Community Without Dan Harmon
Earlier this week, Dan Harmon, the creator of sitcom Community, was fired as its showrunner by Sony Television. The show has been renewed for a shortened 13-episode fourth season which plans to air on Friday nights, instead of in its normal Thursday time slot. Harmon’s firing comes after a feud with actor Chevy Chase (Pierce Hawthorne on the show) and reports that Harmon is difficult to work with and not willing to change the show’s direction to reach a wider audience. So, what can we expect from Community now that Harmon is out of the picture?
Vinny Ginardi: For someone who just watched the entire series over the past few weeks, I was less than thrilled to find out about Harmon’s dismissal. I haven’t had the opportunity to watch that many sitcoms from start to finish, but of the ones I have, Communityis the best. What makes the show so special outside of it’s intelligent writing and array of diverse characters is it’s lack of fear. General sitcom cliches and situations are thrown out the window (and often made fun of) and replaced with unique storytelling tactics that most shows don’t have the confidence to attempt.
But with Harmon gone, I’m worried that we will see a decrease in this type of storytelling. It’s well known that despite being well received critically and creating somewhat of a cult following, Community doesn’t receive high ratings because it doesn’t appeal to a general audience. With Harmon gone, we might the fourth season might not have some of those unique episodes that have become fan favorites in order to reach a wider audience through more general humor.
While the show might not be the same, I’ll still watch when the fourth season comes around. But my hopes aren’t as high as they could be.
Joe Binckes: I hate that this had to happen this way. After shelving the show mid-season, NBC’s willingness to bring it back and then let it finish out a full 22-episode season in response to tremendous outcry from the fans (#sixseasonsandamovie) really made me feel like it was getting the respect it deserved as one of the best comedies on television. Then, piece by piece, that thought went to shreds. You’re back for a fourth season! Do what you can with 13 episodes. Rating’s aren’t where we want them, so we’re bringing you back in a new time slot! It’s Friday nights… with Whitney. In spite of all this, fans were able to console themselves with thoughts of “Well, some Community is better than no Community, let’s just stay loyal and watch, and enjoy it while we can.” Oh, by the way, the main creative force behind the show has been dismissed and we’ll be handing the reins over to another team with hopes of broadening the appeal. It just hurts.
It’s definitely a legitimate fear that the show won’t be the same. Chris McKenna, the co-executive producer, announced not long after Harmon’s announcement that he wouldn’t be back, also decided to take his leave from the show. In reading up on why this happened, Harmon’s stubbornness definitely seemed to be a factor. However, I have a hard time faulting him for his unwillingness to compromise when it brought such excellent results.
To play devil’s advocate for a minute, I can understand where the decision came from. That same hardheadedness that I believe was a major factor in creating comedy that went beyond many other shows must have been a nightmare for network executives panicking over low ratings. What I’ve read on the subject makes it seem like Harmon was unwilling to take input from the people signing his paychecks in order to try and make it more profitable for them. His recent dispute with Chevy Chase further exemplifies his willingness to play the game as is required by an executive producer on network television. Harmon knew his contract was up at the end of this season and that his future would be at the discretion of the network. Yet he stuck to his guns and gave us a third season that was as stranger than anything we had seen yet. On the other side the ‘Dan Harmon is a creative genius’ coin, there are things that point as strongly to ‘Dan Harmon is a poor producer, bad at taking criticism and poor at managing egos.’
So, while I’m not happy about the move and definitely would have preferred the show could just remain how it was for this last abbreviated season, I also can’t pile on with the Community fan who is ready to riot at this move. Some people want to rally around Harmon in some way, whether it be a similar campaign that came with the mid-season shelving or an agreement to not watch season four as an act of defiance. There has been outcry that we are actually ‘living in the darkest timeline.’ Let’s not forget that we could have been stuck with two and a half seasons and of a show that was never given the chance to conclude. Even if you want to ignore this upcoming season, surely treating the season three finale as the end of the series is infinitely better than if it had never come back from hiatus at all. I’ll watch season four with the knowledge that it may not be the same, and just hope that those who do remain from this spectacular first three seasons are able to continue to churn out a strong product and showcase the Greendale Seven in the best possible way.
Michael Cresci: I’d just to start by saying that the fact that none of the main cast, other than maybe Chevy Chase (a renowned jerk with a history of pissing off colleagues), is very happy about this. NBC has angered the cast and remaining writers deeply and that seems like a surefire mistake no matter where you come down on the importance of Harmon and the television business and blah blah blah.
Anyways, I’m someone with a history of loving low rated critical gems. I’m a huge fan of Arrested Development (the best comedy ever), Firefly, Party Down and Freaks and Geeks. I’ve been down this road before and I’ve come to terms with enjoying what little genius I’m given. I’ve even realized that sometimes the short life span is good because we never have to see an ugly decline (I’m looking at you, The Office), and strong series finales can be delivered (AD and Party Down both ended right). So that brings us to Community, one of my favorite things ever created. I’m actually more heartbroken over this than a cancellation because it feels like we’re going to be getting a version of our beloved show that resembles Jack Nicholson at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Harmon was a singular voice and unique creative talent and Community, more than most sitcoms, was motored forward by his vision.
There is a flip side to this. Television is a business and Harmon’s hardheaded attitude, proclivity for confrontation and unwillingness to play ball in any sense is a network’s idea of a bad business partner. There is no doubt in my mind that Harmon didn’t do himself any favors. He clashed with Chevy Chase (again, a renowned douche) and crafted a show that general audiences just didn’t get (the snob in me doesn’t understand this but I realize I’m essentially the target demo).
So why do I still believe that NBC has needlessly stomped on the hearts of Community fans while simultaneously making a stupid decision? Because the show is already a ratings nightmare with a rabid, cultish fanbase who want Community to keep getting weirder. Moving it to Friday night and removing the eccentric creator isn’t going to broaden its appeal. Friday isn’t primetime so it makes sense to take a show that has a small committed fan based move to Friday because fans will follow, but further hiding it from a larger audience won’t help numbers, and neutering the product that created those rabid fans will simply piss of the few people who do watch it. When little watched critical darlings are given another season (like the criminally underwatched and underrated Parks & Recreation) it’s usually because it gives the network some credibility and good faith with fans. Here they are making a poor business decision while punishing the fans. They should have just nutted up and cancelled the show. Besides, the season 3 finale was clearly made as a series finale in case the show got cancelled. NBC has opted for a lose-lose scenario. Maybe that sort of problem solving is why they’re in last place.