(Excerpt from Mitch Hurwitz interview)
Is it true that you were a theology major at Georgetown University when you attended in the early to mid-80s?
Yes, I earned a theology degree as well as an English degree. I put the English degree to better work. I never pursued theology after college, but I did learn quite a few answers to some major questions.
I wish I could share them with you—I just can’t.
Maybe for the next edition.
I know whether God exists or not. That’s all I can say.
Do you know what He or She looks like?
That would give away whether God exists or not, so I can’t answer that. Sorry.
I was hoping you were going to say Bea Arthur.
No such luck.
Here’s a funny thing about Georgetown: At the end of each year the college would create this mathematical formula to figure out the average salary each major would eventually earn. English majors earned, on average, about $30,000 a year. But majors in the fine arts earned more than $1,000,000 a year. And that was because there were only six of them, and one had been [Knicks basketball-team center] Patrick Ewing. So fine arts seemed really good to me. [Laughs] I thought about it, but, in the end, I never went through with it.
Georgetown is not exactly a hotbed of comedy. When I first started, I was thinking about becoming a lawyer. Half-way along I realized, “Um, perhaps I should go the comedy route.” I had written a few original plays in high school, in Orange County [California], and I was just always interested in comedy.
Do you remember your high-school plays?
One was called Wet Paint, and it was about a kid—believe it or not, exactly my age—who wanted to write sketches. The audience would then see the sketches this character wrote. Most are too embarrassing to even think about now; they were just so hackneyed and amateurish. One was about a disaster movie that took place on an escalator. The escalator stopped suddenly, and all of the riders had to find their way to safety. That was my biting take on automation.
I returned to my high school recently to see the students perform a play they wrote called Waiting for Hurwitz, which was about the 25th anniversary of my original show. I spoke to some of the performers afterward, and I gave them what I thought was good advice about Hollywood and other such matters. Later, I couldn’t help but think that it was very wrong of me to encourage anyone to go into entertainment—let alone these kids.
It can make a lot of people very, very unhappy. I think exploring creativity, and being a creative person, can be a wonderful joy. But if you do choose a creative career, I think you can do a much better job of making it work than I did. I always took it extremely seriously—even in the early years of my career. I was always very nervous and I never really enjoyed the process. To a certain extent, I’m still nervous. I’ve always been very hard on myself, and that’s taken some of the joy out of all of it.
Don’t you need to be a little hard on yourself to become successful?
I don’t know. As I’ve gotten older, I try to figure out how much is necessary to my process and how much is just an old model that I’m still foolishly following. One of my goals as a grown-up is to trust myself a little more—trust my abilities and not second-guess and worry about every little thing.
When I watch Arrested Development now, I can really see how hard I was working. Some of the details didn’t have to be worked over so much. I see other shows, and they are just fine without being so complex. Everything was so dense and detailed with Arrested.
If you were creating that show today, would you do anything differently?
I don’t know that I would do anything differently. You only get so many words per script; let each of them really matter. I always wanted Arrested to be complex. I like complexity in TV shows. I like shows that challenge me as a viewer—where if I put a little more thought into it, I then get more out of it. This is the way I like to think, even though I don’t feel it’s necessarily the most audience-pleasing. The presumption going into Arrested Development was that there might be an audience who was interested in these details. In retrospect, I was trying to do too many new things, which might have overwhelmed the viewer.
Do you know what a callback is? It’s when a writer revisits a past event and then uses it to make a joke. A callback usually gets a laugh because the audience is part of the joke; they’ve experienced an event along with the characters. But in Arrested, I put in “call forwards,” which were new for me. I inserted hints of events that hadn’t yet happened. And, of course, there’s no way you can get laughs out of that.
In a larger sense, Arrested paid off with the portion of the audience who wanted to pay close attention. I wanted there to be hidden clues and auguries of things to come. Those viewers who paid attention would be more rewarded than those who weren’t…
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