How ‘Arrested Development’ Getting Canceled Was the Best Thing That Could Have Happened

Ask anyone for a list of their top ten funniest shows of all time and it’s highly likely their list will include Arrested Development. When the show was on-air, it didn’t gather enough viewers and canceled.

After many years off the air, the groundbreaking comedy found a second home at Netflix and is still going strong. While fans of the show may have initially lamented its cancellation, getting the ax at Fox may have been the best thing to happen to it. 

Arrested Development’s initial run

The cast of 'Arrested Development.'
The cast of Arrested Development. | L. Cohen/WireImage

Arrested Development‘s first run began in 2003 on the Fox Network. It followed the trials and tribulations of the Bluth family and their real estate empire after the arrest of the family patriarch, George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor).

The 22-minute sitcom starring an insanely talented cast of Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, Tony Hale, Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat, David Cross, Tambor, and Jessica Walter. Despite being critically acclaimed, the show was a rating failure and never received the full support of the network.

The show’s status was so tenuous that third season episode included in-jokes about the show getting picked up by other networks like HBO or Showtime. After a brief run, Fox canceled Arrested Development at the end of its third season.

The season finale — and at the time, series finale, too — culminated in the Bluths being under arrest, yet again. Meanwhile, Michael Bluth (Bateman) and his son George Michael (Cera) sped away on the family boat. 

‘Arrested Development’ made a comeback

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why can't he keep track of that thing?

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Though the Bluths went away, the love of their antics did not. The show gained a cult following due to the DVDs getting lots of play among college students.

Word of mouth spread and the show gained in popularity. Meanwhile, the media landscape over the ensuing decade changed considerably. Netflix and other streaming services allowed people to binge-watch their favorite shows with the click of a button while also creating original programming that could be consumed in one big viewing. 

While the stars of Arrested Development had conflicting schedules, series creator Mitchell Hurwitz wrote a fourth season in which each cast member would be featured prominently in a single episode. All the stories would then tie together.

The fourth season premiered on Netflix in 2013 with Hurwitz later releasing a “remixed” version of the fourth season. The series would add an additional fifth season that was completed in 2019. 

How ‘Arrested Development’ getting canceled was the best thing that could have happened

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let's turn these knots into why-nots.

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While Arrested Development is now beloved with a massive fan base, it wasn’t always that way. According to Cera, the show was constantly on thin ice during the original run, leaving the cast feeling less than confident that they’d even return on an episode-by-episode basis. 

“It was really a surprise to us that we got to keep making it beyond the first half of the first season,” he said. “Every episode after that was like a gift, because nobody was watching it when it was on TV.”

If Fox hadn’t canceled arrested development, it may have continued for another unsuccessful season or two, but the writing was on the wall. Instead, it ended with a near-perfect three-season arc. Those three seasons were then consumed endlessly by its rabid fans, who campaigned for more of the show later on. 

Arrested Development gained two things from its initial cancellation: a second life at Netflix, as well as a reputation as one of the greatest sitcoms ever created. In a way, the show was ahead of its time. It felt tailor-made for the current era where shows come out in easily digestible, ten-episode seasons able to be streamed immediately.

The show’s first cancellation enabled it to make it for a second run on Netflix, where it fits in much better than it did as a network sitcom.