Writer-producer Mitch Hurwitz has served in the sitcom trenches for years, writing for such series as The Golden Girls and The John Larroquette Show. He co-created (with Carol Leifer) 2001's The Ellen Show, but he's best known for gracing the airwaves with the FOX sitcom TV Land accurately awarded as a "Future Classic": Arrested Development. Hurwitz came to San Francisco's Moscone Center to promote his latest sitcom creation, FOX's animated Sit Down Shut Up, at Wondercon 2009, but he couldn't avoid addressing the persistent rumors (and hopes) for an Arrested Development movie.
Mitch Hurwitz: We have got the entire cast—willing to do the Sit Down Shut Up movie...Here's what's going on with the [Arrested Development] movie. We've had some trouble. We have people who, you know—unlike animation, actually, where you can get the Family Guy cast back together, everybody goes off and has careers and that kind of thing, so it's been a little challenging to schedule everybody together. And, um, but we've all—everyone who's agreed to make this movie has agreed to make this movie. Does that answer? And, um, we're going to make the movie. I haven't written it yet. So I'll be accepting pitches. It really—I mean, we're determined to do this. It was a great joy and privilege, all kidding aside, to be able to do a show that took risks and with such a wonderful cast and wonderful writers. And so, you know, for us, it's irresistible, I think. Here's an interesting thing about it: when we did the show, one of the things that really I thought made it work was that we didn't hold ourselves up to any standard. We got a lot of really positive critical recommendations, but we even kind of ignored those, and we just did what was funny to us and kind of remained the underdog in a big way. It was very clear early on we weren't going to be a big hit, so it really was like a labor of love. And now, suddenly, there is a bar to hit...So I think the key to this is we're gonna just—once we get as many pieces as we're going to, which it appears we have, we'll just dive in and just have fun and see if we can create the same thing. We're excited about it...
Groucho: So, in developing Sit Down Shut Up, what did you want to maintain from the original Australian series, and what did you want to swiftly dispose of?
Mitch Hurwitz: I wanted to do the least amount of work. And the joke was on me because, you know, as it turns out, by choosing to do this as an animated thing, it became so much work. But I did it in 2000, and in the year 2000 I got all the Sit Down, Shut Ups, and I remember I was supposed to be on a ski trip, but I stayed at home, and I took the scripts and scene by scene—and there were so many funny things in it. It was like seven or eight completely oblivious characters that in many ways...became the basis for the character of Tobias [Fünke on Arrested Development]. I just loved that style of somebody—you know, there were lines that don’t even stick out—they’re still in the show but they don’t even stick out—things like “I want everybody at this event today—teachers and students. Yes, Willard, do you have a question?” “Does that include teachers?” Every line was like that. “Please, no one tell Stuart.” “But isn’t Stuart sitting right here?” Stewart says, “Oh, he probably doesn’t even know you’re talking about me.”
MH: Every line was like that. And I loved it. So I really just assembled all the great bits and just did as minimal writing as I could. And then, when I brought it back out of the drawer, everyone required big rewrites. All the live-action networks, right? So that’s why I decided, "Let’s do it at FOX. Let’s see if we can get FOX to pick it up, then we won't have to do a rewrite." Well anyway, I had to do so many rewrites. I mean, now it’s almost completely original. It’s just the process, you know. But also once you get a cast and everyone has their own comic voice, it becomes great fun to do that.
G: Sure. And you’re a workaholic anyway, aren’t you?
MH: Well, it’s a weird thing. I don’t consider myself—perhaps you’ll relate to this—I don’t consider myself super-ambitious or even a workaholic. I actually consider myself very lazy. I would just rather play with my kids. I could watch TV all night long. When I have a task to do in front of me, I do get hyper-focused on it. And I do become like a perfectionist about it. It’s an interesting thing. I don’t quite understand it in myself. But I think it’s why I chose TV because if I hadn’t chose something with such a rigorous schedule, I would do nothing. You know? But it’s like due dates, due dates, due dates.
G: What about teacher horror stories? Were there any in your past that particularly inspired you?
MH: You know, this is much more an indictment of the Australian school system than the one that I went to. I actually say I was the beneficiary of some amazing teachers, which is not that hilarious, I guess.
G: Well, in penance, whowould you like to shout out to?
MH: Yeah, really! Well, I’ll tell you, I had like three teachers in my life that—the most recent of which in high school was a woman named Barbara Van Holtz who, on day one of some high school drama class, said to the room, “And this year Mitch is going to write the school play, because he’s the best writer we’ve ever had at this school.” I panicked and started working so hard on a play. And in retrospect, she’s just making that up. She had nothing to base that on. I think I’d written one little skit or something. And she was just a really—she must have done that to everyone: "This person is a wonderful actor." "This person has such insight into humanity." "This person’s so compassionate." And it really was such an amazing experience and positive reinforcement.