How To Save Community 101: An Interview With The Organizer of the 30 Rock Flash Mob

Last week, we told you about what we thought was a slightly off target protest in order to save NBC’s cult hit sitcom Community: a Flash Mob at 30 Rockefeller Center, singing Christmas Carols in front of the tree in fake goatees. Well, we were kind of wrong about that one… The Flash Mob was a huge success, with coverage from NBC and Community producers Sony Pictures Television; as well as Flash Mobs now being planned in various other cities.

It turns out that the whole “Save Community” campaign is the brainchild of Catherine Boyd, a violinist by day, devoted TV fan by night, who – rightly – chided us in the comments section for our comments. After a pleasant chat with Boyd on Twitter, we ended up talking to her further, about how she got involved in the campaign, how the Flash Mob went, and why Twitter is leading the charge to save the students of Greendale Community College:

MTV Geek: So first off, I guess I was pretty off-base about the flash mob thing. I hear it was a big success?

Catherine Boyd: Alex, I really didn't mind; a lot of people thought we were just singing and not doing anything else. The biggest successes were that Sony Pictures filmed the whole event, Glenn from the NBC Store welcomed us with open arms (he sold 3 truckloads of Troy and Abed mugs and had to bring Christmas figurines into the physical 30 Rock store for the first time due to fan demand), and a groups are already calling their own flash mobs.

The biggest clamor was from LA, so @EvilTroyAndAbed set up a mob with them on Facebook for January 19th at 4:30. I absolutely love it.

There is a dear Florida fan, @r3g1T0dd, clamoring for a mob at Universal Orlando, and a few who want to have a mob in Branson (led by the very dear @Greendale_Love). Anywhere there are fake goatees and a Greendale flag, they should have a mob! I was thinking to space the mobs out a little so we can get press involvement, but if fans put their own Craigslist ads up in their hometowns, I have NOTHING to say about that (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more). The Branson crew is pondering an initiative to help the Joplin rebuild efforts, which is beautiful. We'll keep the first mob plans and add on the rest. Frankly, anything positive, done with a black goatee on, helps us.

Geek: And the actors and creators of the show got pretty involved too, huh?

CB: I've said previously that Dan Harmon was my Justin Bieber. A more accurate description is that he is my Duran Duran. I will try, if fate ever crosses my paths with the cast and crew, to restrain my inner fangirl and treat them like normal people, and like I don't care so they can be comfortable with me. It's not their fault they're on my laptop all the time, so I try not to build a relationship in real life where one doesn't exist. But I nearly fainted when the happy tweets came rolling in from them, especially from Dan. I try to act like I don't care, but it was really precious and sweet. Glenn at the NBC Store was impressed to see tweets from all of them, and I was very subdued in my response to Glenn about it, but inside I was an ecstatic emotional mess.

Joel McHale, God bless him, even sent sweatshirts (with Remedial Chaos Theory graphic) to two people who produced still and video images of the event. As a thank you, I took a picture of his 50 foot head:

Geek: Let’s take a little step back – why are you so gung ho about Community?

CB: I don't know if you've seen the Wired piece about Dan Harmon's story embryos, but he uses mythological processes from Joseph Campbell to create his episodes. Even when I'm crying AND laughing through an episode, I feel that it's fixing me on some deeper level, sometimes in ways that I didn't think needed fixing. I don't give a rat's behind if people say the show is obscure. Maybe they're too rushed, or maybe they're too used to easy fart jokes. It's like the slow food movement: if you slow down and pay attention, the show gives you mental gastronomies that you've never seen on television. It's like Monty Python meets Cheers, but in a Community College. All the characters are misfits who find refuge in the group. I can certainly identify with that, but is there a human alive who doesn't feel like a misfit? Unlike other shows which I will not mention, I never cringe at the acting; it is absolutely flawless throughout the cast, and they never miss a beat. When I see something like this, which transcends entertainment to the realm of pure art, I literally want to put the DVDs under my pillow at night.

Geek: How did you take the step from “fan” to “crusader?”

CB: When the hiatus was called, I had NO idea that there was a problem. It was a massive shock, and I felt like my heart was literally being sawed in half. I've been up until 4am every night since then, learning what a Nielsen box is, trying to find synopses of the episodes that were about to air, tweeting 350 newspapers/magazines a night with a plea to watch the show, and brainstorming what I could do to help. If you look at the Save Community blog, I start off all chirpy and Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney "Let's Save the Show!", and then gradually realize that NBC needs MY help and is in no position to bail out their own sinking boat. A lot of that is: I want to line up EVERY duck possible for the show. Yoplait/General Mills have been very nice to us, so I'm calling for flashmobs to buy their products, with hopes for a potential product placement (also buying high dollar amounts, if possible, and donating the food to charity). Sony Pictures filmed the NYC flashmob and appear to be interested in the other mobs; Sony may be capable of a Hail Mary pass for us, so I sweetly asked the mob film crew to pass on the MONETIZE mantra to their top brass, and we'll try to work with them. I saw Hugo in 3D JUST BECAUSE it was a Sony Pictures imprint. I want to erect a Guinness World Record blanket fort at NBC headquarters and have pillow fights in pajamas with Leno and Fallon. Also, just to please Dan Harmon, I want to start a mass "Where in the world is Bill Murray?" meme, with this statement: "NBC Community is a beautiful comedy, and is in danger of Arrested Development's fate. If you come for an episode, you can heckle Chevy Chase ALL YOU WANT!" That may not technically be true, but I would do anything to get him in the door. A viral meme, begging him to be on the show, may actually get that return phone call for Dan.

Geek: This might be too esoteric a question, but do you feel being this involved in the show changes your enjoyment, or watching experience in any way?

CB: Well, let's face it: before the hiatus, I barely knew what a showrunner was. I had no idea that NBC was fourth in the ratings, either. I had a twitter account, but used it for haphazard, ineffective business tweets.

After the hiatus, I sent an obscure Werner Herzog reference to Megan Ganz, and she tweeted me back. (I told her that if she wins an Emmy for Documentary Filmmaking Redux, I will eat a shoe, and she tweeted that she would join me in that). Truthfully, I've been watching the ads more than the show, livetweeting plot points for the fans in Europe and LA and tweeting the details of every ad. Until Yoplait started tweeting ALL OF US back and sending us SWAG, I was shopping and photographic experiences with many different ad sponsors, trying to see if there would be a response somewhere. I based all my purchasing decisions off what the ad sponsors were, which is EXACTLY like being a human version of Times Square. I couldn't really enjoy the shows fully while I was tweeting the whole time, to be honest. It was really amusing to me. I actually tweeted the Hulu ads on next day Hulu runs of the show, and paused and used closed captioning to really savor the show on the second run.

After each show aired (particularly Holiday Regional Music), I literally burst out into tears. When Hulu took up the mantle, taking on the Community in its entirety, I immediately switched over from Netflix and have been rewatching from the beginning, then watching DVD commentaries. I encouraged purchase of Hulu subscriptions as last-minute Christmas presents, and beamed with pride when the show was declared Hulu's #1 comedy.

I feel chemically changed around the show, like some weird alchemy happened when my heart broke. It was like seeing a small child stranded on a railroad track, with an oncoming train coming. I actually felt like I had to run, put myself in the path of a speeding train, but I just HAD TO get the kid off the tracks, you know? I don't take any of it for granted, and I savor everything like sacred relics: Troy and Abed mug, DVDs, #AnniesMove t-shirt, Britta Bot. I literally cried when I got Britta Bot in the mail, opened the package, and held it, like I was holding the fate of the show in my hand. I guess I cry a lot since the hiatus.

My worst fear is an Arrested Development fate, and to have just three seasons. That's why having all the ducks lined up is SO important. It just canNOT happen, OK?

Geek: Reading through your reports, it seems you guys are taking a large page from “Chuck’s” book… Why do you think that campaign was so successful?

CB: Chuck executed a perfect campaign. Period. If you have flashmobs with the Zachary Levi to Subway's door, you have created the perfect blend of fanservice and maintenance of product placement. I love the Chuck fans. They were passionate and committed, and really pulled through on the revenue aspect to MAKE the ad sponsor and network brass pay attention. Revenue is king. If we were just singing awkward songs in public, we would have zero chance here. When Sony filmed the mob, they followed all of us into the NBC store, filming the way we giggled over the merchandise and bought it like crazy. We have the same shot as Chuck, meaning a GREAT shot.

Geek: What can fans do right now to help save Community?

CB: Dreams: 1) Yoplait/General Mills flashmobs, with goatees and going through a store (with store clearance first).

1a) Continued purchase, either of one carton of Yoplait with a tweet and picture, up to 7 a week.

Just as good, following on the heels of my General Mills holiday tweet: either a small or large purchase of General Mills food (Cheerios/Progresso/Muir Glen/Yoplait), either for your household or for donation to a food bank/shelter.

2) Flashmob in goatees: go to the ticket office of a movie theater to purchase tickets for a Sony Pictures film.

3) Continuing drive towards selling out NBC store Community merchandise, like the Bieber Army. Keeping Glenn at the NBC Store (he runs the 30 Rock physical store and online) hopping and struggling to keep up with us is a happy goal.

4) Guinness World of Records blanket fort (future plot point in the show, free PR, instant street cred, connection with a college demographic, everyone loves a blanket fort, no downside except for fire permits). Ideal location: NBC headquarters, with Leno/Fallon pillow fights in pajamas. Other locations: Universal park, Sony backlot, or a rented private place that WE will do ourselves.

5) I'm encouraging the fans to mobilize on their own, and create fun projects and events in their hometowns. I want NBC Community fans to saturate the market with pictures of us having a good time, doing creative things, and enticing new viewers (could YOU resist a blanket fort DVD viewing party?). @be_cooky in Spain is running an international collage of blanket fort pictures. @GuillaumeElleb in Belgium started a Greendale Community College Facebook page, where we can pretend that we're all at Greendale together. I'm going to encourage the Branson contingent to follow their hearts and help Joplin, which is a beautiful thing to do in goatees.

6) The only mean-spirited flashmob: I have a fantasy of running a flashmob to BBDO, Young Rubicam, and other ad agencies, holding up a Nielsen box and singing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." Or something with duct tape over our mouths, holding up signs saying "I'm Not Nielsen. Don't Kill NBC Community." I actually won't be doing or endorsing those things, since I'm trying to stay light, positive, and help NBC and Community, but I've always watched the show on a laptop. Hello, don't I count? If we could all come up with other forms of revenue for the networks besides Nielsen-based ad revenue, I'll never have to be in a Community/Pushing Daisies/Arrested Development/ANYTHING by Joss Whedon reality again. Pushing Daisies was a hard loss, but I had a broken arm at the time and was just struggling to bathe. But I wish I could see that comic book, and know what happened with Chuck and Ned.

7) The amazing support from TV Guide came from us voting Community onto the cover as fan favorite. We need all the publicity we can get, so we're voting for all the things. Currently we are involved in a zombie war aganst a Walking Dead character, Daryl, in a Chicago Tribune poll against Abed. Team Reedus on Twitter, and Dixon's Vixens, are smug and think they are powerful. They actually said they had won the vote the other day, those lying zombie lovers. It made me super mad. If there's one thing you don't want to do, it's to make US mad, OK? There are no fans more passionate and loyal than we are. Also, Walking Dead is on cable, all rich and cushy and secure in their position. We're fighting for our lives and NEED every scrap of PR we can get. Daryl and Abed are running neck and neck, and I'm up until 4 in the morning every morning voting for Abed. I love that I got a zombie war for Christmas! Seriously, though: a) It's the Chicago Tribune, b) Chicago is Danny Pudi's hometown, c) Abed dresses as Batman and speaks like Christian Bale, d) Why would anyone want zombies to defeat Batman? Even this interview, which I love and appreciate so much, is tempered my the niggling feeling that my vote per minute just not there right now! Voting closes at 2pm central time tomorrow, 12/28, so we need all hands on deck. Last time I checked, we needed 1000 votes to tie, which means 100 people voting for 10 minutes. Another dream!

Geek: Any final thoughts? What will you do first if Community does come back with new episodes?

My God, I had a funny moment yesterday, on the phone with a reporter. I nearly burst into tears when I was discussing the show. She said, "I'm a TV reporter, and hiatuses are called all the time. Plus, you have the rest of the full third season in production." I replied, "Well, I really want that fourth season," to which she was silent for a minute. That was funny to me. I HAVE been up all night for a month. I probably sound like a castaway to people on the phone, or like I have a stash of poisoned kool-aid somewhere.

I really can't stand the idea of not having a fourth season, though. When the shows come back in March, or April, or whenever they tame that pesky grease fire at Greendale, I think I will watch it in a blanket fort, wearing a goatee. If we get a fourth season, by the grace of God, I will send a video of myself playing "Somewhere Out There" on the violin to Dan Harmon, my Duran Duran. (The Florida fan, @R3g1T0dd, wants me to play that song at a mob event in Orlando, but I'd rather put the focus on mob efforts -MUCH more powerful as a show of viewer numbers that a solo violin performance - until we have a 4th season secure).

Maybe we'll have a huge fan get-together somewhere; the fans are Batman to me now. They are the ones who are saving the show. They were so beautiful at the NYC flashmob, eager and ready to have a great time; some ladies even traveled from Vancouver to attend. We are the craziest fans out there, literally willing to do whatever it takes to help Community and keep the Greendale flag waving. I personally want to make the cast and crew as happy as they have made me. It felt good that our Christmas week flashmob came in time for THEM to feel our love and support during the holidays.

Also, I will tell you two secrets:

1) There is a twitter account, @envirodale, that sends out show quotes anytime someone tweets in support of NBC Community. I used to feel so reassured by their quote tweets at 3am, like I had a friend in the world still. I heard rumors that @envoridale is a bot. All of a sudden, I was a monkey baby, clinging to a terry cloth tweet account, you know, "Are You My Mother?" Embarrassing.

@EvilTroyAndAbed helped me organize the flashmob, and I've been telling all my secrets and victories to them. It's probably not true, but wouldn't it be funny if they were Dan Harmon?