ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT An Affectionate Look Behind-The-Scenes (Season 3) Part 1
GETTING A JOB ON ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT
I’m Executive Producing and occasionally directing the Damon Wayans show MY WIFE AND KIDS when it gets abruptly cancelled. Luckily, my good friend, Jim Vallely, introduces me to Mitch Hurwitz — the creator and show runner of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.
We hit it off. Mitch is funny and likable and I love his show. He asks if I’d be interested in working on season 3 as a writer/producer and I jump at the chance. Who wouldn’t? It’s ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT — one of the most admired series of the decade!
But I’m terrified.
Why? Because it’s ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT — one of the most admired series of the decade! Everyone on it has a boatload of Emmys and I feel like I’m coming late to the party.
To make matters worse, Mitch not only wants me to write on the show, he wants me to run the set as well. This means I’ll be responsible for the actual shooting of the thing, making sure that the direction and performances are what he had in mind during the writing process. The show is already legendary and now I’m going to have to stand on the set in front of a bunch of actors that have been doing this for two years and tell them the way I think it should be done.
I’m a wreck just thinking about it.
But, luckily, we have a couple of months of writing before we start shooting, so I have some time to get my feet wet. Jim and Mitch are the only people I know in the writer’s room — everyone else is a stranger. But that’s okay. Virtually all the writers were new to me on MY WIFE AND KIDS so I’m used to the feeling, even though I still have those “first day of school” jitters. We start writing.
WRITING ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT is not written like any show I’ve ever seen. Usually, in an episode of a sitcom, you have a main story and then a smaller story — referred to as an “A” story and a “B” story. Every now and then you’ll have a quick “C” story or runner.
Every episode of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT has an “A” “B” “C” “D” “E” “F” “G” and “H” story. There are eight main cast members and Mitch wants to have a separate story for every one of them in every episode. The amount of plot that has to be generated to make this happen is staggering.
And the process of generating the story is unusual. In most comedy writer’s rooms, you’ll toss around story ideas. Some might just occur to you (“what if X loses his job but wants to keep it a secret from his wife?”). Others might come from your own life (“my wife had a dream and, in it, I did something she didn’t like and now she’s blaming me for it in real life.”) Everyone will toss concepts into the ring and the showrunner will pick one and then you’ll plot it out.
ARRESTED is a whole different animal. A lot of time is spent just coming up with off-the-wall concepts. What if Michael finds an area in America called Wee Britain that follows British law where they drive on the opposite side of the road and the clocks are set to Greenwich Mean Time? The thought is written down even though no one knows what story it could possibly fit into.
Another thought — what if Michael falls in love with a woman and finally asks her to marry him, not realizing that she’s mentally disabled? Okay… but how could he not realize that? Maybe she’s so beautiful he doesn’t notice. Okay… but still? Maybe she’s British and the accent makes him think that she’s smarter than she really is…
Then you start connecting those threads. Maybe Michael meets her on that weird Wee Britain street. Fine, but why is he in Wee Britain? Well, remember that other story where Michael is trying to prove his dad’s innocence? Maybe the trail leads him to Wee Britain to get something he needs for the case and that’s where he runs into her.
And on and on and on…
That kind of dense plotting makes up only a fraction of the amount of story needed in a single episode. It’s daunting, but fun. Outline after outline is written — constantly adding detail, more story, refining — until it’s eventually time to actually write the episode. Maybe a writer goes off and knocks out a draft or, more likely, the room just writes the episode as a group.
And the script comes out long. Always long. Then hours are spent tightening, pulling out pages, but almost never cutting jokes. Jokes are precious and Mitch loves to pack them in. You get an incredible little thrill when someone writes a truly awesome joke. Jim Valley pitches that Tobias is both an analyst and a therapist — the world’s first “analrapist.” Everyone marvels over that one for a while…
But how do we keep all the jokes, cut out pages and still get across the necessary plot beats? Simple: The Magic of Ron Howard.
In part 2 of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: an affectionate look behind-the-scenes of season 3, the scoop on why the Ron Howard voiceover makes Arrested possible, along with stories from the set.
Read on to Part 2 here