When Fox canceled its critically acclaimed sitcom Arrested Development after three seasons of low ratings, the show’s loyal fans had reason to hope: The pay cable channel Showtime was considering picking up the series. That glimmer of hope faded on Monday when the show’s creator, Mitch Hurwitz, announced that he was ending his involvement with the series, thus virtually guaranteeing that AD would go off into the syndicated limbo of series that shoot fewer than 100 episodes. We caught up with Hurwitz and asked him to explain what drove his decision.
Why did you decide to bow out?
You know I really wrestled with the decision for a long time, and what I discovered was that I love wrestling, and I think I want to go pursue professional wrestling.
In truth, I had taken it as far as I felt I could as a series. I told the story I wanted to tell, and we were getting to a point where I think a lot of the actors were ready to move on. My instinct was that it was over when Fox pulled the plug. I considered continuing the show because I felt I owed that to the fans. But I am determined to give them some other kind of entertainment that will satisfy them at some point, I hope.
Were you worried about disappointing fans who just want more episodes?
I’m more worried about letting down the fans in terms of the quality of the show dropping. For whatever reason, because it’s certainly not a large fan base, I’ve been devoted to delivering what these fans have come to expect. So it’s really just the opposite. I know what it’s like to love shows and have them go away, and I really feel for them, and I’d be very happy if there was a way for someone else to pick up the slack and deliver the show for them.
Could the show really go on without you?
I’m open to anything that isn’t a weekly series commitment that I have to make to producing this, because I’ve creatively exhausted the story I wanted to tell. I really gave my life to this. I mean, I am not exaggerating when I say that it was seven days a week, and on an average until four or five in the morning. I’m okay with any kind of future for Arrested Development, whether it be a movie or a special now and then — even a Saturday-morning animated series, like Arrested Development Babies. Wouldn’t that be good? I have a feeling the merchandising on Buster alone would be just enormous. Everyone would have a little stuffed Buster. Or a series of Burger King cups, or I could see it working well in the context of a Colorform game.
Is there anything Showtime could have done?
Showtime was great. I really did not want to give [Showtime entertainment president] Robert Greenblatt a lesser version of Arrested Development. There were a lot of advantages of going to Showtime. If I had had that opportunity last year or the year before, I would have jumped at it. I was just convinced the ship had sailed a bit on Arrested.
I did look into whether there was enough financial incentive to say, ”To hell with health, to hell with my family, and to hell with fans’ expectations for quality. Is there enough money to let me sell out and do this?” And I’m happy to say there wasn’t. I say that a little tongue-in-cheek.
Was it tough breaking the news to the cast?
I think they knew. And I think we’re all really proud of the accomplishment, and we really feel privileged to have gotten the chance to do it. And at least so far, we have all been able to feel very fortunate about it. We never had an expectation that this unusual, dense show that required an audience to really pay attention was going to be a hit show. It was instead a really meaningful creative exercise that we all gave our lives to, and we always knew it was going to be a temporary endeavor.
We all feel that the work we did on the show has put us in this privileged position to be able to attract other work. Even though Arrested Development had a record low viewership, the main demographic appears to have been movie-studio executives, so hopefully the cast will be able to benefit from that.
If the show had stayed on Fox, would you have kept doing it?
I don’t think it would have been much different. I think if it had stayed on Fox, there would have been a willingness to let me take more of a background position on the show. It really got a little too onerous to deliver this on a weekly basis. It’s hard to say — maybe there was an element of being discouraged on all of this, particularly on the third season, where we did our most ambitious work and we never had a chance to have it seen or really have it promoted or even aired consecutively. So the cast and the writers and all of us felt discouraged by the experience of the third season, so it may very well have been psychologically detrimental to this whole thing. My honest feeling right now is that it played out creatively. We told the story.
It seems like it’s never really over, doesn’t it?
It’s the determination of the fans and the determination of the critics that has kept this thing alive. It’s truly an audience-driven experience. And for me, anyway, if there’s a way to continue this in a form that’s not weekly episodic series television, I’d be up for it.
What are you up to next?
Well, at first I have to think of a professional wrestling persona. I mean, I can’t just go out there as Mitch Hurwitz and take on some guy that calls himself the Exterminator. I need an angle and I need a look. Also, I’m not in great shape.
Other than that, I really don’t know. I’m going to take a little time and figure out what the next story I want to tell is — whether it’s in TV or movies or other forms. It’s less about the medium and more about the story.