TV: Development Arrested: Can Lightning Strike Twice?

Written by Hunter Phillips on . Posted in TV

FOX recently announced its plans for mid-season replacements, and it seems that Running Wilde will be the network’s first major cancellation of the fall season. The sitcom, starring Will Arnett and Keri Russell, has struggled in its timeslot, and FOX has gone so far as to hold off all new episodes until after November sweeps.

Any show placed between Glee and the fall’s only breakout hit, Raising Hope, should have been a home run. However, after only six episodes, what may seem like a premature death is actually a telling example of one of the strangest occurrences in television — the continual failure of Running Wilde’s creator Mitchell Hurwitz.

It’s not easy being Mitch Hurwitz. In 2005, he was undisputed television royalty, with his creation Arrested Development being praised as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. Even though it never found a solid audience, its status as a critical darling made up for the middling ratings. Once Arrested Development was cancelled in 2005, FOX (and the TV world in general) eagerly awaited Hurwitz’s triumphant return — but it never happened.

Now, being the mind behind a television show is one of the most stressful jobs in show business. Just like a director or screenwriter has lofty expectations after a hit film, the TV world looks to creators as the minds responsible for their shows. One-hit wonders are fairly uncommon.

Take Chuck Lorre, for example. His first production, Dharma and Greg, was always stable, if not a full-fledged hit. Afterward, he went on to create Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, two of America’s most popular shows. His newest production, Mike and Molly, is expected to continue this trend. Lorre’s shows are almost universally detested by critics, but they inexplicably resonate with Middle America.

Hurwitz, in 2005, was expected to find a niche as the thinking man’s Lorre. But by 2008 there was still no sign of a follow-up — until Hurwitz announced his new program Sit Down, Shut Up, his adaptation of an Australian sitcom. The twist? Hurwitz’s version would be a live-action/animated hybrid. Even though Sit Down boasted a large cast, including many Arrested alumni, it was critically panned and audiences ignored it as well. After a mere four episodes, it was bumped to late Sunday nights where it met its doom.

After that fiasco, expectations for Running Wilde were lukewarm at best. The show was billed as a romantic comedy, once again with multiple actors and callbacks to Arrested Development. While critics were more enthusiastic this time, audiences remained nonplussed. (By the way, it’s worth checking out the show on Hulu. It’s really coming into its own as an alternative to TV’s generally mean-spirited comedy, and getting cancelled so early would be a shame.)

But why can’t Hurwitz catch a break? He proved he’s immensely talented, with his writing skills lending themselves to much of Arrested‘s success. It’s precisely that success that has caused his continual failure.

It may seem obvious that FOX adored Arrested Development — the network kept it on the air for three years despite middling ratings and continually played up its Emmy success. However, Hurwitz has since revealed in interviews that FOX was a constant burden in the show’s production, telling Hurwitz they didn’t “get it” and were worried about it’s relatability to audiences. Because of their lack of support, FOX pressured Hurwitz to change his style and tone in his subsequent projects as the network kept bidding highest to attempt to reclaim that Emmy glory.

Granted, it would be nearly impossible to follow up Arrested Development, no matter how fantastic the show is. It’s incredibly difficult to win over a passionate fan base, and the watering-down of Hurwitz by FOX doesn’t help. Arrested Development was transcendent because it expected so much of its audience, like the ability to catch callbacks and foreshadowing that spanned the entire series. It was the complete opposite of Lorre’s check-your-brain-at-the-door CBS sitcoms — and that’s why it was incredible. Meanwhile, Running Wilde is more comparable to Outsourced in its obvious humor.

Maybe Mitch Hurwitz will never be able to capitalize on Arrested Development’s success. Perhaps he needs to find a network other than FOX to foster his creativity. Lightning can strike twice, and Hurwitz just needs the support and backing to make magic happen again. Or he could just make the Arrested Development movie already.

I’d be happy either way.

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