On Sunday, May 26, Netflix will debut 15 new episodes of Arrested Development. I visited the set last fall, and my feature on the revival ran in the print TIME magazine a couple weeks ago. This week, I’m excerpting some interviews I did for the piece. Below, executive producer, narrator—and, in the new episodes, guest star—Ron Howard talks about bringing the show back from the dead:
There had been talk ever since Arrested Development left Fox of trying to revive it somewhere. Why, in your view, did this deal work out when previous attempts (like getting it to Showtime) didn’t?
Ron Howard: Well, ultimately this is all just an outgrowth of our ongoing ambition to try to do the Arrested Development movie. But as time went by and Mitch started developing the movie, trying to break the story, he said, “My problem is is I’m investing a minimum of 40 minutes, just trying to quickly catch everybody up because the cast is so large.” And he started telling me what he thought people had been through and where they were in the world. It was just hilarious. And I said, “It’s almost like every one of those scenarios is basically an episode, Mitch.” And he kind of laughed about it and the next day he said, “You know, maybe those could be episodes. Maybe we should do that.”
Separately, Ted [Sarandos, content head for Netflix] bumped into me at a Superbowl party and said, “Hey, have you ever thought about doing some more episodes? The Netflix fans love Arrested Development and the statistics prove it.”
At the end of the day I think Mitch kind of felt, and I think he’s right, that Arrested Development has always been kind of a, you know, it’s been at its heart something that was a bit of an experiment. And it was about taking some chances. And there was something consistent with that in trying this Netflix model. In fact the only reason we were already having the conversation was that the show was being downloaded.
Where does the effort to make a movie stand? Do you sort of see this series as a calling card for the movie?
Exactly. It’s a calling card. That’s what it’s become. There was a moment where we hoped to do these and roll right into the movie but the studio [Fox] was reluctant to make that kind of commitment . So, that’s where we are.
The show had a hard time getting ratings by the standards of the time on Fox. But it has had this really fascinating afterlife through things like Netflix. How do you explain that?
I mean, I felt then that it was aesthetically really new territory. This is before The Office was on. You know, Ricky Gervais was doing a version in the UK and you could see it here but it wasn’t something people were familiar with. You know, Modern Family and other shows sort of borrowed the Arrested Development aesthetic and The Office came over [to the US]. Now I think audiences are just more comfortable in seeing a comedy all out that way.
We did it because there was a kind of Simpson-like density of comedy that we thought we could do. That pace, that intercutting, using the narrator, using flashbacks and – but that density was also the thing that made it a little harder to watch when interrupted with commercials. So I think the audience has kind of come to embrace the style and the aesthetic of the show and technology has made it really easy to sort of experience the show in a very kind of modern, cool way which is to peel away the layers.
Was it tough to corral the stars and guests to come back?
The guests didn’t require much arm twisting. Those were mostly relationships with the other cast members or Mitch. The cast, you know, I think some were disappointed it wasn’t a movie and I did spend a little time with Mitch sort of explaining why I believed in the Netflix approach. There was a little bit of [reluctance] but not a lot because people loved the characters and and they enjoy working for Mitch and they enjoy each other.
The fact that not everybody is in all of the episodes – it’s not like another season of television. You’ll see when you see it: it’s very much the show. It’s the tone of the show, but it follows individual characters for longer stretches, so people didn’t have to make commitments to 15 episodes.
Although some people wound up coming back more than they had initially been contracted to. It’s infectious fun.
How do you work narrating into your work schedule?
I actually did my first round of narration while we were doing some pickups on Rush [an auto-racing movie Howard is directing] so as literally from the Ferrari Formula 1 van at lunch time, close the doors and recorded a first trial run for the first episode. I’ve done them from—I did one in the back of like a covered wagon when I was doing a Western, tucked away with sound blankets around me. I did some in Berlin, some in the UK because that’s where we were mixing Rush. And, you know, and then some in my office and various studios – wherever I am.
Without spoiling anything you don’t want to spoil, can you talk a little bit about your acting role in the new season?
I’m not a central figure. But I am a plot point. And I particularly enjoy that the narrator is oblivious to who is Ron Howard. He couldn’t care less who this Ron Howard person is. Just another specimen to be examined.
Emotionally, what has making the new season been like? Did you really believe this was going to come together?
I don’t want to be too corny about it but – they always say the fans, the fans, the fans, but ultimately there’s not much fans can do [when a show is cancelled]. But in this case the fans have been the absolute difference. And I think that’s another reason why everybody in the cast ultimately went entirely out of their way to get back to work on the show. They enjoy it but it’s also a real respect and appreciation for an audience that wants these characters. If ever a television show could be characterized as a labor of love, this would be it. I mean nobody’s making their greatest paycheck doing this round of Arrested Development. That’s not why this came together.