This is the story of a laffer that earned raves, but never quite amassed enough eyeballs, and the film mogul who dreamed up the show: It’s “Arrested Development.”
Imagine’s Ron Howard came up with the gem of an idea during one of his brainstorming sessions with the company’s TV prexy, David Nevins: a quirky family comedy that would take a page from the guerrilla-style shooting and production style seen in reality TV.
Though he started as a smallscreen star, Howard now enjoys a busy film career that doesn’t allow him much time to dabble in TV; instead, it’s the domain of Imagine partner Brian Grazer.
Nonetheless, Howard occasionally kicks around ideas with Nevins.
“Every few months he’ll call and say, ‘Hey, what about this idea?'” Nevins says. “Sometimes it’s a character, sometimes it’s a theme, sometimes it’s a subject matter. We talk it through, and I try to get what’s in his head. It’s surprising how many of those end up turning into projects.”
It was that 2002 conversation about how the sitcom might look using the production values of “The Osbournes” — the hot reality show at that moment — which eventually led to “Arrested Development.”
“The intent by Ron, who spent half his life in multiple-camera comedy and half his life as a single-camera director, was to marry the best of both worlds,” Nevins said at the time.
Howard and Nevins then started meeting with writers and Mitch Hurwitz, whose credits included “The Ellen Show.” Hurwitz came up with an angle that piqued their interest: a ragtag family who’d wound up on the ropes after getting involved in some shady deals. The idea was inspired by corporate scandals at the time, including the Enron mess, as well as the earlier financial collapse (including the real estate bust) in Orange County, Calif., where the show would be set.
Despite his mostly hands-off connection with the TV business, Howard got bit by the “Arrested” bug, making it his first major involvement with a series in more than a decade.
“I’ve got a huge emotional stake in the show, because I’m proud of it,” Howard told the New York Post.
Not only was Howard at all the pitch meetings, but he signed on to serve as the show’s narrator — even though he was never credited in the gig.
“Ron was incredibly invested in ‘Arrested Development,'” says 20th Century Fox TV chairman Dana Walden. “It started as a germ of his idea. He pitched it to Mitch, and Mitch brought to it all that was very personal to him, but the style of filmmaking was Ron’s conceptually. When it came to doing the voiceovers, Ron made that kind of commitment even though he’s obviously a very busy director who can get projects greenlit any day of the week.”
Fox wound up landing “Arrested,” despite a strong bid by NBC. Show, which Imagine produced through its deal with 20th Century Fox TV, quickly earned raves for its quirky sensibility and strong cast, which included Jason Bateman, Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walters, Will Arnett, Portia de Rossi, Tony Hale and David Cross.
“Arrested” managed to cling on for three seasons and 53 episodes but was put to rest in 2006. Despite its struggles with viewers, the show scored the 2004 Emmy for comedy series as well as nods for writing, directing and casting.
Yet the series may still live on, as talk continues over an “Arrested Development” feature that Hurwitz is said to be busy writing.
Meanwhile, Nevins is looking to find another Imagine TV comedy to fill “Arrested’s” void.
“My personal campaign, my No. 1 priority is to get another signature comedy that feels rich, distinctive and original,” he says.