Ron Howard Wasn’t Supposed to Be Narrator on ‘Arrested Development’

There wasn’t even supposed to be a narrator
Ron Howard Wasn’t Supposed to Be Narrator on ‘Arrested Development’

When Ron Howard was helping create Arrested Development, he imagined a Simpsons-style “density of laughs.” They’d pack as many jokes as possible into a fake documentary (this was pre-Office, mind you), and to navigate complicated storylines, Howard pitched the idea of a narrator. Co-creator “Mitch (Glazer) said I don’t think we’re going to need that,” Howard told Conan O’Brien on his podcast this week

Cue Howard’s narrator voice: “Arrested Development was going to need a narrator.” 

Glazer went ahead and shot the pilot. The result was funny, but he ended up agreeing with Howard about that narrator idea. “You know,” Glazer said, “we should try it as an experiment. I kind of think you’re on to something.”

Howard at the time was directing a movie in Santa Fe. Glazer asked Howard if he could record some temporary audio tracks to see how they felt. “I did it literally in the sound truck on location in Santa Fe,” Howard remembered. “I did it one lunch break for the pilot and sent it off. Didn’t think much about it.”

A few days later, Glazer called back. “Well, I have really good news, and news that maybe is good or maybe not,” he told Howard. 

Howard asked for the really good news first. “The pilot tested really well,” said Glazer. So then Howard asked for the mixed news. “I just don’t know how you’re going to feel about it,” Glazer cautioned. “The narrator tested the highest, and now you have to do it. We sold the show, and I said you’re doing it!”

O’Brien argued that Howard’s voice was integral to the success of the show. “I do think that people know you, they like you and they trust you. And your voice saying, ‘Meanwhile, Buster had his own ideas’” was necessary because the show’s content was so dense. “It’s a constant. You’re being taken by the hand right through this absolute madness. And I don’t think that show could exist without you there taking people along.”

Howard admitted that it was a fun gig, even though the show resorted to using him as a safety net from time to time. “Whenever I’d have an episode where I really had a lot of lines, I said, ‘Mitch, you’ve been struggling with this one. You’re looking for the narrator to bail you out, man.’”

But Howard, being Howard, ultimately deferred credit for the show’s success. “Mitch is a bona fide comedy genius,” he said. “And the cast that we assembled, from the first moment, it was like this is a little too good to be true. I mean, it’s just home run hitters at every turn.”

Cue Howard’s narrator voice: “But none of it worked without the one man who held it all together. It’s Arrested Development.”


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