Ron Howard, TV's favorite child- star turned Oscar winning director/producer, really wants you to watch his unconventional Fox comedy, "Arrested Development." (search

"I've got a huge emotional stake in the show, because I'm proud of it," Howard told The Post.

Howard is the benevolent force behind a slew of films, including Oscar winner "A Beautiful Mind," and is an executive producer on TV's "24." (search) He's also the uncredited narrator of "Arrested" and one of its creators.

A small (by network standards) but dedicated audience has found "Arrested" even though the comedy has been preempted many times since it began last fall. Now unless the ratings get better, it could be canceled.

Fox officials "have demonstrated a willingness to experiment a little bit, and they've really stayed with our show," says the earnest and candid Hollywood mogul. "They've been supportive on a company level and they continue to be, but it's been on sporadically and frankly we're at a critical time now for the show.

"I get the feeling that Fox really believes in the show and wants to renew it, but they just need evidence that it's continuing to grow," says Howard.

"I can't imagine a better, stronger first year cast on a television show ever. Every single character is so rich and so well acted and so entertaining. It would be a shame to see that not develop further, we just can't let that team drift apart," he says.

To boost this week's episode, "Arrested" producers enlisted "Seinfeld" (search) alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus for a guest-starring turn that will air in Fox's plum, post-"American Idol" (search) timeslot tomorrow at 9:30 p.m.

In the episode, Louis-Dreyfus plays a seemingly blind attorney who has a one-night stand with Jason Bateman's character, Michael Bluth. It also guest-stars stodgy "Inside the Actors Studio" host James Lipton (search) as a chain-gang overseer and "Saturday Night Live" star Amy Poehler as a "live seal trader."

Fox's cable channel, FX, is running an "Arrested" marathon on Sunday, with six episodes airing from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.