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Arrested Development aired from November 2003 until February 2006 on Fox.

Young widower Michael Bluth ( Jason Bateman) was planning to quit the family business and move to Arizona from Newport Beach, California, when his nutcase father, George, Sr. ( Jeffrey Tambor), was arested by the Securities and Exchange Commission for corporate fraud. This resulted in his equally manipulative mother, Lucille ( Jessica Walter), becoming CEO of the Bluth Company, which built and sold mini-mansions. Lucille appointed her youngest son, Buster ( Tony Hale), an insecure, incompetent perpetual student , as the new president, but his inadequacies forced the family to put Michael in charge to keep the business afloat. Looking for some family togetherness, Michael convinced his vain twin sister Lindsay ( Portia de Rossi), to live with him and his son , George Michael ( Michael Cera), in one of the Bluth model homes. During the first season Buster tried to get out from under his mother's thumb by dating her rival, Lucille 2 ( Liza Minnelli), but it didn't work out; conservative kid George Michael lusted after his rebellious cousin Maeby ( Ali Shawkat); and Lindsay's nerdy husband , Tobias ( David Cross), whose license to practice psychiatry had been revolked, was trying to find work as an actor, eventually prompting Lindsay to decide she wanted a divorce. Michael's older brother, GOB ( Will Arnett), a mediocre magician who lacked any skills that might have been useful to the company, was forever looking for ways to make a fast buck-and failing. On a dare he married a woman he had only known for one night but couldn't get it annulled because he wouldn't admit they had never made love. In the season finale George Sr. faked a heart attack and escaped , heading for Mexico in a stolen car with his former secretary, Kitty ( Judy Greer).

That September Michael, frustrated by his father's lies, tried to quit but, after Lucille's latest choice , GOB, proved to be incompetent as president of the Bluth Company, Michael returned as vice president and ran the company. Meanwhile George Sr.'s twin brother , Oscar ( also played by Jeffrey Tambor), moved in with Lucille , who wanted him to be a role model for Buster ( who later found out Oscar was his real father), and Lindsay and Tobias decided to have an open relationship. After faking his death in Mexico George Sr. snuck home and hid in the attic of the family home. Buster enlisted in the army but was discharged after his hand was bitten off by a seal and replaced with a hook. Michael was also disenchanted with George Michael's religious new girlfriend, Ann ( Mae Whitman). Maeby, on whom George Michael still had a crush , manipulated her way into an executive job at a motion picture studio and tried to get Tobias a part in a movie. After Lindsay kicked him out of the house, Tobias disguised himself as Mrs. Featherbottom , which fooled nobody, to prove he was a good actor and stay close to his daughter, Maeby. In the spring Maeby's movie, an American adaptation of Dangerous Liasons became a big hit. Tobias got romantically involved with Michael's assistant, Kitty, and George Sr. switched places with Oscar , who was sent to prison in his place, and then ran off again.

As the 2005-2006 season began the company's stock rating had rison from tripple sell to don't buy but, when Michael went to the prison to brag to his father , he realized that it was Oscar who was incarcarated. GOB, on the other hand , discovered that he had fathered a son, Steve Holt ( Justin Grant Wade), from a relationship with a high school girlfriend. George Sr. , still in hiding had joined the Blue Man Group by ousting Tobias , who was forced to work in a restaurant after the expulsion. When Michael found out he forced his father out of the group and put him under house arrest. George Sr. claimed he was set up by a British-run conspiracy. When Michael tried to check out his father's story, he fell in love with a beautiful British woman, Rita ( Charlize Theron). He planned to marry her but called it off after he found out she was retarded. Lindsay and Tobias were moving forward with their divorce, seperately utilzing the services of attorney Bob Loblaw , who had been dating Lindsay. Maeby and George Michael participated in a mock wedding, which turned out to be real.

In the two -hour four-episode series finale, Michael and Buster uncovered evidence that absolved George Sr. of all charges and the Bluth Company was finally solvent. Unfortunately during a celebratory party on the Queen Mary, investigators from the SEC charged Lucille with accounting irregularities based on evidence supplied by Annoying ( Justin Lee), the estranged Korean boy she had adopted in the first season. Lindsay found out she wasn't Michael's twin but had been adopted, GOB was dating Ann, and Michael and George Michael were sailing off to Mexico on GOB's yacht with $500,000. In the epilogue viewers were informed that George Sr. , having again switched places with his brother, was also on the yacht, and that Maeby had tried to convince Ron Howard the family's story would make a great TV series-he thought it would be better as a movie.

Told in a quasi-documentary style with Ron Howard ( who was also the executive producer) narrating, and featuring a myriad of over-the-top stories, witty dialogue that often punched holes in other TV stereotypes and a collection of guest stars in offbeat roles, Arrested Development was loved by critics but despite heavy promotion, never attracted a large audience.

A Review from The New York Times

TV WEEKEND; All in the (Rich, Dysfunctional)

Published: October 31, 2003

''Arrested Development,'' a sharply satirical comedy on Fox, is most easily likened to the 2001 film ''The Royal Tenenbaums,'' and that is unfair to Fox. This sitcom does borrow some of Wes Anderson's touches from the film -- absurdist biographical portraits and whimsical non sequiturs -- but it discards the highbrow preciousness.

The Bluth heirs are eccentric and warped, but they are not hothouse child prodigies like the Tenenbaum siblings. They are nouveau riche misfits, the Ewings of ''Dallas'' as seen by Bueuel. And they are quite amusing.

The first episode, on Sunday night, opens on a yacht, chartered for the retirement party of the family patriarch, George Bluth, founder of a louche development company in Orange County, Calif. Michael (Jason Bateman), the one relatively normal and reliable son, is expecting to be named chief executive at long last. As the Champagne begins to flow, his mother, Lucille (Jessica Walter), an imperious socialite, looms in front of Michael and declares, ''Look at what the homosexuals have done to me.'' He replies mildly, ''Can't you comb it out and reset it?''

Actually she was referring to chanting gay activists on a nearby boat protesting discrimination at the yacht club.

The feds prove even more disruptive. Almost as soon as George announces his decision to appoint Lucille his successor, the police board the yacht and arrest George on fraud charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Like ''Malcolm in the Middle,'' the Fox sitcom that precedes it, ''Arrested Development'' has no laugh track and was filmed with a single camera, a cinematic technique that has not really worked well in recent years for any other half-hour comedy except ''Malcolm in the Middle'' and ''Scrubs.'' (Most such shows quickly vanish, including ''Watching Ellie,'' a recent Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy.) But the approach lends ''Arrested Development'' the dry, deadpan tone needed to pull off its offbeat satire.

The humor lies in balancing the characters' loopiness with sly, satisfying digs at the rich. And occasionally, the rich and famous: beginning on Nov. 23, Liza Minnelli will make a guest appearance playing Lucille's archrival in a multi-episode subplot.

Michael's twin sister, Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), is a spendthrift social climber who uses company money to finance her swanky fund-raisers, including a black-tie party for an anti-circumcision group that earns her the ire of the Jewish Defense League. She is married to Tobias Funke, an unemployed former psychiatrist and doctor. (He lost his license giving CPR to a stranger who didn't need it.) Tobias is played by David Cross, a stand-up comic, who brings a special, soft weirdness to Tobias that keeps him from becoming a cliche.

Jeffrey Tambor, who oozed imbecilic pomposity as the talk-show sidekick on ''The Larry Sanders Show,'' plays another variation on that genre as the paterfamilias, a stately con man who is not very bright. He is gloriously funny in the part, and well matched by Ms. Walter, glittering with malice and self-absorption as his wife.

George Oscar Bluth II (Will Arnett), the eldest son, is a parasite and would-be magician. The youngest brother, Buster (Tony Hale), is perhaps the oddest of all. Still timidly attached to his mother and prone to panic attacks, Buster is unfit for real work and instead enrolls in graduate courses on things like cartography.

In a contentious family meeting, Lucille wants to put Buster in charge of the company instead of Michael, saying Buster is qualified because he once took a business course. ''It was 18th-century agrarian business,'' Buster stammers, ''but I suppose the same principles apply.'' He pauses. ''Are you at all concerned about an uprising?''

Michael, a widower with a sweet but ungainly 13-year-old son, George Michael (Michael Cera), is the sane one, struggling to steer the company away from his egomaniacal, unruly relatives and into some kind of fiscal order. Just when the family enmity and eccentricity seem a little too cute and contrived, the show shifts gears, and the Bluths show a glimmer of normal humanity: they make one another laugh, or at least understand one another's jokes.

The me-and-my-nutty-family formula has worked well, as ''Everybody Loves Raymond'' still attests. But Mitchell Hurwitz, the creator of ''Arrested Development,'' tried a similar scenario in ''Everything's Relative,'' a 1999 NBC sitcom about a sane comedy writer and his mad family. (Mr. Tambor played the father.) It was canceled after three episodes.

''Arrested Development'' has a better shot, partly because viewers have developed more of a taste for tart, even bitter humor on television, and partly because it is set on a broader comic canvas. And it follows ''Malcolm in the Middle,'' a popular show that offers a kinder but not that much gentler skewering of the American family.

Fox, Sunday night at 9:30, Eastern and Pacific times; 8:30, Central time

Created by Mitchell Hurwitz; Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, David Nevins and Mr. Hurwitz, executive producers. An Imagine Television and 20th Century Fox Television production.

WITH: Jason Bateman (Michael Bluth), Portia de Rossi (Lindsay Bluth), Jeffrey Tambor (George Bluth Sr.), Michael Cera (George Michael Bluth), Will Arnett (George Oscar Bluth II), Tony Hale (Buster Bluth), Alia Shawkat (Maeby Funke), Jessica Walter (Lucille Bluth) and David Cross (Tobias Funke).

A Review from USA TODAY

'Development': Not your father's family sitcom, thankfully

By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY

Now here's an interesting development.
As the last arrival in a so-far disappointing sitcom season, Arrested Development is heaven-sent for anyone who has longed for something, anything, a little outside the comedy norm. Well, actually, you'd better want to go pretty far outside the norm, because Arrested is certainly out there.

A Waiting for Guffman-style mockumentary, Arrested is produced under the auspices of Ron Howard, who also serves as narrator. He's the ideal comic choice: A down-home, family-friendly voice subversively put to the service of a comedy about a wildly dysfunctional family.

The closest the Bluth family comes to normal is Michael (Jason Bateman), a hardworking widower with a 13-year-old son named George Michael (Michael Cera), a name choice that proves Dad is a bit off himself. Michael has spent his life sacrificing for the Bluth family development business, but his reward, he thinks, is on the way: a long-expected partnership.

Certainly, he's the only sibling who deserves a promotion. His twin sister, Lindsay (Ally McBeal's Portia de Rossi), spends the family money on losing causes, such as an anti-circumcision movement. ("It's a Doberman. Let it have its ears.") His older brother, "Gob" (Will Arnett), is a failed magician; his younger brother, Buster (Tony Hale), is a failed everything. And Lindsay's husband, Tobias (David Cross), is an ex-doctor who is assumed to be gay by everyone, including Lindsay.

Yet instead of promoting Michael, patriarch George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) gives the job to Michael's brittle mom (Jessica Walter) and then promptly gets dragged off to jail by the SEC.

"So why is Michael so happy?" the narrator asks. "Because he's decided to never speak to these people again."

Arrested boasts one of the new season's best-balanced casts, from welcome pros like Tambor and Walter to cult favorites like Cross to surprises like de Rossi. But the key to the show's success is the hilariously deadpan Bateman. Whether explaining the law to his father or reacting to his mother's leering wink ("I wonder how I can talk you out of ever making that face again?"), Bateman gives the kind of revelatory performance that reshapes careers.

As you might expect from an experimental show that is doing its best to misbehave, there are times when Arrested goes too far. I could live without George Michael's crush on his first cousin, a story given more prominence in a future episode when it really needs less.

But for now, I'd say stick with the Bluths, even when their behavior is more alarming than arresting.

At least they're not dull. And this season, that's a development worth encouraging.

An Article from The New York Times

COVER STORY; Dysfunctional? Yes. But Helpless? Yes

Published: November 9, 2003

LIZA MINNELLI is sweating, and it has nothing to do with lawsuits or divorce. She's rehearsing on the set of Fox's ''Arrested Development.'' She fans herself with a script. When the actors break, she smokes a Marlboro Light 100 down to its filter.

Ron Howard, whose friendship with Ms. Minnelli dates back to 1962, when Vincente Minnelli, her father, directed him in ''The Courtship of Eddie's Father,'' is an executive producer of ''Arrested Development.'' He had asked Ms. Minnelli to join the series in a recurring role that would be her first venture into network comedy. Originally scheduled for only two episodes (the first of which will be shown on Nov. 23), her role as a wealthy society matron has already been expanded to six. She isn't playing just any dowager, either. Her character suffers from vertigo, an ailment that has enabled the actress to flex her muscles as a physical comedian.

Because she had injured her knee earlier this year, Ms. Minnelli said, Mr. Howard and the show's other producers (Mitchell Hurwitz, Brian Grazer and David Nevins) had hoped to avoid her taking any spills. It was she who persuaded them otherwise. ''I don't think they knew I was so willing to do weird things,'' she said, adding that before filming, she spent several weeks learning how to fall, in spite of her knee.

Weird things are right in line with the premise of ''Arrested Development,'' which revolves around George Bluth, a rich but crooked businessman who goes to jail for cooking the books, and his son Michael, a widower, who must keep the bankrupt Bluth family afloat after his father's arrest.

It's a far cry from ''Happy Days,'' the sitcom set in the 50's in which Mr. Howard starred as the Everyteen Richie Cunningham. ''I'm always interested in shows that are funny, that have characters you care about, but that work to puncture the myth of the functional family,'' Mr. Howard said during a telephone interview from New York, where he was editing his forthcoming movie ''The Missing.'' ''Every family is broken in some way -- or certainly bent, if not broken.''

Adding to the Bluths' particular bent are Michael's icy mom, Lucille (Jessica Walter), and three maladjusted siblings (Will Arnett, Portia de Rossi, Tony Hale). Rarely has so venal a clan clawed its way into network comedy.

Jeffrey Tambor, who plays the unscrupulous George, knows about making unlikable characters likable. It's a craft he perfected as Larry Sanders's annoying talk show sidekick, Hank Kingsley. ''You have to find the character's heartbeat,'' he said of playing George. ''You have to make the audience fall in love with the guy.''

In a show of support for the Bluths, Fox placed the series in a coveted time slot: Sundays at 9:30 p.m., following the hit comedy ''Malcolm in the Middle.'' Gail Berman, president for Fox entertainment, said, ''One of the things we always look for in a show is that unusual Fox family,'' referring to characters in series like ''Married . . . With Children'' and ''The Simpsons.'' '''Arrested Development,''' she added, ''obviously has that.''

With a nod to reality shows like ''Survivor,'' ''The Bachelor'' and ''Joe Millionaire,'' Mr. Howard described the look of the series as ''faux documentary.'' He said he had wanted to produce a TV comedy that ''stylistically would be more contemporary and interesting to watch but would still deliver genuine sitcom laughs.''

That's easier said than done. In response to criticism of the classic sitcom's joke-setup-joke format and widespread use of laugh tracks, the major networks have begun producing so-called single-camera comedies, like ''Arrested Development,'' which are not filmed in front of a live audience but instead are shot more like movies -- and broadcast without the canned laughter.

But many single-camera comedies -- ''The Job'' (ABC), ''Grapevine'' (CBS) and ''Watching Ellie'' (NBC) -- haven't clicked with viewers. Mr. Howard said the technical demands of producing such series often overshadow the writing. So by dialing down those demands -- less emphasis on lighting, for example -- he hopes to maintain the focus on humor.

To help him do that, Mr. Howard called in Mr. Hurwitz, previously a writer on ''The John Larroquette Show,'' who is credited as the creator as well as executive producer of ''Arrested Development.'' After spending more than a decade in the sitcom trenches, Mr. Hurwitz sees great potential in single-camera series. ''There's a whole new way of being funny, beyond just wordplay,'' he added, noting that visual gags and creative editing make up as much of ''Arrested Development's'' humor as its dialogue does.

But the differences between traditional and single-camera comedy can also be challenging. Jason Bateman, who plays Michael, son and savior of the Bluth family, has starred in more than half a dozen television comedies over the last 20 years and spent much of that time playing to the rafters. Sitcoms, he said, are ''bigger and broader'' than single-camera series. Without laughter from an audience, he added, ''you can't deliver jokes in the same way -- you have to take it way down.''

As the show's straight man, Mr. Bateman acknowledged he has had to tone down his delivery even further. But it's a role he relishes. ''I'm the guide through the zoo,'' he said. ''Otherwise the animals would scare the hell out of you.''

Mr. Hurwitz seems equally aware of how frightening the Bluth pack might come off to the audience, which is why he hired a backup guide, enlisting Mr. Howard as the show's narrator. ''Having Ron's calm, steady, Midwestern voice makes it easier on the viewer,'' Mr. Hurwitz said. ''You just feel like you're in the hands of a good storyteller.''

Whether viewers themselves feel at ease with the Bluths will ultimately determine the show's success. Mr. Howard believes the timing is right for ''Arrested Development,'' because its humor reflects a changing national mood. ''There's something going on right now,'' he said. ''Our economic stability is in flux, and nobody feels 100 percent secure.''

The Bluths may be unconventional, even dysfunctional, but, he added, their riches-to-rags story is a ''relatable fear.''

''You can laugh at them or with them,'' he said, ''depending on where you are in the world.''

An Article from The New York Times

The Prisoner Who's Happy Right Where He Is

Published: November 23, 2003

ONE night last spring, Sandy Grushow, the chairman of Fox Entertainment, watched a rough cut of a pilot titled ''Arrested Development,'' chronicling the misadventures of a rich, goofily depraved family that suffers a reversal of fortune after its patriarch is arrested for Enron-like misbehavior.

While impressed with its style -- a comedy shot like a documentary -- and its pedigree (Ron Howard is a producer), Mr. Grushow had a concern: the father, played by the veteran character actor Jeffrey Tambor, was to be effectively written out after the pilot. The role of George Bluth Sr., who is carted off on fraud charges, was considered so tangential that Mr. Tambor was cast only hours before the show was filmed.

In the pilot, as law enforcement officials prepare to board a boat where his character is celebrating his retirement as chairman of the family development company, Mr. Tambor, his bald pate covered by a Stetson, calmly dictates instructions over his mobile phone. ''Shred it, no save it,'' he directs, as if ordering from a menu. ''Save it. Shred it.''

Mr. Grushow decided that Mr. Tambor was so essential that he made the elevation of the father to a more central character -- and Mr. Tambor's casting in it -- a contingency for the series to be picked up.

''The only way the show was going to go forward was to get Jeffrey,'' Mr. Grushow said in an interview.

Writing last month in The New York Times, Alessandra Stanley observed that Mr. Tambor was ''gloriously funny in the part,'' which she described as ''a stately con man who is not very bright.''

In the show's early episodes, George Sr. hires his former cellmate, an arsonist, to staff the family's original business, a banana stand (''he's a flamer,'' George Sr. says admiringly), stashes $250,000 in the walls of that establishment (''there's always money in the banana stand,'' he tells his family, to no avail), and is seen with Richard Simmons in a flashback from an infomercial selling a product called the ''Cornballer'' (prone to explode, it was banned in the United States).

The next few installments -- the fourth is on Fox tonight at 9:30 Eastern -- will see George Sr., who like Mr. Tambor is Jewish, manage to convert much of the prison population to Judaism.

''Arrested Development'' may be struggling to build an audience; it had an estimated 5.8 million viewers last Sunday, 3.4 million fewer than its lead-in, ''Malcolm in the Middle.'' But Mr. Tambor's portrayal is considered a main reason that critics, at least, consider it a breakout comedy.

''I like this job so much it actually scares me,'' said Mr. Tambor over a recent cup of coffee at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.

Mr. Tambor, 59, has been meticulously crafting supporting roles on film and television for three decades, though it was not until he played Garry Shandling's infuriating yet endearing sidekick Hank (''Hey Now!'') Kingsley in ''The Larry Sanders Show'' that he drew wide praise.

But even before Hank, for which he was nominated for four Emmy awards in the 1990's, Mr. Tambor's resume read like an annotated history of television since the Vietnam War. He guest-starred on ''Kojak,'' ''Taxi'' and ''Three's Company''; had standing roles as the landlord on ''The Ropers'' and as a cross-dressing judge on ''Hill Street Blues''; and is probably the only actor to sail on ''The Love Boat'' and play Pierre Salinger in a Kennedy mini-series. His recent film work has included ''Pollock,'' ''Meet Joe Black'' and Mr. Howard's ''How the Grinch Stole Christmas.''

Mr. Tambor has played so many roles that most of the tourists who asked to be photographed with him at the Plaza -- including five women from South Carolina celebrating their 50th birthdays -- could not place where they had seen him.

''He's from TV,'' one woman said. ''I just recognize his looks.''

Another was sure he was a cardiologist she had once consulted.

Henry Winkler, who will play George Sr.'s lawyer, said the only common denominator in Mr. Tambor's roles is that they are played by Mr. Tambor.

''Remember when you bought a turntable and got the smallest screwdriver you ever saw to keep it balanced?'' Mr. Winkler asked. ''That's how Jeffrey acts. He has an ability to calibrate within a millimeter of itself what he's doing.''

At the Plaza, Mr. Tambor responded to each admirer's interruption with a gaze that suggested he wanted to know her life story. Those stories tumbled out, including that of one woman who, albeit stoked by a martini, related that she was taking a brief vacation from a life made heavy by caring for a retarded son.

Mr. Tambor's eyes filled with tears.

In the interview, Mr. Tambor made clear that he had felt his share of pain. Raised in San Francisco by his father (a contractor) and his mother (a housewife), Mr. Tambor lost an older brother to what he will describe only as ''a family tragedy'' in the 1970's. (He himself has been divorced twice. But he brightens noticeably at the mention of his only child, Molly, 29, who teaches history at Columbia University, as well as his current wife, Kasia Ostlun, an actress whom he met six years ago at a jazz club.)

In high school, Mr. Tambor said, his was a bifurcated existence: while he loved sports, he was never more content than to steal away to an empty classroom to listen to the overture of ''Gypsy,'' which would make him weep. Salvation ultimately lay across the street from his family's home, in the theater at San Francisco State University. As a teenager, he began sneaking into rehearsals. Mr. Tambor later graduated from San Francisco State, with a degree in theater.

For all the respect his acting has garnered, Mr. Tambor acknowledges that he is often recognized for only two reasons, beyond his ubiquity: because he resembles Dr. Phil, at least before he shaved his mustache, and because he played Hank Kingsley.

''Hey Now! Hey There! Hey Who!'' Mr. Tambor said, ticking off the greetings that are invariably shouted to him on the street.

''The only thing I don't like -- and this is going to sound disingenuous -- is that sometimes people get stuck and do the Jeffrey Tambor rundown,'' he said. ''They say, 'What have you been in?' And you say: ' ''And Justice For All,'' ''Meet Joe Black'' ' . . . And you get back, 'No, no. . . .'

''That's when you walk away with your knuckles grazing the concrete.''

An Article from The New York Times

TELEVISION; Can This Man Save the Sitcom?

Published: August 1, 2004

TWO weeks ago, the little-watched Fox sitcom ''Arrested Development'' pulled off a remarkable Emmy coup: it walked away with seven nominations, including best comedy series, best writing and best direction. Just a few nights later, the show took top honors from the Television Critics Association for best new program and best comedy. ''It's been a crazy period of approbation,'' said Mitchell Hurwitz, the show's creator and one of its executive producers, last week in his office on the Fox lot. ''Before you know it, I'll be caught smuggling mushrooms through security at Burbank Airport,'' he joked, referring to the infamous drug bust that befell the Emmy-winning writer Aaron Sorkin, creator of ''The West Wing,'' several years ago.

The honors represent more than just a compliment for Mr. Hurwitz's innovative, genre-busting show. They may be its last, best hope for survival. For all its acclaim, ''Arrested Development'' is barely hanging on. The series -- which stars Jason Bateman as the only sane member of an Orange County family that loses its real estate fortune in an Enron-type scandal -- finished its first season as only the 120th most popular show (88th among viewers 18 to 49), with a meager average weekly audience of 6.2 million people. And despite Fox's efforts to cultivate new fans by broadcasting reruns this summer on Sundays at 8:30 p.m., ''Arrested Development'' consistently loses about a quarter of the audience from ''The Simpsons,'' which precedes it. ''An Emmy would be nice,'' Mr. Hurwitz said, sighing, ''but I'd settle for an audience.''

Ordinarily, he wouldn't get the chance to find one. But these are not ordinary times for TV comedy. The sitcom is in crisis. The overwhelming majority fail in their first season; among the few that became hits over the last decade, ''Friends'' and ''Frasier'' ended this year. Increasingly, they are being replaced by far less expensive reality shows like ''Average Joe'' and ''Wife Swap'' -- funny, yes, but not for the right reasons. Launching a successful sitcom, Daily Variety recently declared, ''is harder than trying to sell buggy whips in the age of the automobile.''

It's in this era of long odds that Fox has decided to roll the dice on ''Arrested Development.'' After a tense couple of months last spring when the show faced cancellation, the network has declared its full support, not only picking the show up for a full 22-episode season that starts Nov. 7 but moving it from 9:30 p.m. to the plum time slot right after ''The Simpsons.'' ''Its creative integrity and groundbreaking nature are all things we look for on Fox,'' Gail Berman, Fox's entertainment president, told reporters at the network's annual presentation in New York. ''We hope to see it build in the same vein as 'Seinfeld' and 'Everybody Loves Raymond' '' -- two hit shows that took a while to catch on.

Of course, the network said much the same thing before canceling shows like ''Undeclared'' and ''Andy Richter Controls the Universe'' -- and those shows had stronger numbers. But Peter Chernin, president of the News Corporation, Fox's parent, is adamant. ''We're going to give it every possible chance,'' he insisted in a recent conversation.

Among sitcom writers -- a notoriously surly, schadenfreude-prone lot -- ''Arrested Development'' is being viewed as a kind of bellwether for the future of the genre. ''I love the show,'' said Jeff Greenstein, an executive producer of ''Will and Grace,'' which competed against it for the best comedy Emmy. ''But the feeling in the writer community, it goes beyond love. We're actually pulling for it, like the infant child in the incubator you hope makes it. It's so fresh, and so unlike the shows that came before it, that if it succeeds it gives hope to those of us who would like to do shows like that ourselves.''

That's because ''Arrested Development'' is trying to reinvent the rules of the half-hour comedy. The show trades the laugh track, multiple cameras and over-lighted stage sets that have characterized sitcoms from ''I Love Lucy'' to ''King of Queens'' for the hand-held single camera, natural light, heavily scored soundtrack and voice-over narration of a pseudo-documentary like ''The Real World.'' It's very much a post-reality-show sitcom, capitalizing on the influence of the fledgling genre and translating its conventions into a new kind of comedy -- broadly drawn but presented utterly deadpan.

Unlike Larry David's ''Curb Your Enthusiasm,'' ''Arrested Development'' is as rigorously scripted as an episode of ''Everybody Loves Raymond,'' with the same abiding respect for network comic tradition. ''I believe sitcoms are their own kind of classic art form when they're done well,'' said Ron Howard, the Oscar-winning director (and Imagine partner), who developed the show with Mr. Hurwitz and serves as a fellow executive producer. ''But I felt that there was a new TV grammar that was emerging, based on reality shows and going back a decade to 'Cops' and shows like that.'' In addition, ''audiences are getting used to, particularly in the reality shows, bouncing around from story to story and plot to plot.''

That Mr. Howard, who grew up on-camera in ''The Andy Griffith Show'' and ''Happy Days,'' was on board gave the show a stamp of approval that has helped sell it to network executives who might otherwise have found it threateningly edgy. Mr. Hurwitz himself is no stranger to the field. Like his fellow TV auteurs Alan Ball (of ''Six Feet Under'') and Lynwood Boomer (of ''Malcolm in the Middle''), Mr. Hurwitz, 41, labored for a long time in the trenches of conventional television, spending 18 years on sitcoms like ''Golden Girls'' and ''The John Larroquette Show.'' ''If they say the sitcom is dead,'' he joked, ''then I'm one of the guys who killed it.''

Another striking departure from sitcom tradition is that the characters on ''Arrested Development'' -- almost every last one -- are aggressively irredeemable. There's Jeffrey Tambor (of ''Larry Sanders'' fame) as the family patriarch, a disgraced mogul who undergoes a prison conversion to Orthodox Judaism and begins selling self-help tapes; David Cross (a comedian behind HBO's former cult favorite ''Mr. Show'') as a psychiatrist-turned-actor whose ambiguous sexuality and refusal ever to be seen nude is ruining his marriage; Portia de Rossi (best known as one of Ally McBeal's beautiful foils) as his wife, a limousine liberal supporter of innumerable dubious causes; and Jessica Walter as the family's ice queen mother, whose neurotic mess of a neighbor just happens to be played by Liza Minnelli.

''I'm not at all worried about likability,'' Mr. Hurwitz said. ''We have a very lovable cast, so I kind of feel like they're in charge of making the characters lovable and we as writers are in charge of making them hateable.''

The characters all have deeply layered histories, revealed through incongruous flashbacks or absurd plot twists. Thus the character of Buster (the priceless Tony Hale) is not only a weirdly coddled mama's boy; he also has a background in cartography, a skill that is suddenly called upon when the family finds itself trying to out-motor police boats. Alas, poor Buster thinks the blue on the map is land.

Mr. Hurwitz said that when he comes up with characters, ''I'm always nervous that they're not special enough, not detailed enough, or that there won't be more stories to go back to. So it's my neurosis that makes me keep adding things to characters -- giving them, you know, funny vehicles to drive on top of their speech impediments.''

It can all get a bit confusing, but that's where the narrator comes in. Mr. Hurwitz always planned to have one, to make the show feel like a documentary, but it wasn't until shooting the pilot that he decided it should be Mr. Howard. ''It was a very manipulative idea,'' Mr. Hurwitz observed. ''First of all, it makes the network think, rightfully it turns out, that Ron is very involved with this show and not just a celebrity putting his name on something. Two, it makes Ron be involved. He's got to be there, he's got to see it. And three, he's got a perfect voice -- because it's completely nonjudgmental. There's no spin on it, there's no wink.''

Mr. Hurwitz and his staff have accessorized the show with many surprising touches. Running gags unfold over multiple episodes, or tie together the looping subplots of a single episode -- as in the ''Take Our Daughters to Work Day'' episode, in which young girls turn up in increasingly bizarre yet totally unremarked-upon ways, culminating in the moment when a pre-teenager holds a shoplifter at gunpoint as her proud security guard papa looks on. The end of each episode features fake teasers, which purport to show snippets from next week's show but are instead stand-alone jokes. And then there is what Mr. Hurwitz calls his ''Call Forwards'': apparent non sequiturs which only make sense later in the season. (A casual viewer might have missed numerous tangential references to Saddam Hussein last year, but in the season finale, it was revealed that George Senior had built palaces in Iraq using the same plans the company uses for its model homes.)

One of Mr. Hurwitz's biggest influences is ''The Sopranos'': ''I love how sprawling it is. And how they can totally surprise you by, say, killing off a character. I want that freedom. We felt: 'Wouldn't it be great if we did a show that actually does change? Where people could die?' So I brought in Jeffrey Tambor to play his own twin so that if we had to we could kill George Senior.''

Mr. Hurwitz hired writers like himself: veterans of sitcoms -- in particular, veterans of old-fashioned mainstream sitcoms, which use four cameras and an extensive weekly rewrite process. (Shows like ''Sports Night'' and ''Bernie Mac,'' which have experimented with new narrative formulas, have also used just one camera, to give their series a different rhythm.) ''I know it's hard to say multicamera sitcoms are funnier than single-camera sitcoms because we're a little bit tired of the rhythm right now, but they are funnier; there are more jokes per page,'' he said. ''We all come from multiple-camera, and we aren't going to settle with the punch line of a joke being 'Ohhh-kaaaay' when what it calls for is a clever response. We work really hard on every joke.''

That's an understatement. Because Mr. Hurwitz did away with the usual process of sending writers off to compose drafts, preferring to lead the room in group-writing each episode; and because he also played such a large role on the set, and in editing, where he put in another 20 hours a week, the burden was crushing. For three months, January to April, he and his senior staff worked through weekends without a day off.

This year's work may be even more difficult. Creatively, Mr. Hurwitz and his staff must prove the brilliant first season was not a fluke, while at the same time fulfilling a directive from Ms. Berman to make the show, as she recently put it, ''more accessible, with more closed-ended stories.''

And so the writers' room on the Fox lot is already decorated with multicolored cards listing ideas for the coming season. The writers want to make Tobias, the David Cross character, an understudy for the Blue Man Group, thus requiring him to constantly wait by the phone wearing blue makeup. They may introduce a new member of the family who -- like the missing sister on ''The Osbournes'' -- had previously refused to participate. ''I'd love to go back through scenes from the first season and show her being blurred out in the background,'' Mr. Hurwitz said, laughing. Most audaciously, he would like Michael, Mr. Bateman's character, to chew out his son for being attracted to a cousin, then fall in love with a woman who will be played by Mr. Bateman's real-life sister, the actress Justine Bateman.

But for all the wacky antics, Mr. Hurwitz said, ''I think the more people understand that this is Michael's story, that he's at the center of this thing, and it's his evolution that we're really watching, the easier it'll be to follow. If you watch Jason Bateman you'll understand the show.''

David Nevins, the president of Imagine Television and another executive producer of the show, said that Fox already had plans to feature Mr. Bateman -- an established sitcom star and the show's wonderfully dry straight man -- more prominently in its promotions. ''We need to change the perception in the general public from the idea that this is a sprawling ensemble of eccentric characters to the truth, which is that it is actually a very relatable show about a family,'' he said. The new time slot could help, too. ''I really think we're a much better fit with the 'Simpsons' audience,'' Mr. Nevins added. ''I feel like, Year 2, with all the attention that we've gotten, we're ready for the klieg lights.''

None of which comes as any relief to Mr. Hurwitz, who can write uncomfortably funny scenes in part because he's almost never comfortable. Last week, Gail Berman scheduled a meeting to discuss the coming season -- not to check in on him, it turned out, but to give him carte blanche to do as he pleased. ''Oh no,'' Mr. Hurwitz said afterward, ''we would work so much better in adversity.'' And as for the acclaim the show is now getting -- acclaim that he credits with keeping it alive -- he could only fret about a possible backlash. '' 'Hurwitz chose his words carefully,' '' he narrated, in the dry tone familiar from his show. '' 'He was grateful for all the attention, but worried that it would make him the most resented man in Hollywood.' ''

An Article from Time Magazine

The Great Wit Hope
Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2004

As you drive onto the FOX studio lot in Century City, you are greeted by a massive banner congratulating Arrested Development for winning five Emmy awards. The banner could go on to say (but does not), "Sorry about that nearly-canceling-you-at-the-end-of-last-season business!" Being the funniest show on TV goes only so far, after all, when you're No. 116 in the 2003-04 broadcast ratings. So when Arrested's name was called out as Outstanding Comedy Series in September, besting contenders like Everybody Loves Raymond and Sex and the City, "it was like somebody punched us in the stomach," says cast member Tony Hale. "Punched in a good way."

America probably had a different reaction. Namely, Arrested what? It's not that the sitcom has lacked for publicity. The story of the eccentric, wealthy Bluth family, thrown into chaos when the sEC investigates the Bluth house-building business, was singled out by the New York Times as the show that might "save the sitcom." But all the plaudits may have convinced people only that the show was another critic's darling that would be too much work to watch. "People talk about it in such reverent terms," says Fox entertainment president Gail Berman. "I say it's just funny. Let's not make it sound like medicine."

Be it known, then, that Arrested Development (Sundays, 8:30 p.m. E.T., returns Nov. 7) is not too cerebral to make a good nudity joke. Today Jeffrey Tambor, who plays both imprisoned family patriarch George Bluth Sr. and George's hippie brother Oscar, is on set wearing an open robe with nothing underneath but flesh-colored briefs. (They'll be pixelated into a nude-looking blur.) Oscar is doing Tai Chi in the living room while George's acerbic wife Lucille (Jessica Walter) talks on the phone. As Oscar thrusts and lunges, Lucille icily hisses, "Oscar, close it! You look like the window of a butcher shop!"

Sharp jokes, nutty family: in that sense, there's no difference between Arrested Development and Raymond. But Arrested is different in other ways and thank God, since sitcoms are in a years-long creative and ratings slump. Whereas most sitcoms are set in that familiar fake world of couches and canned laughter, Arrested Development looks real and spontaneous. It has no laugh track and is shot documentary style, in handheld digital video, with sober narration by Ron Howard (a partner in Imagine, the show's production company). Viewers often think the show is improvised (like HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm), though it's meticulously scripted.

Using digital video allows the crew to set up quickly and shoot more scenes. Some of the funniest moments are fleeting flashbacks that wouldn't be practical on a traditionally shot sitcom. When spoiled Bluth daughter Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) tries to start a business, we get a quick glimpse of her last such scheme Lindsay chasing a terrified dog that has been dyed half green out of a storefront with the sign DIP-A-PET. Other times, the cameraman is a sort of character, scurrying to catch up with the action. Or trying not to. In an upcoming episode, says creator Mitchell Hurwitz, Lucille starts making out with Oscar in an effort to make his brother jealous. "The cameraman starts to drift away, like he doesn't want to see it," Hurwitz says. "Then another character comes in, and he has to go back."

In looks and structure, Arrested Development is like a 30-min. drama, just a hilarious one. In most network sitcoms nowadays, the wisecracking characters are aware that they're being funny. The oblivious Bluths are funny despite themselves. "To these characters," says Jason Bateman, who stars as straight-arrow son Michael, "what's happened to them is an absolute tragedy. If they knew people were laughing, they'd be deeply offended."

So Hurwitz cast a brilliant group of character actors, such as Tambor (sidekick Hank Kingsley on HBO's Larry Sanders Show), David Cross (of HBO's Mr. Show) as George's fey doctor-turned-actor son-in-law Tobias F�nke and Will Arnett, who steals his every scene as rebellious son Gob (pronounced like the biblical Job), a preening, self-absorbed magician. The most traditional sitcom actor is Bateman (Silver Spoons), whom Hurwitz was reluctant to cast for precisely that reason. "But he came in and gave this dry, confident performance," Hurwitz says. "There aren't many actors who will throw away those lines without giving you a big wink."

Granted, a lot of people have come to need the wink to tell them what to laugh at. And Arrested Development draws a dark picture of family relations: "What we have is not a family," Michael tells his son in the season-two opener. "It's a bunch of greedy, selfish people who have our nose." But the show is no more avant-garde than, say, Seinfeld, and it's less misanthropic. At some level, the Bluths need one another; they are the only ones who know what it is like to be Bluths. "We're not saying, No hugs, no lessons," says Hurwitz. "It's about people trying to grow as human beings but whose development has been arrested because they had money."

After all, people have happily watched a brainy, densely layered dysfunctional-family sitcom on Fox for 15 years: The Simpsons. With that in mind, Fox moved Arrested Development to the slot right after its cartoon powerhouse. The move, on top of the Emmy, should give TV's best comedy its best chance and maybe its last. However much Emmy hardware Arrested Development wins, it ultimately needs to make money. "This is a business," says Arnett. "The Coke commercials are not filling the gap between our segments. We are filling in the gap between the Coke commercials." Back in the makeup trailer, Tambor (who has thankfully added a pair of shorts over his briefs) says the Emmy, by telling mainstream viewers it's "safe" to watch, will allow the sitcom to sell enough soda to survive. "We turned from the little engine that maybe could," he says, "into the little engine that could." Do yourself a favor and get on board.

An Article from The New York Times

MediaTalk; Fox Appeals to Fans, Hoping to Salvage A Comedy Series

Published: April 18, 2005

Fans often conduct grass-roots campaigns to persuade television networks to spare their favorite programs from cancellation. Die-hard ''Roswell'' viewers, for example, won a reprieve for the series by sending petitions and countless bottles of Tabasco sauce -- a favorite of the aliens on the program -- to network executives.

Now a campaign seeks to save ''Arrested Development,'' the Fox comedy, which has low ratings despite winning three Emmy Awards last September. But, in an example of a corporation co-opting the power of protest, the campaign is being run by Fox itself. (Fox is owned by the News Corporation.)

The network set up a site at, where visitors are urged to sign an ''Arrested Development Loyalty Oath.'' Signatory fans pledge their ''never-ending loyalty and allegiance to the best comedy on television today.'' They promise, moreover, to invite all their friends and family members to join the ''Arrested Nation.'' As of last Friday, a counter on the site said that more than 42,000 people had electronically signed.

Some fans might think the power to save ''Arrested Development,'' whose season finale was scheduled to run last night, may lie with the Fox executives themselves.

Not so, said Joe Earley, a spokesman at the Fox broadcast network. ''Everyone is accustomed to fans rallying to save a show,'' he said. ''We thought, what if we could find a way to take that energy and say to fans, 'instead of complaining to us, find someone else to watch the show.'''

Fox will announce its new schedule, which may or may not include ''Arrested Development,'' next month. NAT IVES

Correction: April 19, 2005, Tuesday A report in the Media Talk column of Business Day yesterday about efforts by the Fox network to gain a wider audience for ''Arrested Development'' misstated the number of Emmy awards the program has won. It is five, not three.

An Article from USA TODAY
Published on February 9, 2006

If this is the end, a fond arrivederci to 'Arrested'
By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY

Sometimes the best die young.

Granted, Arrested Development has not officially reached the end of its Fox run. Tonight's two-hour special installment is being billed by its network as a season, not series, finale. (Related stories: Who gets 'Arrested'? | Is the show a wrap?)

But even the most deluded of the Bluths (and that's an awfully competitive category) could read the writing on this wall. You don't run four episodes of a series you're trying to salvage against the opening ceremonies of the Torino Winter Olympics. Fox might as well write arrivederci over the end credits.

If these are the final four, at least the show is finishing just as it began, without compromise and with no slackening in its wit, inventiveness or out-there attitude. The final half-hour was not available for review, but the 90 minutes that precede it are Arrested at its best: sly, ribald and hilarious.

As an Olympic bonus, the show wraps up three seasons' worth of great guest roles with a gold-medal performance from star Jason Bateman's sister Justine. As befits a series that revels in sexual discomfort, Bateman's role laughingly shatters her good-girl image while tweaking every possible TV family cliche.

Yet if these episodes exemplify why Arrested fans adore the show, they also illustrate why the vast majority of viewers have ignored it, awful scheduling aside. As funny as Arrested may be, the show tends to be all head and no heart, and that combination is usually a tough sell on TV. Seinfeld aside, Americans like to like their sitcom characters, and the Bluths are a tough bunch to love.

Considering the tenor of the times, it probably didn't help that Arrested doesn't just flirt with bad taste it embraces it full-force. Incest, torture, mental illness, disabilities, dirty pictures and dirty politics have all been fodder for Arrested jokes.

This is a show that interrupts tonight's running plot about the family's alleged illegal activities in Iraq to showcase Gob's disastrous attempt to become the Muslim world's first Christian street magician (a particularly timely bit of social satire).

Still, my guess is that time will be kind to Arrested and that more people will come to appreciate its willingness and ability to bounce from the cerebral to the silly on a moment's notice. Almost certainly, they'll come to better value the show's superb ensemble, led by Bateman, whose laid-back delivery is the happy antithesis of TV's normal slam-the-joke-home sitcom style.

There is still a chance that this great show will carry on elsewhere. But if tonight is the end, we should let go without complaints. Arrested's death may be untimely, but it's not unfair. Fox gave Arrested three seasons and multiple chances. The creators were able to do the show they wanted. They just weren't able to persuade enough viewers to want it.

When that happens, the best you can hope for is a proper farewell. Tonight, that's what you get.

To watch some clips from Arrested Development go to

For Tim's TV Showcase go to

For a Website dedicated to Arrested Development go

For Reviews of Arrested Development go to

For some Arrested Development-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to

To watch the opening credits go to
Date: Sun March 18, 2007 � Filesize: 26.5kb � Dimensions: 360 x 371 �
Keywords: Arrested Development: Cast Photo


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