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‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Showrunner on Making a Hit by Ignoring the Ratings — and Season 12 Ideas

"Larry's the only person on the planet who doesn't think he'll come up with more good ideas," "Curb" showrunner Jeff Schaffer tells IndieWire.

Curb Your Enthusiasm Larry David HBO

Larry David in “Curb Your Enthusiasm”

John P. Johnson / HBO

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Welcome to It’s a Hit! In this series, IndieWire speaks to creators and showrunners behind a few of our favorite Emmy-nominated television programs about the moment they realized their show was breaking big.  

If there’s one clear distinction between the simpatico minds driving “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” it’s that Larry David always thinks he’s out of ideas and Jeff Schaffer knows that will never happen.

“Bad things are still happening to me,” Schaffer said. “So I’ve still got ideas.”

Schaffer, who’s been officially producing, writing, and directing the HBO comedy gem since Season 5, spoke to IndieWire about the show’s sustained success, including returning from a six-year “interregnum” and why each season could be the last… but almost certainly isn’t.

“When you sign up to do a season of ‘Curb,’ you’re signing up to do the final season of ‘Curb,'” Schaffer said. “And I finally figured out why. It’s because when Larry does a season, he puts every idea that he really likes into that season. So at the end of the season, there’s this hole — there aren’t any ideas that he really likes — so how could he possibly do another season? He’s the only person on the planet who doesn’t think he’s going to come up with more good ideas.”

Schaffer said he even wrapped Season 11 — nominated for four Emmys in 2022, including Outstanding Comedy Series — like he would a series finale. “This last one, more than any, was built to be a finale,” he said, echoing comments to The Hollywood Reporter when he said they originally planned for Larry’s character to drown in the season’s closing shot.

“We shot as if it was going to be the last one ever. I had to at least prepare for it,” Schaffer said, before David changed his mind and chose to keep his beloved curmudgeon alive for a few more awkward complaints.

But fear not “Curb” fans: The duo is already hard at work on Season 12. David confirmed the series’ return in April, and Schaffer said they’re aimed to start shooting this fall. Ideas are still being generated. Scripts are still being fine-tuned. But along with all the “generally terrible” people who inspire the show’s social critiques — “There’s an open spigot on bad behavior [on L.A.’s] west side. We’ve just got to get our cup in there.” — the showrunner credits the joy “Curb” brings its creators for its longevity. They make it for themselves: as an outlet for their frustrations, an artistic expression, and just for the plain fun of it. That so many fans get to feel the same way, well, that’s just a bonus.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

IndieWire: If you’re acting like every season is the last season, does that free you from worrying about the ratings?

Jeff Schaffer: I don’t even honestly know what the ratings are.

OK.

Alec Berg [the current “Barry” showrunner and former “Curb” and “Seinfeld” producer] actually said it best: “There’s no ‘they,’ when we make this show.” And that’s the beauty of HBO. There’s no “they.” There’s not like, “I wonder what they think.” “Will they like this?” “Will they make us cut that?” If you told me Larry was making this to put on his shelf as a home video, just to make himself happy, it would be [made] the exact same way. Some of the chances we take and the extreme or wild things we do, we’re doing them because we like them, and we truly don’t care if anyone else watches.

Curb Your Enthusiasm Larry David

Larry David in “Curb Your Enthusiasm”

John P. Johnson / HBO

But you still need an audience for HBO to keep renewing it. If truly no one watches, you couldn’t make what you’re making.

So we have this six-year interregnum, right? I finished “The League” and [Larry and I] started talking. First, Larry wanted me to direct a movie that someone wanted him to be in. So as we were talking about ideas for this movie, we kept going, “That would be a funny ‘Curb’ idea.” “Oh, that would be a funny ‘Curb’ idea.” And he said, “I really just — I feel like I just want to do ‘Curb’ again.” And I said, “Well then why don’t you do it?” And he goes, “Well, do you think anybody else would want to do it?” “Yeah, the actors would love to do it.” He goes, “You want to do it?” “Yeah, I’ll do it. That’d be so fun.”

And then he said — it’s the oddest thing — he said, “Do you think anyone would want to see it?”

I said, “Yeah! Yeah, I do.” So I think the reason why the show feels fresh all the time is because it never exists because it is obligated to exist. It only exists because Larry has an idea that he feels is worth doing. The show never comes back as an obligation. It always comes back because of an inspiration.

But when you did come back from that six-year break, there wasn’t a moment where you thought you were right? That, yeah, people did want to see it and the show’s really clicking again?

Here’s the thing. If you stay away for a long time, people are happy to see you again. We had some built-in love just by the fact that we weren’t around. But in terms of, “Is it working?” I mean, that’s a daily and episodic thing, right? We’re still worried about the micro: “Is this story working? Is this episode working? Do these stories work together?” And then you think, “OK, this episode is working.” I guess we never worry about the show itself [working]. We’re still worried about each brick. I don’t really worry about the house.

The show is micro and we’re micro. I could honestly say Larry and I literally — I’ve been with him for millions of years now, and in all of the years, we never reflect on it.

That’s so interesting because then Season 10 famously wrapped at the start of the pandemic, and a lot of people seemed to catch up on the show or appreciate it all the more. Even then, you weren’t thinking about “Curb’s” greater impact?

We were sitting there FaceTiming, trying to figure out how to do Season 11. That’s what we were worried about. Like, “This is impossible — [Season 10] tied together so well. How can we do that again? How can we match that?” But when you start that long hike of writing a season, you can’t look up to the top of the mountain. It’s too daunting. So you just sort have to put one narrative foot in front of the other and grind it out.

And by the way, there are such big issues in the world and people doing such good, big things and solving big problems. But someone has to take care of the little stuff. That’s us. The real niggling, annoying stuff, that’s where we come in.

So thinking about it now, in this interview, what’s the greater impact?

I think the reason why people watch the show, well, they see it a few different ways. Sometimes they see it as wish fulfillment. “Oh my God, ‘That happened to me. I wish I had done that.” And I’m going to tell you something: It’s wish fulfillment for Larry, too. That’s how the show gets written. He comes into the office like, “I went to this dinner party last night, and they served tap water. The host served tap water! Who serves tap water at a dinner party? I really wanted to complain!” And I said, “Well, Real Larry didn’t, but TV Larry sure is.” And that becomes the start of an episode.

All this stuff is from real life, and people don’t stop being annoying. So the show can continue as long as we have Larry’s radar.

Where are you at with Season 12?

We’re writing it right now, and we’ll start shooting, I don’t know, late fall. We’re in the middle of it right now. I’m looking at a dry erase board. […] We’re just basically sitting in a room, showing each other our awkward scars, and coming up with new stuff.

Funny things are like cockroaches. They’re hard to kill. They stick around, and I think we’re just comedy cockroaches.

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” Seasons 1 – 11 are available on HBO. Season 12 is expected to shoot this fall.

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