‘Community’s Future Is Pointless, Bizarre Without Dan Harmon

Monday, May 21 by
This move by Sony probably wasn't a very good idea.  

Over the course of its run, NBC cult-favorite Community has enjoyed its share of drama. Though uncertainty of renewal due to low ratings has plagued the show over its run, most recently Dan Harmon and Chevy Chase engaged in a very public feud that left even diehard fans of the show assuming that something had to give if the show was to continue.

However, when news a few weeks ago of a fourth-season renewal came about, it was looking like the feud between the two cranky showrunner and the legendarily cranky actor might be put to the wayside for the greater good of the show. But then. BUT THEN, news came Friday evening that Dan Harmon, the man responsible for creating and maintaining the quirky, nerd-friendly sitcom, was unceremoniously fired.

In fitting fashion, the news came on a late Friday so that the show’s fervent internet following wouldn’t be so vocal until Monday, but, of course, it didn’t take that long. Almost immediately, fans responded to the strangely unspecific announcement from Sony that Dan Harmon would no longer be showrunner for NBC.

Moments later, Harmon weighed in, saying that he was as surprised as anyone else was, and that he had no prior knowledge of his impending termination, learning about it from the media when he landed from a flight.

Of all the paths the show could have taken, this one seems to be the least likely and least viable. Show’s getting low ratings? Ok. Cancel it. People would be upset, but they would understand. Community has seemingly been circling the drain since the second half of its freshman year. Alternately, NBC, Sony, or any other power that is associated with the show could have said, “We’re going to overlook the fact that this show gets low ratings and just appreciate the loyal fan base,” in renewing it.

But this course of action escapes most every course of logic. The fans are alienated by virtue of the fact that Community will not be Community after the departure of Harmon. The show lost co-showrunners Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan, and lost the sole remaining season one writer in Chris McKenna, so with Harmon’s exit, the show is lacking for the executive leadership that made it the irreverent show that it is. It’s arguable (and probably correct) that no show on the air right now is as beholden to its showrunner as Community is to Dan Harmon.

As dramatic as the fans are, they’re probably not out of bounds in saying that it’s impossible for Community to remain what it is without Harmon’s supervision.

But on the plus side, I guess that feud with Chevy Chase sorted itself out, no?

In replacing the irreplaceable Harmon, Sony, the production studio that makes such decisions, has appointed David Guarascio and Moses Port, guys that had cut their teeth on Happy Endings and something called Aliens in America that aired on the CW in 2007. I assume these guys are completely capable and talented, but the notion of anyone taking over the super-duper-high-concept Community in Harmon’s absence is laughable.

Despite adoration for all the characters on the show, I contend that they are largely incidental (save for the dean, who is just awesome), and that the allure of the show comes almost 100% from the inspired and ridiculously meta writing that lends itself well to the obsessive internet discussion that certain types of fans are wont to engage in.

Originally, I had planned to spend the first half of this piece discussing what happened, and the second half discussing where the show goes from there, but I’m at a loss as to the latter. I presume NBC will be left with a low-rated show that quickly sheds its rabid following the loss of its showrunner, much like it was with The West Wing following Aaron Sorkin’s departure after the fourth season and like The WB was with Gilmore Girls when Amy Sherman-Palladino left after season six.

The show has been moved to Friday nights for its upcoming season four half-order of episodes, so it’s not like a lot of faith was placed in the show BEFORE Harmon was fired, so it’s easy to imagine that expectations will be even lower in this proposed “run out the clock” scenario.

But why “run out the clock?”

It’s not like they’re angling to get to syndication. 71 episodes have aired in 3 seasons, and a half-order of 13 episodes for season 4 doesn’t get the show that much closer to the magic number of 100 episodes often required for syndication. Besides, Comedy Central has already picked up Community reruns starting in 13, which is probably as big a syndication deal the show could expect with its low ratings and small following.

Then again, the network in question is NBC, so it’s tough to say, “Oh, I’m sure they know what they’re doing,” but the renewal demonstrated some faith on their end. The Friday timeslot? Not as much.

Unless Sony or NBC holds a press conference where an exec stands up there and says “here’s what we’re thinking…” it could be a while, if ever, that we find out what the logic was here.

ANYWAY, Community’s coming back, in a format and at a time that dictates almost none of its fans will be enjoying it.

Long live Community! Long live NBC!

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