Highlights from Mitch Hurwitz’s Reddit AMA

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Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz took to Reddit today to answer “questions, complaints, criticisms, etc.” and thank fans for “supporting this crazy casserole of a show.” Unsurprisingly, the internet had quite a lot to ask him, on topics ranging from the future of television to his writing process to ostriches. The always-exuberant Hurwitz gave thoughtful answers for more than an hour and half, even hinting that might return for more in the next few weeks. Below are the highlights of his AMA, with some minor spoilers for the fourth season (and major ones for the original seasons.)

On any crazy story lines that never made it into the show:

Believe it or not, I don’t think there IS one! Because every time I think of something that’s too outlandish, I end up trying to find a way to use it. I remember pitching Buster loses his hand as a bad example to motivate the writers to think outside the box…and then a moment later, I thought “Hey, why don’t we have Buster lose his hand?”

On advice for aspiring writers:

[T]he first advice I’d give aspiring writers is to try to exceed expectations. I feel like everyone gives the advice that you should write a spec script, and I found a lot of people who just try to write as badly as they think the show is written (for whatever that show is) - people who start the process without respecting what they’re writing for. You have to choose something to write that you really want to write.
I would say that I’m more interested in telling the ongoing saga of this family than working out a particular strategy for how to do it. I kind of feel like the form will emerge in a way that I wouldn’t have anticipated - like Netflix a few years ago - so it’s possible that a film studio says “There’s a lot of AD out there. Do we want to invest in more” or it’s possible that a film studio says “Wow, we had no idea there was this kind of a following.” And I think the latter scenario is possible. Just because I didn’t think there was that kind of a following!
My favorite joke is who the real George Maharis is - because that’s a punchline we didn’t finish. Basically the joke is, he doesn’t want to be George Michael, because George Michael had sex in a public men’s room, and he doesn’t want to be Boy George, because Boy George had sex in a public men’s room, so he settles on the name George Maharis… but a little research will show that name has a similar fate. That being said, I think the groupthink on reddit has caught all the jokes that we’ve layered in - except for the ones we haven’t finished yet, which are setting up for a future story.
I spent a little while trying to get Howard Stern for something… I did want to get Jerry Bruckheimer, and he was too busy.I did want to get Maria Bamford even before we started. I knew that we needed to get her, and I was willing to move the whole shoot to accommodate that.
Yea, there were a lot of things that her name was made out of - Anvil was definitely part of it. The image of a veal padding pen. And there’s an old Monty Python skit where John Cleese’s character’s name is “An Elk” - it was an oblique reference to that too. Her original name was “Fugly.” We were going to name her something Fugly - and then it felt a little too jokey and they fortunately didn’t allow us to say it.
If you look at the transition from radio to television, the first 15-20 years were basically just radio shows on TV. I didn’t want to just do a series on Netflix, I wanted to see what the form would allow. And they dug that idea.I think the Netflix model makes [television] a little more like publishing - there are different books for different people, and still within that world there are top 10 books that are blockbusters, and then there’s fiction that’s not for everybody. In an interview recently, someone asked me “Hey, what did you think of that New York Times review?” A guy at the NY Times watched 5 shows at 3 in the morning and then said “I don’t like this” on day 1 - it was a bad way to start. And I don’t blame him - try watching something in the middle of the night and see how you like it, especially if it means skipping brunch with your daughter on Memorial Day weekend. And in response, I said, “It sounds like he really didn’t like it. But you know who did like it?” And the interviewer said “Who?” And I said “People who really liked it!” (which is true - it’s NOT for him, it’s for them!)
I DID. There’s an audacity that comes with any creative enterprise. I mean, I don’t think I would have written my first spec script if I had known how unlikely it was to get a writing job. And I don’t think I would have tried creating ARRESTED if I really thought “look at the data of what’s already been developed. they won’t make this.” but I should have - that was the evidence that existed. I don’t think I would have included all the stuff about Saddam Hussein in Season 1 if I’d done the math on the likelihood of getting through an entire season to reveal the punchline. And I think that everyone has to jump off that cliff and make that assumption in their own work - because the truth is, even if it doesn’t happen, you have a more interesting life if you’re to sit down and write a novel than doing the math on the likelihood of it getting published.
For the 5th season, it would DEFINITELY be about the family all together. That was always the design. The idea was originally to have them even together LESS for Season 4 - it really was going to be basically 9 stories (like the Salinger collection) that had nothing to do with one another, and just showed everybody’s life, so that everybody’s life could get to a point of peril, and then the family could truly have no choice but to get back together for the next iteration.
There has been more theorizing about that online - I’m amazed that question got through, because I’ve seen questions about this for YEARS. David Cross has been approached about it for years, and here’s the unfortunate answer; it was a joke that didn’t work. I walked onto the set, and there was nothing funny happening in the scene, so I said, “Hey, what if David is leaning back into the fireplace relaxing?” and then when I went into the penthouse in another scene, David had decided to do it again. And people constantly write “I don’t get it!” (and unfortunately they DO get it - it’s a man in a fireplace!)
I think one of the things that is fun to do and also sometimes generates great material (and sometimes doesn’t) is to “paint yourself into a corner” when you’re writing or performing or doing anything creative. And it reminds me of cutting off Buster’s hand. It’s like, what do you do now? And the answer is - a LOT MORE than you’d do without it. So I wanted to get to an honest point in their relationship that was very uncomfortable, so that there wouldn’t be a pat solution, even for me.
We had this joke that just put us out, that was Tobias keeps crying in the shower. And then I had pitched - I was thinking about production, and the way they shoot those things, they always put people in flesh colored bathing suits, and I said, what if we show part of the flesh colored bathing suits for 3-4 weeks - and then in the 4th week we reveal that he showers in a flesh-colored bathing suit because he doesn’t like showering naked. And then Richie Rosenstock (who’s an absolutely brilliant, hilarious guy - and is responsible for so many of the giant laughs in the show) said without hesitation: “Oh, he’s a Never Nude.”And everybody in the room froze. And looked at him, and said, “is that a real thing?” and he shrugged, and it was just so funny. It wasn’t a funny idea until Richie called him a Never Nude, which took the joke from being just a sight gag, to a psychological affliction that really elevated it in such a brilliant way. And then I remember looking up to see online if there was such a thing as a Never Nude - and guess what you can’t search for besides finding pornography? “Never Nude” - back then you’d get 25,000 pages with the word “Nude” in it. Even if you used the Boolean quotation marks, you would still get things like “Hot 18 year old who’d NEVER been NUDE in front of a boy!” So we’ll never know if it was a thing before ARRESTED. Although I suppose I could just ask Richie.
I started with the idea of a set of twins, and one was conservative, and one was liberal. And that gave birth to the idea of the children of those twins, where one was fearless and one was fearful. And then a MILLION other things happened. And those ideas are just so deep down in the pile that they’re almost unrecognizable.
I don’t know - it just seemed funnier! It’s almost like negative space in art. Or a rest in music. Sometimes it’s funnier to have the moment occur, and sometimes it’s funnier to not have the moment occur, and in that moment it felt like it would be funnier to NOT see it.Also (*and this could just be personal preference), I saw his Chicken Dance, and chickens don’t do that.