The genius of Arrested Development rests in the mind of creator Mitch Hurwitz – but if he didn’t have the Hollywood power duo of Ron Howard and Brian Grazer behind the show, it probably wouldn’t have been made. It certainly wouldn’t have lasted two and a half seasons. Howard and Grazer understood Hurwitz’s grand vision of a sitcom that broke most conventional rules, and they fought for it until the show saw the light of day. They also played a huge role in reviving it for Netflix.
Rolling Stone spoke separately to the two producers, but their answers are combined here in a single interview since both conversations covered the same ground. (Check back tomorrow for an interview with the eldest Bluth boy.)
You’ve worked on a number of shows over the years. Why do you think this one didn’t connect with a big audience?
Ron Howard: Tonally, it was something really brand new on network television. The Ricky Gervais Office was charting a bit of that territory in the UK, but that wasn’t really in the States yet. The U.S. version of The Office and Modern Family and shows like that use the style that Arrested uses, but those shows weren’t around yet. There are a lot of jokes coming at you from different angles and it was quite a bouncing ball to follow.
Brian Grazer: The show was very, very attractive to what became a very committed audience. These are young people, aged 17 to 25 or something. I think because there was a level of anarchism and a level of irreverence, it just worked for a younger demographic. An older audience is more accustomed to having a comfortable relationship with the protagonist of a television show.
Eight years ago, Breaking Bad wasn’t on the air. There are shows on cable now that are breaking that rule. There are shows with characters that are highly irreverent and those shows are breaking out right now and getting attention. That wasn’t the case seven years go.
In hindsight, do you think it belonged on a cable network?
Grazer: Well, I don’t know. Fox was really good to us. They stayed with the show as long as they could. Maybe it would have been better on cable, sure. Hard to say.
Might it have been a bigger hit if it started a few years later?
Grazer: Oh yeah, much bigger hit. But maybe it benefitted from leaving the air so quickly. It was like Jim Morrison dying at 27. You get more respect out of that. I think that’s probably the right way to think about it.
What were the biggest challenges in trying to bring the show back?
Howard: The biggest challenge was really getting Mitch Hurwitz’s focus on it. He was so involved with other TV shows. He was also pretty fried when it was over. But the idea of a movie eventually became front-and-center in his life. And then when an opportunity to revive the show did come, enough time had elapsed that he had so many ideas in his mind about where the characters were, what they’d been through. He had a desire to reintroduce audiences to them, and that was gonna be a pretty severe burden on a movie.
Grazer: To me, the biggest challenge was to have our creator, our writer, our executive producer no longer have writers’ block. Mitch put so much creative energy, love and discipline into this show, and when it ended, it was really disappointing and ultimately very hard on him. And so to have Mitch, who really does every job on the show, restart again where he was ready to write and create and produce every episode was challenging. That was our first challenge, having Mitch feel like he could generate 15 shows.
What was the main appeal of bringing it back via Netflix?
Grazer: It’s a couple of things. The first is that we found that Arrested Development is a binge-viewing experience, and Netflix could provide us with a way to satiate that audience. They were the only outlet that could do that. Also, Ted Sarandos, the head of Netflix, is a huge fan of the show. He knew every episode.
Howard: Every time Ted would bump into me or Brian, he’d say, “Netflix users love the show and we would love to do more.” There were other companies interested in it as well, but Netflix always made the most sense to Mitch and to us.
There’s no ratings this time. How will you measure success?
Grazer: I don’t know, but isn’t that great? It’s the greatest thing in the world. . . This show is a labor of love. We’re also so proud of the show. We had such a loyal fan base and we were excited to make more episodes and expand the universe.
Howard: You know, this show has always been about the fans. That’s why we’re still at it. . . and this great set of characters that Mitch created. There’s something rare and wonderful that’s very particular to television, and it’s when a great cast meets a great show runner/creator with the right set of characters to play. That’s what happened with Arrested Development. It happens every so often, but all too rarely on TV. Once everyone had a break and realized how much people enjoyed the show, everyone went out of their way to make room in their schedules and sort through contractual obligations and make it possible for them to do their characters again. . . Every time I was on the set, people were just in heaven re-inhabiting the characters.
I feel like the show’s legacy seemed to grow almost exponentially when it was off the air. I hear references to it all the time these days.
Grazer: I definitely think that’s true. I’ve been in, like, kid’s clubs. . . I’ve been in the Boom Boom Room in New York and the kids are going, “Oh my God, you produced Arrested Development?!” They aren’t talking about A Beautiful Mind or 24. It’s like the only thing in my whole career was Arrested Development, literally. These kids were going, like, “Can I have your autograph?” It was like I never made American Gangster or anything else.
Did you feel more creative freedom this time around since it isn’t on a major network?
Howard: When you see the episodes they are absolutely Arrested Development, without a doubt. But it’s not about trying to recapture something. It’s moving forward, sort of bolder than ever. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the episodes don’t have to be exactly 22 minutes and 30 seconds. That’s the kind of freedom people have on cable. So Mitch is working with that freedom, and so is the cast.
But there’s also the understanding that the whole thing is a bit of an experimental lark. If anyone is trying to answer to anyone, it’s Mitch and his own sense of who these characters are. . . It’s not about numbers. It’s not about a sponsor. It’s not about a network. Netflix doesn’t operate that way. It’s about what the show was and what it is.
Do you think a movie is likely to happen?
Howard: You know, I don’t know. It’s probably what the fans will fight for. It’s about demand. I know the cast had a fantastic time and they’ve always been up for doing a movie. The cast is going to make themselves available to revisit these characters whenever they can. I think Mitch is exhausted right now.
Grazer: We want to make a movie. . . I mean, we’ll talk to Ted Sarandos and see what he wants to do, because we’re all very dedicated to being with him if he wants to do further episodes. You never know. He might want to do a movie with Fox, so we’ll see how it goes. But I think a movie would be a very natural flow to it. . . I suppose another season on Netflix is also possible. I think Mitch would be very excited about that, but he’s also written half a movie script. So whatever way, Arrested will have a further life. A longer life.
For now, all of our tracking shows that everybody can’t wait until the 26th at 12:01 AM to get the episodes. It’s going to be a huge success. I think it will be a cultural event.