Are you surprised that the show still has such a strong following five years after it originally ended?
Mitch: "It is a shock and a delight."
Will: "It feels weird taking a bow for something we did five years ago."
Mitch: "It's like making a joke, and then five years later, hearing someone laugh. We did this thing in such a vacuum and kind of always feeling a little bit like we were doing it wrong. And we were doing it wrong. We weren't getting an audience [and] we weren't doing the things that got an audience right away. But we always kind of felt that once the ball got rolling and we had a style, we stayed in that style. We thought, 'Alright, our style is that there's a lot of information that we're pushing into a twenty-minute programme and that will inform character'. We just wanted to use that whole twenty minutes to create something other than stock characters. It is now really incredibly gratifying when people, particularly young people, connect to it. I know that I had the things that influenced me, and they were very meaningful to me. I was thinking about Fawlty Towers earlier. That was a very meaningful show. So when people find this [show] now, it's a great feeling."
Will: "It is very gratifying. When people are fans of the show and they approach you or want to talk to you about it, rarely do they just mention it in a sort of throwaway manner. They're usually very into it and they give very detailed observations about the show. Or quotes or whatever. Oftentimes, I haven't watched the show since it ran on the air in the US, so for me it seems so far away. I forget about certain things, but I'm so happy that people are able to get such enjoyment out of it still."
Mitch: "There's also this presumption, where people come up and say, 'I know you must hear this all the time [because] you had a successful show'. It wasn't a success! It wasn't considered a success [at the time] and it's still not considered a success. We just did a show together [Fox's Running Wilde] and it was almost like a dirty word. When things would get too much like Arrested Development, we had to pull it back."
Will: "That was a note that we would constantly get on our new show. They'd say, 'Guys, we don't want this to be like Arrested Development' and we're like, 'Is that bad?!'"
Mitch: "We worked hard on the things that people tend to quote or remember. That does feel great. When you find a twist on a twist, as Will always does in everything and as we were trying to do in the writing, people eventually connect to that. It's great."
Why do you think there was such a gap between the show's ratings and the critical acclaim it was receiving?
Mitch: "Will's theory is that [the critical acclaim] might have even kept people away."
Will: "Yeah, I think [that's true] potentially. It might have been different had it debuted in the UK, if it had been broadcast here, received acclaim and then come overseas. Well, first of all, they would have just remade it! But I think for American audiences, there was a point where the reviews were so good, across the board for the most part, I think a lot of viewers felt like it was a little bit like homework for them."
Will: "Well, that was the knock on it. A lot of reviews or people's commentaries were like, '[The show is] too smart'. I don't want to speak for Mitch, but I don't think he was trying to create a show that was too smart or was making fun of people. He was just trying to make a comedy!"
Mitch: "I would often say that when I would get that note, 'Is it getting too smart?'. I'd say, 'We're just trying to get laughs, we're not trying to get nods'."
Will: "We'd get these scripts and the jokes were there! They were just so funny."
Mitch: "It's very hard, I think, for critics to write positive reviews, because there's not that much to say about something you like. You can kind of say 'I really like that band' and then if you're forced to fill up the rest of an article, you've got to start saying heady things. It's much easier to say negative things in a review."
Will: "I've always maintained that I don't think comedy should be reviewed. I think it's un-reviewable, because it is so subjective. Especially now that there are so many different outlets for review, I don't think it means anything."
So do you think good reviews hurt the show?
Mitch: "I think in trying to fill up an article, as reviewers said they liked the show, they said things that sounded a little..."
Will: "Off-putting to the masses?"
Mitch: "Yeah. They made it sound like it was something for college grads."
Will: "It seemed like a medicine a little bit! 'You have to watch Arrested Development!' If I was a kid, I'd probably think, 'I don't have to f**king do anything'."
Do you think the lack of a star name limited the show's appeal?
Mitch: "TV works usually with a big personality. Michael J. Fox is going to be in it, Bill Cosby's going to be in it, somebody you kind of know. We had this group cast, you kind of knew one of them from Ally McBeal [Portia de Rossi]... so it just didn't immediately draw people in. The flip-side of that is oftentimes when they do that show for the big star, it's got so much heat and then it fails. Joey wasn't good, or whatever. And the other shows that don't have the big names, whether it's Everybody Loves Raymond, Cheers or Seinfeld, they take a little while to grow. They have to be left on the air."
How do you feel about the way Fox treated the show?
Mitch: "They had decided that this was not a show they wanted to keep on the air. They had decided, 'These numbers are not going to change' and they thought 'Let's get rid of this'. Then we were the beneficiaries of a couple of awards cycles and that kept us on the air because they didn't want to be embarrassed by pulling a show that had just won an award. Finally in that third season, they had committed to taking it off the air, but they had a new network president come in. He did not want his first course of action to be cancelling this show that was beloved by the critics, as he walked out in front of the critics at the up-fronts, so he kept it on."
Mitch: "There was a determination not to spend money in the promotion of it. In fact, even in a magazine called 'Emmy Magazine' when we were the reigning champions at the Emmys, they didn't take out an ad. It's de rigueur to take out an ad - you just do it. It's just paying your dues, and [our show] was noticeably missing as they promoted every other show in there. I think they had made this determination, 'Let's let this thing die on the vine [and] if it suddenly gets a big number, we'll be delighted, but let's not spend a dime [to promote it]'. Then it was, 'Let's air the episodes months apart'. That was particularly galling, because we got Charlize Theron, an Academy Award-winning, beautiful actress, to agree to do four or five episodes, and they aired them months apart and didn't even advertise that she was on it. That was personally kind of embarrassing."
It's been suggested that the show might have survived longer on cable - what are your thoughts on that?
Mitch: "I think even [Fox mogul] Rupert Murdoch felt that it would have been a successful cable show. That's what I always heard, that Rupert liked the show but just knew that it wasn't his demographic, and he was right obviously. It did not work on Fox. At the end, we did have a chance to go to Showtime, but it was with a much reduced budget, and it would've meant losing half the cast basically. What part of Will do you cut off? Do you take his legs?
Will: "How would that save money?!"
Are they any new developments on a possible film?
Will: "The Running Wilde movie?"
Mitch: "The Running Wilde movie! We've got it, we're done!"
And the Arrested Development movie?
Mitch: "Jim Valley, who's my writing partner and long-time first lieutenant, and I are writing the script. So we've started that process and it is our sincere hope to shoot it this year and get it out this year. That's what we're hoping, but a lot of things have to fall into place for that to happen."
Are there any plot details that you can reveal?
Mitch: "I want to keep whatever it is we end up with as a surprise, which kind of betrays the fact that we might not have the whole thing worked out!"
Will: "It only betrayed it when you said it!"
Mitch: "But I don't like to toy with the affections of our fans. They've been so supportive and we're so grateful, so I kind of hate to answer the question until I can say, 'Yep, we've shot it, it opens next week'. Otherwise it feels like we're toying with people and we do not mean to do that. It has just taken a while to get it going."
The one question all the fans really want to know is - will the chicken dance be in the film?
Will: "You think they want to know that?"
That's the number one question.
Mitch: "I think we should do some kind of group, choreographed chicken dance scene, Bollywood-style."
Will: "We got almost everybody into it [in the third season]. I think we'll just get all the remaining cast members who haven't done one."
Mitch: "We might slow it down a bit. It might be a chicken waltz. 'So You Think You Can Chicken Dance' - the spinoff that sweeps the country!"
Arrested Development will air on FX beginning February 8th at 9pm.