On Monday I told you about the events that led up to sitting in the scheduling room at FOX in May 2004, waiting for Rupert Murdoch to come in so that we could present him with our proposed schedule for the 2004-05 season. It was a schedule that included the return of “Arrested Development” for a second season. Let’s just say that this was not one of Rupert’s favorite shows, and the ratings did not help its case.
As we were awaiting Rupert’s entrance, Peter Chernin, who was the big cheese at 20th Century Fox, told me, “You present the schedule, he likes you.” Rupert arrived, and I started walking him through the schedule beginning with Monday night. As I said, “American Idol” was a force and covered many of our sins, so Rupert was nodding with approval, and I was beginning to feel comfortable about the schedule. Then we came to Sunday night, and Rupert immediately noticed “Arrested” sitting in the 8:30 timeslot.
Suddenly his fists hit the table, and we were all lectured about “Arrested Development” and how it reflected everything wrong with us Hollywood-types. Honestly, he wasn’t wrong, but as I have learned several times in my career, once the team has decided, we all need to pull together and present a united front.
I defended the show as best I could with some support from sales, who loved a show like “Arrested.” It was smart and a bit more upscale than most FOX fare. Rupert persisted and continued to yell at me. Finally, Chernin said “Rupert’s right.” I was stunned. We took the show off the schedule, and I can’t remember what went on in its place.
Rupert left the room and Chernin told me to put “Arrested” back on the schedule; he would deal with Rupert. Although I was happy that we were giving the show a second season, I was numb from the verbal beating I had taken in defending the show.
“Arrested Development” was announced at the upfront to cheers from the ad buyers, and it went on to win the Emmy for best comedy in September 2004. None of this prevented the show from continuing to be a ratings dud, and Rupert made sure to drive that point home to me whenever we talked. We did everything we could to protect the show from Rupert’s wrath.
Early in Season 2, we were at a current meeting where the current exec on “Arrested” told the room that Michael Moore (not one of Rupert’s favorite people) was offered a guest-star gig on the show. I looked over at Gail Berman, who was in charge at the time. She showed no reaction to this “exciting news,” but as soon as the meeting was over, Gail asked the exec to stay behind. Let’s just say that Michael Moore never guest-starred on “Arrested Development.”
We only ordered 18 episodes of “Arrested” for the second season, and I called Mitch Hurwitz early in the season and told him to have all the episodes completed so that I could run them off by March. Mitch asked why, and I told him that I wanted the show off the schedule and off certain people’s radar before we put together the 2005-06 plan. He understood, so by the time we got together for pilot season, “Arrested” had quietly disappeared.
There was still some sentiment to bring it back for a third season, so when we entered the scheduling room, we were all set for yet another confrontation. But it didn’t go the way I expected.
On Wednesday, part 3 of the saga.