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NEW YORK – “Life is choice, and choice is loss,” said Mitch Hurwitz of his creative ethos at 2013’s New York TV Festival keynote conversation on Monday night. But as the Arrested Development creator explained his frustrations with Fox, amazement with Netflix and plans to treat the show’s devout audience, Hurwitz made it very clear that his choices have led to victory.
“Television, for the longest time, did not really allow new voices,” he told moderator John Sellers, senior editor of New York Magazine, at the SVA Theatre in New York. “It was in the business of taking new voices and just grinding them into old voices. You’d come up through a show and try to match the voice of the show.”
Hurwitz, who first rose as a producer for The Golden Girls, The John Larroquette Show and The Ellen Show, said that releasing a fourth season of the critical and cult hit came with its own limitations, such as bending to Netflix’ “binge-watching” streaming model and never having all the actors at the same time. But the “irresistible” opportunity to explore new territory in television’s possibilities challenged his ideas about storytelling.
“What I came to realize is that some perfect version of Arrested Development as it exists for me and the actors and the audience and everybody together probably doesn’t exist,” explained Hurwitz, who mapped how a season of truly separate stories led to the breakthrough format of simultaneous episodes.
“I felt in many ways, I did not prepare the audience for this,” he admitted openly of his misstep in the process. “Right before the show came out, I thought, I’ve really not said what this is, and what it had become was a novel. I had this unique opportunity here – people are going to get to watch eight hours of this, they’re not gonna spend the next six months of having it doled out to them … so the storytelling changed. That first episode became much more like chapter one of a novel than episode one of a series. And I didn’t prep you guys — I’m really sorry about that.”
Hurwitz reiterated that season four was always meant to preface an eventual Bluth family film, but the cast’s conflicting schedules and 20th Century Fox’s ownership logistics make it impossible to simply partner with a film studio and release a full-length feature. Still, he hopes for more Arrested to come in the future — particularly with Netflix.
“All I’ve been able to say is, I really want to continue with this, and the cast really wants to continue with this,” he said. “What my new thing is, because it might be tough to get the cast together for the four months you would need to make a series, is to try to get them together for four weeks sooner, and do the movie that is the story that we’ve been building up to in this show. And then, bring the series back after that. It’s not my decision, but it’s what I want to do. The reason I’m not just saying, let’s go do the series next, is because I’m worried it’ll take two years to make all those deals — a mess of people, a weird tease to all of us and the audience. So my goal is to do a movie for Netflix type thing, and then go into the series.”
While he acknowledged that Netflix’s streaming model changes audiences’ experience of a show — when watching Mad Men, Hurwitz watched more for whether Don Draper would form his own agency than digesting the nuanced episodes that are buffered by commercial breaks — he praised the media company for releasing shows that evolve, like AMC’s Breaking Bad did.
“That’s one of the most exciting things about Netflix — if you look at what they’ve done, from Orange Is the New Black to House of Cards — they’re shows that fundamentally change,” he said. “Whereas television has always been about fundamentally staying the same, that episode 600 of Two and a Half Men is basically like episode four. That’s what you’re buying; you know it’s going to be the same.”
“It had gotten to the point in broadcast television where — I’m gonna get myself in trouble here — they sort of fetishized how difficult I was,” he reflected. “I think this weird thing happened with the show where it got canceled, and then it started getting a following, and when people said, ‘Why did you cancel that show?’ — this is just my own thing — but I think they just said, ‘Mitch is crazy.’ Because by the time I would bring back shows to broadcast television, they were really worried about me.
“I really had a clear vision for Arrested, and the things after that, I was the opposite — I was really open to taking notes,” he continued. One project, Running Wilde with Will Arnett, was particularly troublesome. “We did like nine drafts of Running Wilde, and Kevin Reilly who ran Fox just kept saying, ‘Hey, I understand if you guys don’t want to do any more versions of this, but this doesn’t work for me. I want another premise,’ and Will would look at me and I’d say, ‘You betcha we’ll do another premise!’ We were so misplaced. It got to the point where I was in a production meeting once we got the show up and running — it had changed so many times at this point — that I was given the note — and I won’t say who gave it — which was, ‘Mitch, if you think something is a good idea or it’s just a twist you haven’t seen before or it just feels special or fresh, just don’t do it.’ “
Happily, he revealed, “And I said, ‘Kevin!’ ” to much laughter. “So that obviously doesn’t work.”
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