Mitch Hurwitz on ‘Arrested Development’ Season 4
After the “Arrested Development” panel, the Television Critics Association followed the cast into the hall for further interviews. We joined Mitch Hurwitz, holding court with a bunch of familiar reporters whom he greeted personally after all these years. The Bluth family returns in May when all 14 new episodes will be available on Netflix, each focusing on one character (some get two-parters), with a little overlap as each story intersects.
Q: With the simultaneous storylines, does that mean the whole series takes place in a short period of time?
Mitch Hurwitz: That’s an excellent question. Excellent question. Again, the form came out of the function because it is kind of for the audience that already knows the show, hoping to get new audience too, but 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 kind of goes up to a point of crisis in everyone’s show, so there was just no getting around that it was about 2006-2012.
Q: But it’s not like Rashomon where it’s the same events from different points of view?
Mitch Hurwitz: No. I mean, 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. The only reason I’m hesitant, because 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.
Q: So it’s six years later?
Mitch Hurwitz: Yeah, I kind of owned all the time from after the last episode when nobody saw what happened to the family because they were opposite of China’s Olympics to the present day for four episodes until really mid 2012.
Q: Where does the movie stand now?
Mitch Hurwitz: Well, it started with that. With Jim [Vallely] and Dean [Lorey], we mapped out the whole movie and then worked backwards from that to do these shows. I mean, it might not be a movie. It might be something else.
Q: If an HBO [executive] said they wanted to do a new series, is your heart set on the movie?
Mitch Hurwitz: I’d be happy with it as Colorforms at this point. It’s so fun to just be with them, so yeah. It’s not just up to me. I don’t own it.
Q: Is there any way in for new viewers?
Mitch Hurwitz: Yes, I think actually it makes more sense for a new audience than the old show did because we’re focusing on one character at a time. I think what used to be hard for the audience was – who knows? It’s all conjecture why didn’t somebody watch. – but one of the theories was there was just so much information, even in the trailers and promos, so many clips 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 in a way could be more inviting to a new audience because they can just be one character, find out what’s going on in his life, meet another character, find out what’s going on in her life and then see how it intersects the other one.
Q: Wasn’t there talk with Showtime after it went off of Fox? What could Netflix do now that Showtime couldn’t at the time?
Mitch Hurwitz: Well, at the time, you have to remember we were not successful. So 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 sort of seemed like there was a Showtime offer and Mitch said no. In fact, it was like would you do a version of the show, less budget, everything else? And it just didn’t make sense at the time.
Q: You would’ve had to choose half the cast to go?
Mitch Hurwitz: I don’t know how that budget would have been worked out, but that was the initial idea. Okay, we’re not going to, obviously, have a show with nine expensive actors in it so is there a life for “Arrested Development” at Showtime after this?
And it was very nice that they were even interested in doing that obviously. For me, I was so proud of what we’d done, I couldn’t think of a compelling reason to do a lesser version of it.
Q: So instead of paying nine actors for every episode, you’re paying each actor for a few episodes?
Mitch Hurwitz: Well, that’s not my department but I will say yeah, you couldn’t get Jason Bateman to star in a TV show. I don’t think there’s enough money and he might be a bad example because he is actually in all of them, but we’ll do it with Michael Cera.
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 negotiated that I think was all probably favored nations I’m sure. Having said that, to come on set for a day and be in someone else’s show, that would be different but again, I don’t make those deals so I could be totally misrepresenting this but that was my idea.
Q: So we won’t see him just walking through someone else’s episode with one line?
Mitch Hurwitz: Oh no, no, no, I don’t think anybody’s going to be hesitant to pay him to appear in another episode but just 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 it’s a bad example, but that’s where you get into money.
Q: But you paid him as a writer?
Mitch 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” you couldn’t do it. But we could say to Jason, “Are you available these two weeks? These three weeks? Can you come back for this Will Arnett show?” 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.
Q: They don’t consider this competition?
Mitch Hurwitz: Well, people have outs for numbers of episodes usually. That usually is written into their contract. Now they can be letter of the law, some studios will say, “Well, wait a minute, we’re going to let Julia Louis-Dreyfus off of ‘Veep’ to do three episodes but not three episodes of the same show.’” Right? But again, that’s all business affairs. I’m talking over my head here.
Q: Now that you’ve done this new form, would you start a series from scratch for Netflix?
Mitch Hurwitz: In a second. I’ve never had a working relationship like I have with Ted Sarandos. People were saying before, “Do you not get any notes?” I’m always a little offended when people brag about “we don’t get notes.” Well, it’s a conversation. Who wouldn’t have a conversation with anybody about anything? A lot of the design of this show I developed with Ted. What are their needs? What are they looking for? Will this work for you guys? Get nine characters in every episode equally placed? Will a show work where you’ve got one episode [per character]? So he really was a partner and a creative partner.
Q: Does Netflix have a similar structure where you get notes and have to respond?
Mitch Hurwitz: I think it was an unusual circumstance because I don’t know what the typical Netflix experience is. In this case, he wanted the next progression of “Arrested Development” and was helping me find it as opposed to telling me how to do it.
Q: Is there a standards and practices department or any kind of censorship?
Mitch Hurwitz: There doesn’t seem to be; although we do that kind of internally. I just have two daughters. 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. 20th is going to try to have a life with this afterwards, so I’m also being mindful of having an edit that they can [use].
Q: So if it ran on Fox it wouldn’t be shocking.
Mitch Hurwitz: Right, and we’d have a clean version. There is nudity. One of the principals.
Q: Will we see winks back to the old show like the banana stand?
Mitch Hurwitz: That’s a big teaser. 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 also kind of irresistible to do a greatest hits, but it was almost too easy, so there are things that I know are still ahead of us in the future of whatever “Arrested Development” brings. So when I didn’t get something in that I really wanted to from the old show, I can think, “Well, I do have it in the story.”
Q: You said nudity. What about language and violence?
Mitch Hurwitz: We’re still bleeping.
Q: You are or they are?
Mitch Hurwitz: We are. Violence has not really been an issue. Even in my wildest hopes, I wasn’t trying to get violence in.
Q: With the delivery system, you could tinker with the show even after it’s on Netflix. Is that tempting?
Mitch 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.
Q: But then you’re never finished.
Mitch Hurwitz: I know. I know. But actually, that being said, there will be a lot of material, like that clip we just saw, which is way too long obviously, but we’ve got a lot of material that won’t make it in, then at some point we could.
Q: That’s not going to be in?
Mitch Hurwitz: Not all three minutes of it.
Q: DVDs have extras. Is there a way to do Netflix extras?
Mitch 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 after you air and see if there are ways to do deleted scenes.
Q: Will you release this on DVD?
Mitch Hurwitz: I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m sure they have the ability to, and I’m sure there’s a window. That would be my guess.
Q: How does the overall budget compare to the old show?
Mitch Hurwitz: Same budget. Pretty much the same budget.
Q: Adjusted for inflation?
Mitch Hurwitz: Not really inflation adjusted, but it is the same budget, which is great.
Q: You mentioned Julia Louis Dreyfus, are you looking into getting her back?
Mitch 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. So no, Julia’s not in it. I love her though. I love her. I’d use her in a second. I just didn’t want to be too pushy with HBO.
Q: What’s going on with Gob’s stage show where he’s crucified?
Mitch Hurwitz: I know, I wouldn’t have put that in there, but yeah, funny, right?
Q: Is that clip showing too much in your mind?
Mitch Hurwitz: Nah, it’s okay. There are a lot of other surprises. The cast is hilarious. I hope my editing does them justice. As you can see, it’s hard. Just look at that clip, now choose the funniest part of that and squeeze it into a show. You can tell where it gets long, but it’s just choices.
Q: Has a lot changed in the culture or business in the last six years that changes the way you approach the show?
Mitch Hurwitz: Just the general idea of this Netflix delivery system. It informs the storytelling, it’s a little arcane, but it informs the storytelling in an interesting way. When I was watching “Mad Men” one a week, I would really let those themes resonate with me and think about that last music cue and think, “Right, they’re all running from something.”
If you end up watching four in a row, you’re not stopping and thinking, “Hey, they’re all running from something. Oh, they’re all resisting change.” Those thematic things do kind of wash out a little bit so I kind of felt, right or wrong, let me embrace this as a unitary thing. Episodes have endings, but it’s not the same kind of storytelling I think I would have told. It’s a very arcane point. I don’t think that’s that noticeable. I think it will be a change in the way people tell stories though.
Q: How would you prefer we watch “Arrested Development?”
Mitch Hurwitz: I mean, now I’m on board with watch them all at once. It’s harder post-wise. It’s much harder post-wise. I don’t literally mean all at once, but I think it’d be depleting actually. Comedy does work shorter. I’m a little worried about that.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Frederick M. Brown