'Arrested Development' creator's tips on how to get a sitcom cancelled

Mitch Hurwitz gave the UK paper the Guardian a list of tips on how to get your sitcom cancelled. At least, that’s what the headline said. It was actually more like a list of reasons why Arrested Development was, in Hurwitz’s view, too sophisticated for most Americans. See if you agree, here’s a few from the story:

1. Add a sprinkle of incest: They’ll never admit it, but viewers love sex. In fact, they love any sort of titillation, with the exception of incest. So focus on that.

2. Don’t be afraid to give characters the same names: Audiences tend to run from confusion. So a show, for instance, where one character is named George Michael, one character is named Michael, one character is named George and one character is named George Oscar (and perhaps another character is named Oscar), will be the kind of show you can almost guarantee people won’t develop a fondness for.

3. Try to do too much for a 20-minute program: If in your particular medium an audience is used to a simple plotline or maybe one or two stories, see if you can get eight in there, and find a way that they somehow intertwine. Also, it’s important that you have a lot of anxiety when they don’t intertwine, sufficient to deprive yourself of sleep so that you are miserable during the production of the show – but then upon completion of the show, you’re guaranteed to be miserable, because nobody will watch it.

4. Don’t bother with a laughter track: Audiences don’t always know “when to laugh”. By omitting a laugh track you can almost guarantee they’ll never find out.

See the full list here.

Comments (38 total) Add your comment
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  • W

    This is hilarious!
    But I think it’ll work better as a movie

  • too true

    This is hilarious but sadly very true. That’s why Arrested tanked and the dreck that is Two and a Half Men is the most watched sitcom on tv. People don’t like to think.

  • tracy bluth

    Okay Mitch, this might make up for “Running Wilde”.

  • Cynthia

    Motherboy XXX Zip me up!

  • Alli

    So funny!!! But I think he kind of insulted the people that actually watched the show- I think we AD devotees deserve more respect b/c at least we watched it and still do (yay Hulu and Netflix!)).

    • Gen

      No, he was not insulting the people who watched the show. He was making fun of the mass audience’s inability to deal with these sorts of qualities, and kind of making fun of himself for creating a show with so many traits that stupid/mediocre/average people can’t deal with.

      • m.

        So making a show that has incest, confusing names and tries to rush things is a great idea?! Ohh and there are enough sucessful shows without laugh track, so the 4th point is also not valid.

        Don’t get me wrong I actually liked AD, but it isn’t the first great show that was cancelled and it won’t be the last one.

        Ohh and failure of “Running Wilde” shows that the guy doesn’t have really a good idea what makes a show succesful: no incest in “Running Wilde”, no confusing names and very simple storylines, but it still failed. Maybe Americans aren’t as stupid as he thinks?!

        PS: I’m not an American.

  • Clayton

    Here is a new title for this article: “How to get 53 episodes over three seasons of your show but still act as if it was canceled after 1 episode”

    Of course, if you want a couple more additions I would add:
    1) Have a narrator that describes you exactly what you can see on the screen.” There was one scene where I think Michael got a call, said something like “why are you in Vegas” then the next scene is a car driving in the desert. Ron Howard for some reason says something like “So Michael and George Michael headed to Vegas”. I pretty much picked that up yet this guys says that a laugh track is in there because the audience is not smart.

    2) David Cross’s character got into misunderstandings that the Three’s Company writers would not touch with a 10 foot pole because they were not believable.

    I am sorry for the fans that had only 53 episodes of their show but your should be happy that you got that many.

    • ha

      Hey look guys, it’s someone who doesn’t get it!

    • Josh

      The narration itself was a joke. A parody of useless narration. As for Tobias’ gay situations comparing programming 2003 with a classic 70’s sitcom is absurd. Plus it’s not as if “Arrested Development” was entirely rooted in realistic characters. Michael is the only one who is supposed to be a normal “straight” man while the rest of the characters are exaggerated. It’s part of a pretty basic comedy structure. And, while I appreciate that I had 53 episodes of a wonderful show I begrudge having 10 seasons of an awful comedy.

  • DFSF

    Oh Boo-effing-Hoo. Waaaa, I’m an underappreciated genius! Waaaa, I’m too witty and sophisticated for America! Waaaah!

    • Juniper

      Hey, say hi to Sarah Palin for us.

  • cj

    This is the best written situation comedy show I have ever watched. That being said, I don’t think they could have gone past 3 seasons. I am excited to see what the on-again off-again movie will bring to the table.
    “I’m afraid I just blue myself”

  • damian

    It’s funny but I can almost taste the bitterness…

    • LOL

      Bitterness is delicious if served properly.

    • Cordy

      kinda tastes like sad

    • orville

      But bitter is the food of comedy.

  • Anth

    Every time I read or watch something by Mitchell Hurwitz, I’m more and more convinced that Arrested Development was just a fluke. An amazing fluke that I’m super-appreciative of but this bitter exercise in superiority combined with the horrible unfunniness of The Ellen Show, Sit Down Shut Up and Running Wilde makes me wonder how AD managed to somehow be so damn perfect.

    • Eric

      Everyone has to remember that AD was like all the planets in the creative and comedic universe lining up perfectly. Besides Hurwitz, it had brilliant writers, directors and an incredible cast that will never be matched. Hurtwitz was only a piece (although a big one) of why AD was on a once-in-a-lifetime show. And that is why he hasn’t been able to replicate that success yet.

  • Onyong

    He wouldn’t have been so bitter if it wasn’t for my 6,000 dollar suit. Come On!!!

    • PMD


  • Briana

    Well, there’s always money in the banana stand.

  • Roger C.

    Wow, what a whiner. Your show sucked. I’m sorry. It happens. The problem is that the last couple of generations thinks it’s cool to like something that no one else likes. I guess they think it makes them look smarter. Look at Conan. I like Conan myself, but I knew he could never survive at 11:30. All the Team Coco types don’t even watch his show anymore. I do. I also have no problem with Leno. Conan, however, had it good at 12:30 but he blew it.

    • Jen E.

      Okay, okay, okay. So, should-should… should, uh, should… Should-should… should… sh-sh-should Sh-sh-sh… Should-Should… should, uh, should..

  • Luca

    in the end it had nothing to do with the show. Some of the best TV out there gets cancelled while dreck stays on and it’s not the show.
    It’s the ratings system and the networks devotion to it. Those ratings are ALL that decide what stays and goes. And for years there have been questions about the validity of Nielsen’s system.
    It is even worse these days when shows get zero credit for online views, itunes buys etc. If that money was added into the budget make good, perhaps some of the better shows would stick around.
    And if the Nielsens were improved, perhaps we would find out that the only folks watching crap like Jersey Shore are the 200 folks in the sample that were counted and dubbed ‘millions’ by MTV

  • Maryam

    I just started rewatching AD, and am midway through Season 2. One of the most incredible TV shows ever. I’m amazed with how much they managed to get into each episode. Almost every word had two meanings. Sigh. So so good.

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