On May 29 “Arrested Development” returned for a fifth, and now a bit controversial, iteration. I have painful, personal memories of this FOX series, and they pretty much revolved around my relationship with Rupert Murdoch. Looking back, it’s sort of humorous, so I thought I would share my memories with you.
My first exposure to “Arrested” was in winter 2003 when Sandy Grushow, who oversaw FBC and the 20th TV studio, gave me a copy of the pilot script from Mitch Hurwitz. I got to know Mitch a bit from my time at NBC, where he was a showrunner on both “Nurses” and “The John Larroquette Show.” I was a big fan “Larroquette” and even put it behind the Super Bowl one year. I personally loved the darkness of it, but it never quite got over the ratings hump.
The “Arrested Development” script was intriguing and reminded me, and others at FOX, of a TV version of Wes Anderson’s classic movie “The Royal Tenenbaums.” I loved the narrator, and I believe Sandy told us that Ron Howard (who was also an EP of the show) had agreed to serve that function.
One problem, and it was a big one: The show did not feel like a FOX comedy. In fact, it really didn’t feel like a comedy that fit on any network. Nevertheless, we soldiered on, made the pilot and put it on the end on our Sunday schedule in fall 2003. This was before the return of “Family Guy” and “Animation Domination,” so following “The Simpsons,” we had “The Bernie Mac Show,” “Malcolm in the Middle” and then “Arrested.” That was a pretty eclectic mix of comedies with little flow.
Although the quality of the show was outstanding, the ratings for “Arrested Development” were not very good, and the performance got on Rupert Murdoch’s radar. “Arrested” went against Rupert’s more populist sensibilities and to him represented everything that “Hollywood” was trying to shove down the throats of the American viewing public. He made that clear to us over the 2003-04 season. In spite of that, we ordered a full season of 22 episodes and let the show ride in its timeslot.
In the scheduling room that May, we all agonized over whether to order a second season of the show. The sentiment was overwhelmingly in favor of a second season, but we all knew at some point Mr. Murdoch would come into the room expecting us to present him with a fall schedule.
Finally, Peter Chernin, who was chairman and CEO of the whole megillah, said, “I am not going to be the person to cancel ‘Arrested Development,'” and it was decided.
We put the show back on Sunday night at 8:30, sandwiched between “The Simpsons” and a concoction from our head of unscripted, Mike Darnell, called “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss.”
“American Idol” had now been on for three seasons, and with the “Death Star” on the schedule, we felt that we could afford to give “Arrested” a second chance.
It was sort of how we looked at “Homicide” when I was at NBC: With so much success, we could afford to protect a quality show. That was NBC and Bob Wright; this was FOX and Rupert Murdoch. He was about to enter the scheduling room, and my life scheduling “Arrested Development” was about to take a painful turn.
To be continued …