DATE November 3, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Mitchell Hurwitz discusses his show "Arrested
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.
My guest, Mitchell Hurwitz, is the creator of the very non-traditional Fox
sitcom "Arrested Development." The show is in its third season now and returns
with new episodes starting Monday, after being pre-empted by post-season
baseball. "Arrested Development" hasn't drawn a large audience yet, but it
has earned lots of praise and awards. For its first season, it won the Emmy
as outstanding comedy. For its second season, it won for best comedy series
The show stars Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth, the only sane person in a
family of eccentrics, egomaniacs, self-deluded showbiz wannabes, embezzlers
and adulterers. Bateman's co-stars include Jeffrey Tambor as the family
patriarch who was sent to prison for his illegal dealings in the construction
industry. Tambor also plays his less-evil twin brother. Jessica Walter plays
the family matriarch, who makes Leona Helmsley look tame. And Michael's
siblings and in-laws are played just as wonderfully by such quirky actors as
David Cross, Tony Hale, Will Arnett and Portia de Rossi.
"Arrested Development" is fast-paced, very dry and extremely funny. Here's a
scene from the pilot, when Jason Bateman as Michael confronts the rest of the
family with some bad news.
(Soundbite of "Arrested Development")
Mr. JASON BATEMAN: (As Michael Bluth) OK, guys, they are going to keep Dad
in prison at least until this gets all sorted out. Also, the attorneys said
that they're going to have to put a halt in the company's expense account.
(Soundbite of family gasping)
Unidentified Man #1: Interesting. I wouldn't have expected that after
they're keeping Dad in jail.
Ms. PORTIA DE ROSSI: (As Lindsay Funke) You know, Michael, Dad did name Mom
as his successor.
Ms. JESSICA WALTER: (As Lucille Bluth) And I'm putting Buster in charge.
Unidentified Man #2: That's a good choice?
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Michael Bluth) Buster? The guy who thought that the blue
on the map was land?
Ms. WALTER: (As Lucille Bluth) He's had business classes.
Unidentified Man #1: Wait, wait, wait, wait, 18th century agrarian business,
but I guess it's all the same principles. Let me ask you, are you at all
concerned about an uprising?
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Michael Bluth) That's it. I'm done. I'm sick and tired of
the greed and the selfishness and all the taking. Forget it. I've got a son
to think about. And, you know, Lindsay, by the way, I expected this from them
because they're completely oblivious, but you? You should know better.
BIANCULLI: When Mitchell Hurwitz went on stage in September to accept his
latest Emmy for "Arrested Development," he vented his frustration with typical
sharp-edged humor at his show's inability to draw a large audience. `The
Academy has twice rewarded us,' he told the TV viewers at home, `for something
you people won't watch.' When I spoke to Mitchell Hurwitz, I began with the
ratings for "Arrested Development."
I actually think of "Arrested Development"--I've been a TV critic for so long.
I remember the first year of "Cheers," where at the end--at one point in its
first season it was the lowest-rated program in all of television. And...
Mr. MITCHELL HURWITZ ("Arrested Development"): Yeah, I remember that.
BIANCULLI: And it was such a great show. And you just had to say there's
nothing wrong with the people making the show, there's nothing wrong with the
show; there's something wrong with the audience finding it. And I sort of
feel that about "Arrested Development," and I'm on the outside. What do you
feel like on the inside?
Mr. HURWITZ: Well, there's a great deal wrong with us, personally, if
that's--if you're--you know. I mean, there's a lot of drinking; I think
that's a negative. You know, there are many theories on why this doesn't have
a bigger audience. There was so much initial positive press that very
generously said that it was a smart show, which is a very nice thing to say,
but I think it may have put people off and made them feel like, `Well, I don't
want to be preached to,' or, `I don't want to watch something that's unfunny
and subtle.' And, really, you know, our delivery on this show is very dry.
The stories themselves and the comedy itself is very broad. So I have always
felt that we do have the right combination to get a big audience, but it just,
for whatever reason, hasn't hit that zeitgeist and hasn't been promoted in
such a way that people understand what we're selling here.
BIANCULLI: The show is almost always described as `smart,' but it's also
Mr. HURWITZ: Yes, it's dense.
Mr. HURWITZ: It's dense. Well, listen, you know, I mean, it's funny, one of
the things that has been--one of the joys of doing this show is filling out
the details. It has been just a hallmark of the show for some reason. I
think it's because myself and the other writers all come from situation
comedy. And in situation comedy, you know, you're working in front of an
audience, you're getting laughs, but you're only really able to get three
laughs per page, and we've all done that for a while. And this has really
been an opportunity to just pack in as much comedy as we can 'cause we don't
have to hold for laughs. But, you know, the hope is that we can tell stories
about characters that aren't stock characters by showing, you know, the
inconsistencies within the character, whereas in situation comedy oftentimes
you can only tell one story. A character just becomes a dumb character or a
greedy character or a selfish character. And, hopefully, these characters are
more nuanced, although just as absurd.
BIANCULLI: If I understand this right, Ron Howard not only narrates it and is
an executive producer, but it was his idea to film using handheld digital
Mr. HURWITZ: That's right.
BIANCULLI: Is that true?
Mr. HURWITZ: It is. You know, he definitely was the visionary behind this
whole thing. He wanted to do--you know, he had done, both as a producer and
as an actor, both single-camera television shows, which are shows that are
shot like a movie, and multicamera shows, which are shows that are, well, shot
like a bad movie, I guess you would say. They're shot like a sitcom with
several cameras shooting the action all at once in a three-walled set. And
his feeling was that, you know, the comedy was sharper on the multicamera
shows, the sitcoms, because there was time to vet the comedy, there were
run-throughs and you got a number of takes at it. And in film, you know,
there's so much time spent lighting and putting together the technical package
that when you finally get a chance to do the takes, you really only have time
to do two or three takes. And, you know, he kind of was aware of this new
technology, this 24p, which is 24, I guess, per-second, 24 frames per
second, videotape, which looks very much like film, doesn't require extensive
lighting and, you know, uses kind of the vocabulary of shows like "Cops" or
"Blind Date" or some of the...
BIANCULLI: There's something to shoot for.
Mr. HURWITZ: ...reality shows. Yeah, exactly.
Mr. HURWITZ: But, you know, the savings was going to be in rehearsal and in
run-through, and, in effect, that is basically what we have today. You know,
we don't have a formalized rehearsal period, but if we get on a set at 8:00,
we're up and lit and ready to shoot at 8:10, and, you know, you can run the
scene 14 or 15 times. And that's really where the comedy comes from, and
particularly in a family piece, you know, that's where people really start to
interact and overlap and learn each other's rhythms.
BIANCULLI: There are plenty of inside jokes in the show.
Mr. HURWITZ: Yeah.
BIANCULLI: And I'm wondering...
Mr. HURWITZ: It's very self-referential in a way.
BIANCULLI: Well, there are some that--for example, one of the easiest ones is
you always end the show with `Next on "Arrested Development"'...
Mr. HURWITZ: Yeah.
BIANCULLI: ...and have cast members act out things that never happen.
Mr. HURWITZ: That don't happen, yeah.
BIANCULLI: I don't know that that's ever happened before in television. How
did that idea come about?
Mr. HURWITZ: No, maybe that's not working for us. I--you know, the--you
know where that came from? The question they ask when they test these
pilots--you know, there's an enormous amount of testing they do on pilots
before they decide which ones to put on their schedule. And one of the main
questions is: `Would you like to see this again next week?' So I just thought
it would be funny to kind of trick them and say, `Here's what's going to
happen next week,' right before they're asked that question. And, you know,
it worked to a certain extent. And then we found, you know, this is a great
way to wrap up stories and get a couple of extra jokes in, and, you know, you
get to end on a big laugh, whereas if you didn't have it, maybe you'd have to
end on, like, a clever piece of dialogue. And it has become just a really fun
part of the show but also a really onerous part of the show because we'll get
done writing the scripts and then we'll say, `Oh, now we've got to write the
next on, which is never going to happen.
Look, the tough thing about this show is that it does reward those who pay
attention, and my feeling has always been that there is a market for that kind
of thing. I know I'm that kind of TV viewer. I love studying "The Sopranos,"
and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "The Office," you know, both the British and
the American one. And so--although that--"The Office" is a very different
tempo, obviously, than this show. So, you know, in a funny way we often feel
that we're really making a show for the new technology here. We're making a
show for TiVo and we're making a show for DVD and it really becomes, you know,
part of our objective in making this thing, particularly now that we see that,
all right, these numbers are kind of staying where they are and yet the DVDs
appear to be selling pretty well. So it becomes this new challenge. Whereas
when I started writing television much of it was disposable, there is kind of
the feeling that this might stick around for a while. So we're encouraged to
put as much in as we can while they're giving us the keys to the building, you
BIANCULLI: Mitchell Hurwitz, creator and executive producer of the Fox TV
series "Arrested Development." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to our interview with Mitchell Hurwitz, creator of
the TV sitcom "Arrested Development." The show's abbreviated third season
returns on Monday.
Mitchell Hurwitz, your TV credits are pretty limited but they start with a
hit. I mean, "Golden Girls," I think, is the first thing that you're credited
Mr. HURWITZ: Yeah, that was amazing fortune really.
BIANCULLI: So how did you get that job and what did you learn there?
Mr. HURWITZ: You know, I got that job the way I advise many people who want
to break into this business to get a job. And I started working at the
production company as a runner, which is like a gofer really, and picked up
the coffee and delivered the scripts for Paul Witt and Tony Thomas, who ran
Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions and they produced "The Golden Girls." And I
spent about a year and a half with them and worked with them personally and
kind of became a type of assistant for them. And, you know, was writing in
the meantime and had been writing since high school and before obviously. But
I really learned the business that way and used that connection to get my
There are many ways to do it. Many people come out and just write what are
called spec scripts or speculative scripts for episodes--for shows that
already exist and, you know, hope to find an agent and use contacts and that
kind of thing. This happened to be the way I did it by getting to know the
people involved. And...
BIANCULLI: But how do you go from here's your coffee to here's my script when
you're handing them things?
Mr. HURWITZ: Well, you know, those are tough years. Those are really--for
me, anyway, they were very anxious years. And I really--I just kept writing
and more than anything kept learning and getting better. And, you know, by
developing relationships with these people--and it works this way for me now
with the people that work on my show. I'm more inclined to read a script of
someone who's been working on the show and has been giving themselves to it
than I would just to pick a script off a pile or read an agent's submission.
So, you know, at least for my way of thinking, that has been a more effective
way to get into the business. And, you know, I'd turn in these scripts and
ask people to read them. And at a certain point in my develop they
were--development they were impressed enough to let me write an outside script
and then from there get into a staff writing position, which is what happened
on "The Golden Girls." And then you sort of rise through the ranks. I had
developed a very strong relationship with Paul Witt and Tony Thomas and they
were, you know, unbelievably generous with me and put me in what they call a
show running position early on, in fact, right after "The Golden Girls"--"The
Golden Girls" spinoff, "Golden Palace" which is often confused with a Chinese
take-out place. And that was maybe the funniest thing about the show.
BIANCULLI: Now, excuse me if I have this wrong, but "Golden Palace" didn't
Marc Cherry of "Desperate Housewives" work on that as well?
Mr. HURWITZ: You know, I'm not speaking to Marc Cherry. I'm extremely
resentful and I want to make that very clear. Yes, Marc and I--well, Marc and
I worked together on "The Golden Girls." Marc is a very good friend actually
and then we did "Golden Palace" together. And, you know, we both had similar
kind of roads. We both kind of knocked around for a while and, you know, Marc
was always so talented. We sort of had no doubt that he would be successful.
But, you know, you need a lot of luck, too.
BIANCULLI: Well, has appeared in your show so obviously...
Mr. HURWITZ: Yes, he was...
BIANCULLI: ...you guys are still at least cordial.
Mr. HURWITZ: The children picketed Marc Cherry's house. The children
picketed for, you know, keep sex within marriage.
BIANCULLI: On the show, we should say.
Mr. HURWITZ: On the show, yes, they picketed. And he came and he poked out
his window and yelled, `It's a satire.' That was his cameo.
BIANCULLI: Well, what was it like this year when you won the Emmy for best
writing in a comedy and you beat out Marc Cherry for a "Desperate Housewives"
Mr. HURWITZ: Well, that was--I mean, obviously it was very surprising and we
didn't expect that to happen. And if anything it was, you know, it--we just
saw it as a promotional opportunity and focused on that. It was, you know--I
feel that the academy and the critics have been very generous towards us
because they want to encourage risk-taking television, which seems to be
happening more and more, by the way. That there does seem to be more
risk-taking in primetime television. But I've always felt that we're the
beneficiaries of that goodwill and I think that might have been an example of
that where the academy felt like, `You know, they've got enough rewards over
at "Desperate Housewives." Let's do what we can to keep this show on the air.'
And I think it did keep the show on the air.
BIANCULLI: But since you and Marc worked together in the trenches, what did
you say to each other afterward?
Mr. HURWITZ: I, you know, mocked him and I poked his belly with the Emmy.
I--no, we--he was very happy for me and I was, of course, extremely happy for
BIANCULLI: I'm sorry you said, no. I liked that image, by the way. OK.
Mr. HURWITZ: Oh, no, he's a great guy. He's so supportive. And, you know,
the only loss was we so sure that Marc was going to win the Emmy that we had
actually written a scene where Marc Cherry, the character that has appeared in
our show, sued the Bluth Company for building a faulty house that he bought
and we were--and the image was going to be Marc Cherry putting his Emmy on the
mantle and the Emmy crashing to the floor as the mantle gave way. So I really
wanted to do that gag and poke fun at ourselves for losing the Emmy. But then
we won it.
BIANCULLI: Yeah, ruined a good joke.
Mr. HURWITZ: Yeah, we lost a good joke.
BIANCULLI: We're talking with Mitchell Hurwitz, the creator of "Arrested
This isn't the first time that Fox has given a somewhat shortened season
order. When they did it to you the first time and cut you back from 22 to 18,
that ended up on the air somehow. Can you talk about that and how that was
Mr. HURWITZ: That was a little seditious. But, you know, we made fun of
ourselves, too, because we're legendarily behind on scripts. You know, I'll
turn in a script at 3:00 in the morning that's going to start shooting at 7
that morning. So we had just gotten the cutback from 22 to 18 and
coincidentally we were looking for a device to say that their business was in
peril, the Bluth Company Housing Business was in peril. So, you know, what
seemed the obvious thing to say was that they had, you know, sold this order
for 22 houses and they'd just found out that it had been cut back to 18
houses. And every time someone said that, you know, another character would
say, `Those bastards.' But we called ourselves on it, too, because Jason, the
Michael character, was on the phone saying `You know, this is outrageous. You
know, we were commissioned for 22 houses. You cut it back to 18. We had the
plans drawn up and everything and that's,'--we had Ron Howard say, `Actually
that part wasn't true. But they would have gotten them done on time. They
always had.' So, you know, we were at least saying, `Listen, we're not
prepared either but we would have made it...'
BIANCULLI: And what was...
Mr. HURWITZ: ...`to the 22.'
BIANCULLI: What was the Fox reaction when they first saw that or saw the
Mr. HURWITZ: They thought it was funny. You know, they're great. They're
really--Gail Berman was there at the time and she was such a fan of the show
and such a supporter of the show. And now we've got Peter Liguori there and
he's, you know, the same thing. I mean, I really do believe--I really do
believe that Fox has desperately wanted this show to work. They have really
supported it. I, you know, would say that they're--that the promotional
effort has not been as effective as it could have been but it is not for their
lack of wanting it to work. I think, for whatever reason, they've decided
they don't want to allocate the funds to the promotion of this show but rather
will give the--those funds to the production of this show. And you know what?
I'll take it.
BIANCULLI: And then, Mitchell, my final question sort of puts on my other hat
of being a TV critic as well.
Mr. HURWITZ: Sure.
BIANCULLI: One of the things that's so much about watching "Arrested
Development" is how much it rewards people who have watched a lot of
television. There are so many TV jokes and TV performers who come in and just
the Ron Howard, Andy Griffeth jokes that keep going back and forth.
Mr. HURWITZ: Yeah. Isn't that fun? We had Henry Winkler jump the shark in
one of the shows. The shark--they found a shark they thought had bit off
Mr. HURWITZ: But it wasn't, in fact, you know, the right animal. So he
said, well--it was actually the episode where we were asked to mention Burger
King, which was kind of a jump the shark moment to use the television
nomenclature. So Henry Winkler said, `Well, I'm going to Burger King' and
jumped over a shark.
BIANCULLI: But you guys are not like anti-TV snobs that are doing a different
type of television to be better than television. You are people who came...
Mr. HURWITZ: Yeah, I hope not.
BIANCULLI: ...from television and are sort of--I don't know--glorifying in
Mr. HURWITZ: I hope so. I mean, it really is, you know, there's nothing
mean-spirited about it. I mean, we do come from this and we were raised with
this and, you know, it is a big part of our culture. And we, you know, look,
it's so great having Ron Howard's voice on this thing because we've heard this
voice for 30 years. So, you know, what fun to be able to mention Andy
Griffeth. In fact, in one episode--maybe the episode you're talking
about--they had hired Andy Griffeth to sit behind them in the courtroom and
kind of look like a Matlock. And he saw the dressing room that they'd given
him and split. In fact, he was supposed to be on the show but we couldn't get
him out in time so we had to rewrite it. But he saw the dressing room and
left and the line we gave, I guess Lindsay, he thought we were making fun of
him. And suddenly the narrator speaks up and says, `Nobody was making fun of
Andy Griffeth. I can't emphasize that enough.'
Mr. HURWITZ: So there is, you know, this deference that Ron was paying to
Andy which is kind of fun.
BIANCULLI: Well, Mitchell Hurwitz, I hope you have many more years of writing
and doing this sort of stuff on "Arrested Development."
Mr. HURWITZ: Well, thank you. That's very nice of you to say.
BIANCULLI: Thank you very much for being on FRESH AIR.
Mr. HURWITZ: Well, thank you, David. This was really fun.
BIANCULLI: Mitchell Hurwitz, creator of the TV sitcom "Arrested Development."
Here's a taste from the current season in which Jeffrey Tambor and Jason
Bateman, as father George Bluth Sr. and son Michael Bluth, are discussing
possible courtroom tactics in the father's upcoming trial.
(Soundbite of "Arrested Development")
Mr. JEFFREY TAMBOR: (As George Bluth Sr.) Now listen, we can't just go in
there and plead not guilty. We have to have someone big behind us, our own
private Matlock. So I made some calls and I got him.
Mr. JASON BATEMAN: (As Michael Bluth) Got who?
Mr. TAMBOR: Andy Griffeth. What you never say "Matlock"?
Mr. BATEMAN: Not a real attorney, dad.
Mr. TAMBOR: Now for 10 grand he'll actually sit behind us in court and read
the paper. For 15 he'll actually sit at the defense table. For $20,000 he'll
twice lean forward and whisper something in your ear. Oh, white suit, that's
Mr. BATEMAN: Well, that's an awful lot of money for the stupidest idea I've
Mr. TAMBOR: The juries love him.
Mr. BATEMAN: That's just it, dad. There won't be a jury because we are
Mr. TAMBOR: I am not guil--I didn't want to tell you this. Are you ready
for the bombshell?
Mr. BATEMAN: Andy Griffeth wasn't the bombshell?
Mr. TAMBOR: I'm a patsy. I was set up by the Brits. A group of British
builders operating outside the OC...
Mr. BATEMAN: Don't call it that.
Mr. TAMBOR: ...contacted me for a partnership to build homes overseas. I
did not know they meant Iraq.
Mr. BATEMAN: We've got a picture of you with Saddam Hussein.
Mr. TAMBOR: I thought that was the guy who played the super Nazi.
Mr. BATEMAN: Come on.
Mr. TAMBOR: I told him how much I liked his work.
BIANCULLI: "Arrested Development" returns to the Fox schedule on Monday.
Seasons one and two are both available on DVD.
I'm David Bianculli and this is FRESH AIR.
BIANCULLI: Coming up, life after leather. We'll talk to Henry Winkler who
obtained pop icon status as the black-jacketed Fonzi on the show, "Happy
Days." He's now playing a doctor on the new CBS sitcom "Out of Practice."
Also, book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews the memoirs of a former nun.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Henry Winkler talks about his work as an actor and as
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, sitting in for Terry Gross.
Our next guest is Henry Winkler, who coincidentally worked with our previous
guest Mitchell Hurwitz on "Arrested Development." He played the recurring
role of Barry, the Bluth family lawyer. This season he gave that up to play a
doctor, Stewart Barnes, one of many doctors on "Out of Practice," a new CBS
sitcom. Stewart's ex-wife Lydia, played by Stockard Channing, is a doctor.
So are their three grown children, played by Paula Marshall, Ty Burrell and
Christopher Gorham. Only Stewart's new girlfriend, Crystal, played by
Jennifer Tilly, isn't a doctor. But as we learn in this conversation between
Stewart and his sons, he manages to confuse his girlfriend and ex-wife anyway.
(Soundbite of "Out of Practice")
Mr. HENRY WINKLER: (As Stewart Barnes) We were talking and I was drifting off
to sleep and Crystal said, `Good night, Stewart,' and I said, `Good night,
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man: Ouch.
Mr. WINKLER: (As Stewart Barnes) Well, you know, she was upset, and so we
talked about it and then I went back to sleep and apparently she was still
talking about it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man: Oh, man, I bet she woke you up after that.
Mr. WINKLER: (As Stewart Barnes) Well, no. Technically the floor woke me up.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WINKLER: (As Stewart Barnes) But anyway, you know, it's nothing that,
like, a really fancy dinner and a few well-timed man tears can't fix.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BIANCULLI: In addition to his current role on "Out of Practice," Henry
Winkler's resume includes the role of the washed-up football coach who
inspires Adam Sandler to become a gridiron star in the movie "The Waterboy," a
supporting role in Sandler's next movie called "Click," and a credit as one of
the producers of the 1985 to '92 adventure series "MacGyver" about a man who
used his wits rather than weapons and used available materials to invent his
way out of tight fixes.
Winkler's most famous credit by far, though, is as the Fonz, Arthur
Fonzarelli, the leather-jacketed babe magnet on "Happy Days," that nostalgic
sitcom about teen-agers growing up in the innocent 1950s. When the show
premiered in 1974, the Fonz was a bit part. Before long though, he was the
comic centerpiece and over the 10-year run of the show became a full-fledged
TV icon. The Fonz exuded a confident charm and cocky swagger that he expected
to work on every woman who saw him and even on those who only heard him.
(Soundbite of "Happy Days"; applause; telephone ringing)
Mr. WINKLER: (As Arthur Fonzarelli) Yo, Cunningham residence. No, Richie
ain't here right now. Oh, because he and his family went off on a little
vacation jaunt, you know. Hey, you sound very adorable. What's your name?
Mary, how are you? Arthur Fonzarelli here, house sitter. You never heard of
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WINKLER: (As Arthur Fonzarelli) What, you new in town or are you just
back from lunch?
BIANCULLI: The Fonzie jacket...
Mr. WINKLER: Yes.
BIANCULLI: ...is in the Smithsonian?
Mr. WINKLER: Yes.
BIANCULLI: Is that unveiled like a star on Hollywood Boulevard? I mean, do
you go there when it's...
Mr. WINKLER: Yes, you do. I brought it to the museum and I brought it to the
museum with my wife and with my parents. My parents came to America having
escaped Nazi Germany, and now they are watching their son present a jacket to
the museum of America. And I want to tell you, if that is not a journey, I
don't what is.
BIANCULLI: So have you been back since?
Mr. WINKLER: I have, and...
BIANCULLI: And what's like when you go back there? What are you next to?
Mr. WINKLER: Archie's chair. Dorothy's shoes, I think, are in there. And
then, of course, now my lunch box is in there. So I'm represented twice. And
I have to tell you something. It's one of the unbelievably great moments in
my life, let alone career.
BIANCULLI: It's got to be. It's also got to be a little bit surrealistic to
think that a television show--when that part began was just a one-shot...
Mr. WINKLER: Yeah.
BIANCULLI: ...ended up in the Smithsonian.
Mr. WINKLER: Yeah, it is truly amazing. When I go anywhere in the world,
people invite me physically into their homes for dinner. No matter what
language--whether I speak the language or not. We were in 126 countries, and
they all treat me with such unbelievably warm feelings. It is--it's a gift
actually, I have to say.
BIANCULLI: The break that you got and the way...
Mr. WINKLER: It was enormous, wasn't it? In fact...
BIANCULLI: Yeah, and the way that role exploded was a fascinating part of the
'70s, but part of it is due to, I think, Garry Marshall allowing you to keep
that part growing.
Mr. WINKLER: Yeah, I--everybody--I mean, even Ron, who was the star of the
show, we had a conversation only once about it. It was the fourth year. We
were driving in his Volkswagen bug back from location where we would do the
opening episodes of the show. We were always on location for a new season.
And I said, `So how are you feeling?' And he said, `Look, it's good for the
show. You didn't do anything out of the ordinary to make this happen to you.
You didn't go and try to promote yourself. You just are and you've always
been respectful and loving to me. And that's how I feel.' And we never spoke
about it again.
BIANCULLI: And what was Garry Marshall like to work for? Is he as funny...
Mr. WINKLER: Yes.
BIANCULLI: ...when you have to work for him as he is when you interview him?
Mr. WINKLER: There are--he is--I tried for--I've tried--since 1974, I have
tried to describe all of Garry Marshall, and I'm realizing that it is almost
impossible. He is my don. He is my teacher. He is very funny and very zany.
And he is very strict with enormous and powerful boundaries.
Mr. WINKLER: Yes.
BIANCULLI: What kinds of boundaries?
Mr. WINKLER: I'll tell you. I had to make a personal appearance in Arkansas.
So we were doing the show on a Friday night. I was about to catch a plane to
fly to Arkansas to make my first appearance. I was going to be paid a
thousand dollars to sign autographs in a mall. And I went to him when he was
in--you know, he was introducing the guest cast on the show at the end of the
taping. And I went to Garry and said, `Garry, can we hurry up a little bit
'cause I've got to catch a plane?' And he smiled at me and then he finished.
He put the microphone down. He came over to me, he grabbed me and held me
against the wall and he said, `Look, your guest cast has every right to be
introduced as much as you do. Don't ever interrupt me again.' I said,
`Absolutely I won't.'
Mr. WINKLER: `I don't know what I was thinking. I am a silly person.'
And--but that's how I learned to be an executive producer. He is a friend.
He is your father. He is your brother. He is your leader. He listens. He
would come into the--he would come onto the set if I had a problem with a joke
and he would go, `Well, you know, you could do it this way.' And he would
tilt his head and 55 solutions would fall off the top of it and then you had
the problem of now picking--'cause they all worked. Which one were you going
to choose? Just an extraordinary man. Period.
BIANCULLI: And have you figured out after all this time--or added to what was
your understanding of what made the part so popular?
Mr. WINKLER: You know, I don't know. This is what I know. I played him with
a sense of loyalty. I played him with a sense of vulnerability. I said to
the producers on--when I first met them, when I first auditioned for the
job--being the shortest actor in the room. Everybody was famous and tall and
was named Chad. And, `Henry, hello.' Then, `Nice to see you. Henry's here.'
And I said, `Look, if you let me show the other side--when he takes his
leather jacket off at home, who does he have to be cool for? You let me show
that side also, it will be my pleasure.' And they said yes, and I said yes,
and I got it on my 27th birthday.
BIANCULLI: And at the time he was supposed to be about how old?
Mr. WINKLER: He was 18. I was the oldest teen-ager in captivity. But also,
on the other hand, the age was incredible because I was able to handle what
started to come at me a little bit better. Can you imagine if I was only 18?
I would be dead now.
Mr. WINKLER: It was enormous.
BIANCULLI: Henry Winkler, whose career as a TV sitcom star has spanned three
decades, from "Happy Days" in the '70s to "Out of Practice" today. More after
a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to our conversation with Henry Winkler. He's one
of the stars of the current CBS sitcom "Out of Practice" and became a TV icon
playing Arthur Fonzarelli on "Happy Days."
I want to switch gears and ask about your early production credit because...
Mr. WINKLER: Sure.
BIANCULLI: ...I thought that the first time that you took the muscle that you
had from the stardom of the Fonz and put into production, you made a very
Mr. WINKLER: Yeah. Right.
BIANCULLI: "Who Are the DeBolts?" is what I'm thinking of.
Mr. WINKLER: And where'd they get 19 kids?
Mr. WINKLER: They--the...
BIANCULLI: Describe that for the people.
Mr. WINKLER: It was a documentary that won the Oscar. It is about a family
that lived in Piedmont, California, Dorothy and Bob. Dorothy and Bob had four
very healthy wonderful kids, and somehow it got into their need and their
personality and their minds to adopt 19 children, every one of whom had a
disability in some way. And then they brought them into their home, they
became their family, and these 19 kids were all mainstreamed, no matter what
the disability. It was the most life-affirming, the most positive, the most
affecting group of people I ever have spent time with.
BIANCULLI: Now the genre, almost 30 years later, it looks almost like a
prototypical, perfect, affirming reality TV concept. How did that come about
as your first production credit?
Mr. WINKLER: They couldn't get it on TV. Here it had won the Oscar and it
wa--and they--nobody would take it and put it on television. So I went to a
board of trustees dinner for ABC, and when everyone had their second glass of
wine, I went from table to table, to president of each division of ABC, and I
said, `Look, I have this documentary. If you watch it, and you are not as
moved as I am, if you are not as joyful at the end of it as I am, I'll walk
away. Otherwise, I promise you I will get great promotion. And will you put
it on the air?' And Tony Thermopolous(ph) said yes. And then I went to Paul
Newman, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, John Ritter, and I said, `Look at this.
If you're not as moved as I am, I'm sorry I took 74 minutes of your time. If
you are, I'm going to ask you to make a commercial for television because
otherwise I won't be able to get it on ABC.' Every man said yes, and they all
made a commercial for "Who Are the DeBolts?," and it went on to win an Emmy.
BIANCULLI: Another production credit people might be surprised to know is
yours--I'm sort of delighted by this--is "MacGyver."
Mr. WINKLER: Right. John Rich, a television director--he directed most of
"All in the Family." He was a great comedy director. He and I formed a
company, Winkler/Rich, and one of our very first productions was "MacGyver."
And ABC put it on and they moved it to every single day of the week and the
audience followed it until finally it was on Monday night after football. It
has never--no other show has ever done as well after "Monday Night Football"
again. And we were on for seven years with Richard Dean Anderson, one of the
greats. And we had quite a team, quite a team. And finding those
MacGyverisms might have been--I'm not kidding--worse than looking for
BIANCULLI: Do you have a favorite?
Mr. WINKLER: I do. I do. He's driving a Jeep. It's shot up. The radiator
now is spilling all of the water. He drops eggs into the radiator. They hard
boil, they fill the holes, and he continues, and gets away. Isn't that great?
BIANCULLI: That is great. What was he doing with eggs?
Mr. WINKLER: Yeah, I don't know. I--he's a very healthy guy. He would suck
raw eggs and it would give him energy. I--you know, very, very
BIANCULLI: I've got a question that goes back quite a way, and I don't know
if it predates your decision to go into acting or not. When were you
diagnosed as having dyslexia?
Mr. WINKLER: My stepson, Jed Weitzman, was in the third grade. I took him to
see the American Indians because he was studying the native life and tradition
of the Hopi. We went to Arizona. We went to the mesa. He stood behind me,
and, from 7 in the morning until 9 at night, he spoke into my ear as I drove
across Arizona. He was interesting. He was funny. I could never say, `Will
you shut up.'
Mr. WINKLER: When we got home, and he wrote a report, it was one sentence.
It was smudged. He erased a hole right through the paper. We took him and
had him tested. Everything they said to him, I went, `Oh, my gosh, that's me.
That's exactly me.' And when I was 31, when my stepson was in the third
grade, I found out that I wasn't stupid, I wasn't lazy and I wasn't not living
up to my potential.
BIANCULLI: That's amazing that you discovered that so late.
Mr. WINKLER: Yeah, and let me tell you that first you have a lot of anger
because all of those arguments, all of that name-calling, all of those
punishments were for naught because children, one out of five kids, has some
sort of learning challenge, and what is so important for the parents to tell
the child is that it does not matter that you learn differently. All that you
have to know is that you do somewhere in you have greatness and your job is to
figure out what that is and give it to the world as a gift.
BIANCULLI: Well, Henry, how did you have the drive to go into acting knowing
full well that it would require the fast turnaround of reading in order to
memorize your lines?
Mr. WINKLER: That's a great question. My desire, my need to be an actor was
I didn't think about it. I didn't decide it. It just lived in me. Then I
had to figure, OK, now I've picked a profession that is totally based on
reading. And then as a producer you have to read a lot. You know, every book
that I own is in hardcover and on the shelf so I can see it because every book
that I've read is a triumph. I mean, they are my awards. I'm not kidding.
BIANCULLI: And I would think it's also a triumph for a dyslexic to not only
ready books but to write them.
Mr. WINKLER: Well, that, I have to say--I have this amazing partner, Lin
Oliver. We have written nine novels called "Hank Zipzer: The World's
Greatest Underachiever." They're about my life as a dyslexic, and I took from
all parts of my life the emotion of where it got me in trouble I put into this
fourth-grader who has just in the ninth novel graduated into the fifth grade.
But we make them funny first. It's not `Woe is me,' you know, `Oh, I got a
problem.' He has a hard time and he has great friends and he's resourceful.
And the great thing is letters. I get letters from kids all over the country.
And one of the things that they love--after that it makes them laugh out
loud--is that he's resourceful, that he figures out there's another way to
beat the problem.
BIANCULLI: It's MacGyver.
Mr. WINKLER: I guess. I guess so. You know what? I never put that
together. That makes a lot of sense to me. You know, MacGyver had to take
what he had and make it into something. And people with learning challenges
do that. They take the same exact thing that other people use and they use it
to their own end and somehow change the nature of an object so that it works.
BIANCULLI: Was it an especially proud moment when you got your first copy of
your own book?
Mr. WINKLER: I was at a lunch in New York City. Penguin Putnam is my
publisher. We were sitting at the table and we had invited--or they invited
for me to meet all of the book buyers for Barnes & Noble in the children's
section, from the different--from different states.
Mr. WINKLER: We're in an Italian restaurant. Everybody's got the book in
front of them. I could not speak. I picked the book up. I held it in my
hand. I rubbed it. I smelled it. I touched it to my face. I turned it over
and over. I looked--I couldn't believe that this thing existed and I was part
BIANCULLI: So who are your fans today?
Mr. WINKLER: Who are my fans? Wow. Well, I walk down the street in New York
City and a father holding his daughter's hand said, `Oh, that's Henry Winkler.
He played the Fonz.'
Mr. WINKLER: And the daughter said, `I don't know what the Fonz is but he
wrote a book I read.' And I think that at that moment I understood what
BIANCULLI: Well, Henry Winkler, thank you very much for being on FRESH AIR.
Mr. WINKLER: Oh, I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation.
BIANCULLI: Henry Winkler, one of the stars of the CBS sitcom "Out of
Practice," which airs on Mondays. The new Adam Sandler film featuring Winkler
called "Click" will be released next year.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Deborah Larsen's "The Tulip and the Pope" gives a rare
look into pre-Vatican II convent life
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
Deborah Larsen's best-selling historical novel, "The White," was based on the
true account of a young woman named Mary Jemison who was taken captive by
Indians in the 18th century. Larsen's new memoir, called "The Tulip and the
Pope," explores the situation of another young woman, Larsen herself, who
spirited off into a different kind of extreme solitude. Book critic Maureen
Corrigan has a review.
Last fall my Catholic grammar school in Queens, New York, held a reunion for
everyone who'd graduated since the school was founded in 1962. Eight of my
far-flung classmates from the class of 1969 showed up, as well as two of my
former teachers, both of them still nuns. Talking with these devoted
teachers, and looking them in the eye, probably for the first time ever,
confirmed what I'd suspected in the decades since I'd graduated. These nuns,
like most of my other teachers throughout grammar school, were, at most, maybe
15 years older than I. When they were teaching me, many of these women were
only in their mid-20s. They were so very young to have already committed
themselves to the religious life.
Deborah Larsen was one of that generation of nuns who joined the convent when
religious vocations in America and parochial school construction were at an
all-time high. She entered the order of the Sisters of Charity in 1960 when
she was just 19 years old. In "The Tulip and the Pope," her evocative and
intelligent memoir of her convent years, Larsen says of herself and her fellow
novices `Our hair shown, our eyes shown. Most of us were not long out of the
The memoir opens on a comic scene where Larsen and two other young women sit
in a yellow cab outside the mother house of the Sisters of Charity in East
Dubuque, Illinois, smoking their last cigarettes. Once these raw recruits
walk through the convent doors to be admitted as postulants, they'll be
stripped of their civilian clothes, secular names and eventually their hair.
Contact with family will be severely restricted. Larsen recalls how letters
from her parents were slit open by the Mother Superior and censored. The
postulants will school themselves in silence, as well as something called
custody of the eyes, a practice in which they constantly look downward lest
they become distracted from the meditative state by colors or shapes or the
gaze of another person. Collectively their sense of touch will atrophy
because touching, whether of one's own body or another person's, is forbidden.
As Larsen describes it, that first year in the convent is like a very slow
amputation. By the end of that probationary period, all that will remain of
these idealistic young women will be their brains and souls.
In her stark historical novel, "The White," Larsen carried readers off into
the wilderness of the 18th century. "The Tulip and the Pope" affects a
similar miracle of time travel. Larsen summons up a lost world of pre-Vatican
II Catholicism, a world of deference, incense and conviction, which will be
familiar to Catholic readers of a certain vintage and of fascination to any
reader curious about religious faith and the stony places it sometimes leads
its followers. Writing at a 40-year removed from her convent experience,
Larsen, who's still a spiritual person but no longer an observant Catholic,
teases out the attractions the religious life once held for her and recounts
how her vocation eroded as the opportunities opened up by the Catholic
progressive movement in the mid-1960s began to tempt her away. Most of the
chapters in "The Tulip and the Pope" are short, some less than a page, and as
their title suggest they read like prose poems on religion and its occasional
absurdities: "Black Becomes Us," "Joan of Arc's Kneecaps," "Gregorian Chants
and the Congo," "Pajama Legs."
Larsen often writes in soliloquies, the kind of soliloquies that must have
been running in her head while she was in the convent so that we readers are
in the position of overhearing her dialogues between self and soul. Recalling
the convent's ban on books, Larsen says, `Surely you can do without your very
own books for the rest of your life, can't you? You can do without the ones
you fall asleep with, the ones that smell like a pulp mill or like mildew, or
the ones that smell like Belgian linen?' Ultimately, Larsen couldn't do
without those books, nor could she do without the particular friendships the
convent forbade nor cigarettes, nor colorful clothes, nor, in short, the wider
world. Without disparaging or sentimentalizing the convent that once was her
life, Larsen conveys its drowsy power.
Much like my old Catholic grammar school, which according to neighborhood
gossip just escaped being placed on the cardinal's most recent list of schools
to be closed, in this era of downsizing, the convent is, for Larsen, an
enduring site of longing and dismay.
BIANCULLI: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University and
is the author of a new memoir called "Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading." She
reviewed "The Tulip and the Pope" by Deborah Larsen.
BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.