Look, we all know that network television is a cynical, misanthropic waste site — a breeding ground for low-lifes, half-wits and hyenas.
But two recent interviews with Mitch Hurwitz, creator of Arrested Development, reveals just how grim the state of broadcast TV is, and just how little hope there is for the future.
The 2009-2010 TV season was an anomaly, with sharp, inspired network shows like Community, Modern Family and Parks & Recreation either launching or finding their legs. But this year, following the end of Lost, has been a bitter return to reality.
The only new network show that displayed any hint of originality, Lone Star, was shown the door after just two episodes. Networks seem to be competing with each other to see who can offend the least people with their bland, safe, middle-of-the-road fare.
Hurwitz debuted a new sitcom on Fox this year, Running Wilde, starring Will Arnett. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of it, but let’s be clear — it should be called “The GOB Show.” It’s a castrated, dumbed-down version of Arrested Development, though not in name.
Hurwitz speaks at length about the development process of Running Wilde, and in doing so, paints a bleak picture of endless compromise, of creation by committee, and of empty suits destroying everything good in the world.
Are you working as hard on this as you did on Arrested Development?
Well, it’s a different kind of hard work because I have more masters to please. On Arrested, what I was trying to work hard on was to get my vision completely out there. What I’m working hard on now is trying to accommodate other people’s visions.
They had us go through eight rewrites. Eight! I felt at the time that perhaps a more confident person, or a less needy person, would have walked away after the second rewrite. I mean, think of how many rewrites eight is — without a pickup, without being told the network was going to make this thing.
If it were completely up to me, I think I would be trying to push myself into an even more avant-garde area. It ended up being a different kind of creative challenge: pushing myself toward a more commercial area. And it’s one that’s arguably more important because you reach more people. And you still use creativity — the more constraints you put on creativity, the more creative you have to be, almost.
Ugh. That is the sound of a man lying to himself.
I got, “You’re doing that Arrested stuff. Let’s just have a nice party. Let’s see these two and how they function at a party.” And on that one, I was aware of, “This is not turning out as interesting as I’d hoped.” The note kept being “Minimize the conflict,” because the feeling at that point based on testing was that [Keri Russell’s character] Emmy is striking people as shrill and shrewish. And we ended up with an episode that we’re pushing back because, as expected, it’s not that interesting.
Yeah, God forbid you do “that Arrested stuff.” Who wants to see elements of the best sitcom of all time?
I do get what Kevin [Reilly] was getting at. He used to say to me all the time and he still does, “I know on Arrested you’d go from A to Z, and you’d do all these wild turns. I’m telling you, if you go from A to B, you will make it interesting. Don’t set yourself the goal of A to Z yet. Maybe the series develops into that, but go from A to B, or A to C. Tell a simple story. These two like each other. They decide to go on a date. They get in a fight on the date.
“Listen, Mitch, babe, do you think the greats go from A to Z? Do you think the Tim Allens, the Jon Cryers, the Danzas try to go from A to Z?”
Are you taking more of the [network] notes this time?
I’m almost only taking notes this time.
/shakes head sadly
Seeing Hurwitz in this situation, and passive-agressively lashing out through the media, is beyond pathetic. It’s like seeing Ali in the Larry Holmes fight, or DeNiro in Meet the Fockers. I encourage you to read both interviews in full. Just make sure you don’t have a bottle of pills nearby when you do.
Mitch Hurwitz needs to throw off the yoke of his corporate oppressors, but he’s clearly not in a position to do so. And Running Wilde will absolutely not see a second season.
Kevin Reilly and his cohorts at Fox come across as smarmy, stupid and meddling. In fact, here at PCHA, we have access to Fox’s notes upon hearing some pitches for other well-known shows that ended up elsewhere. It’s a little-known fact that these shows were originally pitched to Fox before finding homes further up the dial.
Before landing on HBO, David Simon thought The Wire belonged on Fox. His original pitch:
But more than an exercise is realism for its own sake, the verisimilitude of The Wire exists to serve something larger. In the first story-arc, the episodes begin what would seem to be the straight-forward, albeit protracted, pursuit of a violent drug crew that controls a high-rise housing project. But within a brief span of time, the officers who undertake the pursuit are forced to acknowledge truths about their department, their role, the drug war and the city as a whole. In the end, the cost to all sides begins to suggest not so much the dogged police pursuit of the bad guys, but rather a Greek tragedy. At the end of thirteen episodes, the reward for the viewer — who has been lured all this way by a well-constructed police show — is not the simple gratification of hearing handcuffs click. Instead, the conclusion is something that Euripides or O’Neill might recognize: an America, at every level at war with itself.
And Reilly’s response:
“David, we’ve read your pitch and the pilot script, and we think you’ve really got something special here. Really special. We just need a few tweaks, and this will be ready for Fox television. Mmmm…exciting. First of all, I totally understand what you’re on about with all this Greek tragedy business — but I’m not sure that America will. Remember, if Beatrice McFloodle in Ames, Iowa, doesn’t understand the show, we’re not getting a back-nine pickup. Right?
So, first off, lose the Greek tragedy stuff. This is a cop show, right? America loves cop shows. Fuck, man, if we worked for Moonves we could just call this shit “CSI: B-more” and start planning our retirements. Fuuuuck. But anyway, a cop show’s a solid place to start. Next thing: we need to change the opening scene, with that Irish cop sitting on a stoop talking to a little gangsta. He keeps calling him “Snotboogie.” Axe that. America will be grossed out by the term “Snotboogie.”
We also feel that the first episode needs more resolution. Why aren’t the drug dealers in jail by the end of the episode? I don’t understand — is it designed to be a two-parter? This Avon Barksdale character needs to be in cuffs by the start of the third act. Look, if you’re really in love with that character, maybe he gets out on parole in episode 9 and stirs up more trouble.
Next problem: the characters. The Irish cop drinks too much. America is going to be uncomfortable with that. And his partner, the fat black dude? Let’s make him a buff white dude. You can still call him “Bunk” though. That shit is hilarious. Oh and that lady cop? I think she’s a lesbian? She needs to not be a lesbian, and much hotter than she sounds in your script. I’m thinking Jamie Pressly.
Now, about that “Omar” you mentioned in your notes…a charismatic black guy who robs drug dealers? We like the general idea, but what if he was an undercover cop the whole time, and also white, and definitely not gay. Wait, David…David! Where are you going?”
And a few other notes Fox has given show creators upon hearing pitches:
“I really like what I’m hearing, Matthew, but this Don Draper can’t be cheating on his wife. We can’t have a show with an unlikable protagonist. Won’t work.”
“David, love the idea for a show about mobsters. Lose the shrink and the mother, make sure the lead is a name (I’m thinking Dylan McDermott) and get Pesci involved somehow and we might be in business.”
“Football! Love love love love love it! You know what America fucking loves? Football. We want to be in the Friday Night Lights business here at Fox. We’ve just got a couple real small notes. First, it would be much more inspiring if that QB who gets injured comes back before the end of the game to make the game-winning pass. America loves comeback stories. Oh, and we’re gonna need to make the show about the NFL, not some shitty high school in Texas. Cool?”