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What the Return of ‘Curb’ Means for Auteur TV

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Like a sensible hybrid car that’s been parked in Larry David’s garage for the past five years, Curb Your Enthusiasm is finally getting taken out for a spin. There’s no ETA, but there is a fresh Davidism in its place: “In the immortal words of Julius Caesar, ‘I left, I did nothing, I returned.’

Curb Season 9 has been floating in the air ever since the show just sort of … ended in 2011. In a complete reversal of entertainment’s usual dynamic, the powers that be at HBO wanted the series to continue; it was David that didn’t. But the network let him walk anyway, while making it clear David could return at any time. For context, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse had to wage a knock-down, drag-out fight with ABC to eventually end Lost on their own terms, rather than letting a zombified version of the show keep going without their input. If there’s one thing you don’t do, at least according to the old model of how things worked, it’s let a reliable breadwinner go off the air.

But in calling it quits (without actually quitting), David sparked a miniwave of similar arrangements. Louis CK, for instance, has essentially put a pin in his FX auteur dramedy Louie while he works on other projects. “I don’t think I have stories for that guy anymore,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. Meanwhile, FX seems just as cool with the show’s “indefinite hiatus” as they were with its last one, when the comic took more than a year and a half between the show’s third and fourth seasons.

But it’s not just veteran showrunners receiving this treatment: Master of None won’t come back to Netflix until 2017, giving Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang time to generate enough story. (Or spend more time Vespa-ing through the Italian countryside.) Fargo won’t return until then either, for reasons both creative and practical. (Shooting a show so dependent on winter for its atmosphere means waiting for on-location snow.) Also, Mitch Hurwitz has been promising more Arrested Development in some form or another since the nonlinear fourth season hit the Netflix in spring 2013. As of now, Season 5 is happening … soon? Maybe? Unless it’s a movie?

This is an unprecedented level of creative control over when, where, and how often one’s work appears, and it’s entirely in keeping with our current era of television. “Peak TV” was only a glimmer in John Landgraf’s eye when David called it quits. Since then, everyone from Netflix to Yahoo to National Geographic has gotten into (and in Yahoo’s case, into and out of) the scripted-programming game, and they’re all competing over a finite number of creators with a proven ability to bring in raves or ratings. Which leaves distributors far more amenable to creators’ demands than ever before — especially now that the creators can produce, finance, and broadcast a show all by themselves.

Top-level players — I-basically-created-modern-TV-comedy-level players — now have a staggering amount of leverage. They don’t just get shows made. They get shows revived. They get shows put on hold. And now, they get shows picked back up … but only after they’ve taken their sweet time. At its best, the current process results in TV that gets made solely because the auteurs want to make it — even though there’s always the risk the shows are more Arrested Development Season 4 than late-period Louie (or worse, they never come to fruition at all). After decades of punishing 22-episode seasons and the filler they produced, maybe it’s good to negotiate for some creative R&R.

HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.