Arrested Development: 8 fascinating secrets from creator Mitch Hurwitz
With Arrested Development's fourth season in most Netflix subscribers' rearview mirrors, what's the future of the beloved series? On Monday night, Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz offered the keynote address at the ninth annual New York Television Festival — and dished out a wide range of insights about writing, the state of modern television, and his most enduring creation. Here, eight major takeaways from Mitch Hurwitz's address at the New York Television Festival:
1. Hurwitz has a new plan for continuing Arrested Development
Though he was careful to emphasize that his plan has been "approved by no one," Hurwitz's dream for the future of Arrested Development is to release a "movie-type-thing" on Netflix, and then release a follow-up season — also on Netflix — further down the road. (When asked about the possibility of working with a network again, Hurwitz asked if there were any network executives in attendance before replying, "Absolutely not.")
He expressed concern that he wouldn't be able to assemble the show's cast for a four-month shoot, but believed that four weeks might be a possibility, and reiterated that both he and the show's cast wants to do it. He also explained, as many suspected, that scheduling constraints had already had an impact on the series' fourth season; Buster only appeared in three episodes due to actor Tony Hale's commitment to HBO's Veep.
2. Jeremy Piven was the original choice to play Michael Bluth
As Arrested Devlopment's pilot went into production, Hurwitz was skeptical of Jason Bateman, who had just done "eight failed pilots or short-lived series." His original favorite for the role was Jeremy Piven, who was cast in HBO's Entourage less than a year after Arrested Development premiered. Though he was originally sure he "didn't want to do the Jason Bateman pilot," Hurwitz was so impressed with Bateman's audition — which he said was more or less identical to what Bateman does on the series — that he chased Bateman into the hall and told him not to audition for another pilot.
3. Michael Cera took a long time deciding whether to play George-Michael
Unlike Bateman, Cera was an early favorite to play George-Michael. Hurwitz described a number of precocious "Disney Channel types" who read for the role as he waited for weeks to hear back from Cera. Eventually, Cera wrote back that he liked the script, leaving Hurwitz incredulous: "We've been waiting to see if this 12-year-old likes the material?" Fortunately, Cera accepted, and he's been with the show ever since; Hurwitz describes him as an "old soul" who doesn't even have a cell phone.
New York magazine's John Sellers (left) in conversation with Mitch Hurwitz. (Lauren Caulk / NYTVF)
4. Hurwitz knew a real-life Tobias Funke
In the Arrested Development pilot, the audience learns that psychiatrist Tobias Funke lost his medical license for giving CPR to someone who was asleep. It's a typically ridiculous story for the character, but according to Hurwitz, it's no fiction — he really did know someone who lost their medical license under similar circumstances, and wrote it into the script.
5. It wasn't easy to pick "The Final Countdown" as Gob's theme song
Though the script for "Storming the Castle" cites Europe's "The Final Countdown" as Gob's magic show theme song, the song took awhile to find — and when writer Brad Copeland suggested it, Hurwitz had never heard it before.
But while the song became instantly inseparable from the character, the rest of the script wasn't as specific: According to Hurwitz, the script just read, "Gob does a magic show," despite Will Arnett's total inexperience with magic. When Hurwitz rushed to the set to make sure everything was running smoothly, he saw Arnett holding a knife between his teeth and concluded he'd be just fine.
6. Buster losing his arm to a seal originally started as a throwaway joke in an email
When planning Arrested Development's second season, Hurwitz encouraged his writers to think beyond the normal romantic entanglements that makes up the plotting of most sitcoms. As a throwaway example, he suggested the idea that Buster gets his hand bitten off by a seal. "I was just trying to write a funny email," recalled Hurwitz, but the series eventually ran with it — despite the skepticism of Tony Hale, who complained that he did a lot of acting with his hands. Hurwitz described the story as a time when they "got to look more ingenious than they were"; though The Office creator Ricky Gervais later complimented Hurwitz on the elaborate "loose seal/Lucille" parallel they'd created from the very beginning, the story was more of a happy accident made possible by the density of Arrested Development's world. "Chance favors the well-prepared," explained Hurwitz.
7. Hurwitz originally took the wrong message from Arrested Development's cancellation
When preparing his failed follow-up series Running Wilde for Fox — a series that starred Arrested Development alum Will Arnett — Hurwitz decided he and his star would learn a lesson from the previous show's cancellation: "You take the note [from studio executives]. You don't whine about it." As the Running Wilde pilot went through many, many iterations that shaped and reshaped it, Hurwitz described the final straw: A note from a Fox executive that read, "If you think something is a good idea, that you haven't seen done before. Special, fresh… Just don't do it." Running Wilde lasted just eight episodes, and Hurwitz adopted a more balanced philosophy between his instincts and studio notes.
8. The "Fakeblock" storyline barely made it into the fourth season
When it originally seemed that Michael Cera wouldn't be able to participate in Arrested Development's Netflix revival, Hurwitz and the rest of the show's creative team planned a workaround: A parody of 2008's Angelina Jolie-starring Changeling, about a woman whose kidnapped child is replaced by a totally different child. The series would have cast Jonah Hill as George-Michael — a change that would be noticed by Michael and overlooked by everyone else. ("This isn't George-Michael!" insisted Michael. "Yeah, that's him," said Gob.)
Cera's return led the show to scrap the Changeling parody in favor of the Social Network parody "Fakeblock" — but even that barely made the cut due to the timing of the series, which came several years after The Social Network hit theaters: "One year, and it wouldn't have been there."