Celebrated by critics and beloved by its relatively small but devout fan base, the Fox television series Arrested Development airs its last episode on this day in 2006. Arrested Development, created by Mitchell Hurwitz, premiered in November 2003. It was almost universally acclaimed by critics, who praised its sharp, complicated writing and stellar acting, as well as the multi-layered plotlines and interesting camera work that set it apart from run-of-the-mill network sitcoms.
Arrested Development was narrated by Ron Howard, the former Happy Days star-turned-Oscar-winning movie director (2001’s A Beautiful Mind), in an uncredited performance. Jason Bateman starred as Michael Bluth, by far the most responsible member of a madcap family whose patriarch, George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), has been sent to jail for dubious accounting procedures. With George Sr. in prison, Michael is forced to take over management of the Bluth Company and provide a much-needed stabilizing force for the rest of the Bluth clan: his manipulative mother (Jessica Walter); his magician older brother (Will Arnett); his self-obsessed sister (Portia de Rossi) and her aspiring actor husband (David Cross); and his child-like youngest brother (Tony Hale), who still clings to the hem of his mother’s fur coat. Rounding out the comedy, Michael’s sensitive son (Michael Cera) harbors a crush on his cousin (Alia Shawkat), with whom he is forced to share a room after the clan starts sharing a model home on one of the Bluth Company’s developments.
At the 2004 Emmy Awards, Arrested Development won no fewer than four statuettes– for directing, writing, casting and for Outstanding Comedy Series. Bateman also won a Golden Globe Award in 2005 for Best Actor in a Television Series–Musical or Comedy. Despite critics’ rapture and the enthusiasm of its fan base, the series earned low ratings from the beginning. While Fox renewed Arrested Development for a second season, it shortened its run to only 18 episodes–a fact that was worked into the jokes on the show, along with jokes about its corporate sponsor, Burger King, and jokes about its much higher-rated Sunday-night competition (ABC’s Desperate Housewives). A few of the memorable guest stars during the show’s three-year run included Liza Minnelli, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Henry Winkler, Scott Baio and Charlize Theron.
During its third season, Arrested Development’s audience averaged around 4 million viewers, compared with 6 million during the previous season. With the threat of cancellation hovering, rumors flew that Arrested Development might be picked up by HBO or Showtime–either of which might have been a better fit for its offbeat, often racy humor. References to these rumors were also worked into the script.
In February 2006, to the dismay of fans, Fox pulled the plug on Arrested Development for good. The following month, it was reported that Hurwitz had closed long-running negotiations with Showtime and determined that Arrested Development as a TV series was over. With the program named as one of the 100 Best Shows of All Time by Time magazine, buzz began to grow about an Arrested Development movie–exciting news for the show’s loyal fans.