Mitch Hurwitz, creator of the beloved and much missed Arrested Development and the recently departed and less missed Running Wilde, has compiled a handy list of tips for getting your sitcom canceled. Originally written for the UK newspaper The Guardian, here are Hurwitz’s wonderfully self deprecating, and most importantly funny tips:
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.
Ah, Mitch. So smart. So funny. So misunderstood. Here’s hoping your next project finds its intended audience and is exactly as funny as it should be. And also, let’s hope whatever network you work with next gives you fighting chance! (Deadline)