Mitch Hurwitz’s Guide to Getting a Sitcom Cancelled

16 Feb

Arrested Development is arguably one of the best TV sitcoms of all time. Its unique characters and smart script, that many times rewarded faithful viewers by setting up jokes with punch lines several episodes later, set a standard for other shows to follow. The mystery has always been why it never garnered the viewership during its 3 season run (one season winning the Emmy for Best Comedy Series) to keep it alive. Mitch Hurwitz, the writer of the show, also had several other shows get cancelled after short runs on TV, the most recent being Running Wilde. He recently wrote an article for the UK Newspaper, The Guardian, entitled Guide to Getting a Sitcom Cancelled which satires his own success, or lack thereof:

Have a confusing title

Come up with an unwieldy title that perhaps comes from the realm of psychology, so that the title of your show is almost instantly forgettable. For example, if you were to call the show Welcome Matt, an audience could immediately understand the concept: this must be a character named Matt and he must either be a welcoming person or stepped on. If you call a show Arrested Development it’s confusing and sufficiently disorientating to guarantee that a wide audience never discovers the fruits of your labor.

Audiences love fast cars and exciting vehicles

So see if you can put in some heavy machinery like a stair-car, that isn’t easily associated with speed or sex appeal.

Try to do too much for a 20-minute programme

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.

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.

First impressions are everything

So if you can screw that up, you’re made. With Arrested Development, we tried showing the deep disdain that connects a family. We wanted to hold up a mirror to American society. And, just as predicted, America looked away.

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.

Make easy jokes about minority groups

Whether they be Mexicans, Jews or homosexuals, any group can be dismissed with a few stereotypical cracks. At least, that’s what we tried to do. And given their “lack of coming to the party”, it seems we succeeded!

Squander iconic guest stars

As an example, Liza Minnelli has famously appealed to the homosexual audience. Note: it’s very important to alienate the homosexual audience first, or they might “come to the party”.

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.

Audiences like nicely dressed characters. They also enjoy nudity

Split the difference by putting your character in a pair of cut-offs and call him a Never-Nude. Advanced: feel free to dip him in a vat of blue paint. That’s a real turn-off.

Make a show for British sensibilities

And then show it in America.

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2 Responses to “Mitch Hurwitz’s Guide to Getting a Sitcom Cancelled”

  1. Julie Petersen February 16, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Sadly, those are some of the best things that make Arrested Development so great. America is too dumb to like a show with such “complexities”, especially if they consider 30 Rock and The Office to be intellectual comedies. I am glad to hear that Mitchell seems to have kept a good humor about all this (I didn’t support his latest venture, Running Wilde, however), and I hope he doesn’t stop trying to bring us good television!

    • Chris Petersen February 16, 2011 at 10:49 am #

      Yeah, I totally agree. People just didn’t get it. The part about the laughing track I think is the most important because I find that a lot of people don’t catch it until someone else starts laughing. Then they realize they should pay more attention because they are saying funny things and their eyes all of a sudden become opened to the wonderful world that is Arrested Development.
      Also, I didn’t like Running Wilde either. I hope that the Arrested movie, if it happens, brings back the smart charm that the show had.

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