm is back, and Larry David is still the same old Larry.

After a six-year hiatus, David returns to HBO, and though the ninth season of his Los Angeles-set comedy will very clearly be set in 2017, watching Curb will feel like catching up with an old, albeit curmudgeonly, friend. The Hollywood Reporter was at the Curb premiere, where two episodes of the forthcoming season were screened, and TV Larry, joined by his original gang, is once again taking on the minutia of everyday life.

"Larry had a lot that he wanted to say. He’s been suffering petty indignities for six years, it’s time!" executive producer Jeff Schaffer tells THR of the star's decision to return. David spent the time between Curb's eighth season in 2011 and the story-making launch of season nine jotting down ideas in his little notebook. In between starring on Broadway in his show Fish in the Dark and popping into Saturday Night Live to deliver his best Bernie Sanders, the Seinfeld creator was also mining his daily experiences for the material that would make up the upcoming supersized, 10-episode season that launches on Sunday. Schaffer adds, "He’s like Scrooge McDuck and has been hoarding these awkward moments."

In the years between Curb seasons, Schaffer wrapped his own show, FX's The League. Since the show ended in 2015, Schaffer was free when David approached him about getting the gang back together. He says he and David outlined the majority of the season — a process he calls "comedy geometry" — before David was comfortable enough to give HBO the official nod to announce Curb's long-awaited return last summer.

"It’s the exact same process as how we wrote Seinfeld," says Schaffer, who also wrote and executive produced later seasons of the classic NBC series. "We take funny stories, and then we sit there with a dry-erase board trying to make it work into a show."

What has been revealed about Curb is the generic plot ("Larry has a new venture that elicits promising feedback from a number of prospective investors — until a string of missteps undermines the plan, at least temporarily"), the returning original cast and a slew of guest-stars. In addition to the core group of Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman, J.B. Smoove, Cheryl Hines, Richard Lewis, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, the revolving door of Curb celebrities includes Lauren Graham, Jimmy Kimmel, Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston and Carrie Brownstein, to name a few. The first episode, titled "Foisted," sees Larry trying to rid himself of an inept assistant, offending Jeff’s barber and getting into hot water over his new project.

The secrecy surrounding the upcoming season, according to Schaffer, is because the team has intentionally littered the episodes with exciting surprises. And that includes a supersized season finale that no one will predict. "It is one of the most ambitious things we’ve ever tried — and it worked!" says Schaffer of the near-hour show. "It is going to be a classic."

Below, Schaffer previews the ninth season, explains why the current climate needs Larry, "someone to worry about all the little things," and offers a very hopeful answer when asked about the potential of Curb returning for a season 10.

When you came back to make another season of Curb, a lot had changed in six years. You'd wrapped another long-running show, The League, and after executive producing Curb for years alongside David Mandel and Alec Berg — who are each busy making Veep and Silicon Valley, respectively — you are now at the helm with Jeff Garlin and Larry David. What were the challenges, and what was most exciting about being back?

The most exciting thing about being back was just talking to Larry about all of the awkward situations we had gotten into in the last six years. People always ask, “Are you going to run out of material?” Well, the world is still making stupid and terrible people! That’s the beauty. So much of the show is Larry coming in and saying, “I was at this dinner party last night, and this woman said this, and I wish I had done this, but I didn’t.” I’ll respond by saying that I know real Larry didn’t, but show Larry will! And there is an episode. You start trading your awkward scars and talk about stories.

The process of creating Curb is unique in that there are no scripts and you outline the entire season. How were you able to slip back into that groove?

The trick is always that a story starts with one scene, so how do you turn that one scene into a show? That’s what Larry doesn’t get enough credit for — how much time we spend on the structure. Even though the show is improvised, dialoguewise, we spend all this time on the structure of the show so that all these individual stories weave together. Every show we have ever done has a point on the board, in the third column, where a line is drawn that says, “Is this one harder than all the others?” We’ll realize we aren’t ending it right because we aren’t doing this right, so then we go back. We spend a lot of time on that. The show should be funny when you describe what happens, and then you get brilliant people to say it in their own way, and we do a live rewrite for every show. Every scene is a live rewrite, with someone trying this and that. Then we write it a second time, and the third time it gets written is in the edit room.

You spoke about mining from David's little book of ideas to make the season. What was the process like of sifting through the Larry-isms he had been keeping track of all of these years?

My notes are on the computer because I dump stuff on there and have a big long list. Larry is literally pulling out a big spiral notebook. He takes stuff from his little notebook and puts it in the big one, and we went through all of these stories. There were so many. That’s why this season, he literally has just been sitting on this gold mine. Now he’s ready to share the gold.

How many of his notes did you go through for this season?

We went through the entire thing in the beginning. And, by the way, new things still happen. Sometimes some things are funny, but you don’t know what to do with them. There is something that we do this year that Larry has tried to get on the show for three seasons. It became this running joke when we were stuck about something. He would just say the words of the story out of the side of his mouth. We would all laugh and go, “No.” Then this year, we finally figured out how to do it. But it took us three seasons to figure it out.

You ended up having many supersized episodes as a result. Which is the longest-running episode, and did you have to push HBO to make that happen? Was that a result of simply having too much good material?

The episodes are denser. That’s the one thing we were rusty at: guesstimating how long these shows were going to be based on how much we were putting in. We were in the editing room last week editing episodes nine and 10, and I asked, “How could we have ever thought this show could have been a half-hour?” We went back to look at the outline and said, “What were we thinking? There are like 30 scenes!” The longest run time is going to be episode 10, the season finale. I don’t have an exact time because we haven’t finished editing it, but it’s big. Closer to an hour. HBO was very generous with their time!

David rarely looks ahead to another season before completing the current one. But it seems he's all but confirmed there will be a 10th season, by promising we won't have to wait five more years. Is another one in the works?

As you know, at the end of every season — that is the last season of Curb. Larry says, “There will never be another one.” I’ve finally realized why. The thinking is this: When he’s done with the season, he’s put all these great ideas in the story, so he’s out of ideas. Why would he ever do another season if he doesn’t have any great ideas? Because he’s the only person on the planet that thinks he’s never going to have another great idea. And he never wants to do a bad show, so how could he ever do one? But I will say that season nine, when we were writing the finale, it does end in a way where it could be the final Curb ever — because there’s always that chance — or not. I wouldn’t bet on Larry running out of ideas. That’s what I’ll say.

You have said the finale is "crazy" and the "most ambitious" thing you've ever done. How do you strike that balance of ending it in a place that feels good as a series ender, but also setting up the show for more?

Larry had a lot of fun this year. But it’s always like that. The finale of season five was titled, “The End.” (Laughs.) That was it. If it ended here, it would be a cool ending. But it doesn’t have to end here.

Some of the stars have said the season is political, but David told us Donald Trump doesn’t impact a thing. In what ways is the show political?

Larry is a creature of the Westside of Los Angeles, so there is some political context, and there are some jokes about what’s been going on. But the unique thing about Larry is that he usually doesn’t see the forest because he’s worried about one single tree. I think one of the reasons people are happy Curb is back is because there’s so much going on, and everyone is worried, rightly so, about all the big things. Someone has to worry about the little things. Someone’s got to worry about the minutia, and Larry’s our man.

Will it be clear when watching the ninth season of Curb that it's set in 2017?

Yes. The weirdest thing was that the first day of shooting for the season was the day after the election. I was sitting there that Tuesday night thinking, “I think America just lost twice today — I don’t think we’re going to shoot tomorrow.” (Laughs.) I thought we were going to have to take an insurance day. We were set to shoot some scenes from the premiere that day, but we cross-board and have all this actor scheduling too, so the first scene we actually shot was a scene from the middle of episode four. Everyone was walking around in a daze; it was early in the morning, and all this stuff had just happened. But the scene was J.B. [Smoove], Jeff [Garlin] and Larry, and it was just — boom. We were back into it. Everyone could work on something fun instead of worrying and sitting around in their own sick. Larry said he was rusty for the first 30 seconds, but then I think J.B. just pounded the rest off him. (Laughs.) It was like season eight had just ended the day before.

Curb Your Enthusiasm's ninth season premieres Sunday, Oct. 1, at 10 p.m. on HBO. Check back in with Live Feed after the premiere for more from Schaffer and the cast.

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