As you've probably heard, Dan Harmon was fired from his position as showrunner of NBC's Community late Friday night. Dan Harmon will be fine--he blogged about his side of the matter. He will find new projects and his fans will follow him to the ends of the earth. Adult Swim ordered a pilot from him called Rick & Morty, involving the adventures of a grandfather and grandson. But what about his show? How will Community fare in the switch?
Community came about because Harmon took a Spanish class with his girlfriend at Glendale Community College in LA. Much to his surprise, he became incredibly attached to his study group. He said of his experience, "I was in this group with these knuckleheads and I started really liking them, even though they had nothing to do with the film industry and I had nothing to gain from them and nothing to offer them." This real-life experience gave an increased level of awareness to the show that I fear will be missing next season. And I'd be surprised if the new showrunners stuck to the "Dan Harmon Story Structure 101" formula. While there are many talented writers on the show, the voice of the show is unmistakably Dan Harmon's voice.
The new guys, David Guarascio and Moses Port, have a respectable history in television. They created Aliens in America and most recently, they've worked on Happy Endings. They're well-versed in quirkiness and quick dialogue. I'm choosing to reserve judgment until I can see what they do with the show. It only seems fair to give them a chance. Perhaps even more worrisome is the new time slot. Community, currently renewed for thirteen episodes, will return next fall on Friday nights at 8:30 ET. Famously dubbed as a death slot, the show will have to fight for whatever viewers it has left.
Chris McKenna, the only remaining writer from season one, will be leaving along with Harmon. McKenna is responsible for the first blanket fort episode, the never-before-seen clip show, and this last season's remarkable "Remedial Chaos Theory," which took us into the darkest timeline. Another one of my favorite writers, Megan Ganz, is currently in talks for next season. If enough of the writers stay from the past season, there's a good possibility that the show could stay structurally intact. (It could also fall down the toilet. Hey, I'm trying to be optimistic here.)
Dan Harmon is notorious for his work style. He's intense and demanding. He expects great things of his writers and expects even greater things of himself. (This isn't even bringing up the whole Chevy Chase debacle, but let's not go there.) Ken Levine gave the best analysis of the decision...and I believe he was qualified to do so. Levine has written for numerous major sitcoms and he took over for Larry Gelbart on M*A*S*H back in the day. He said, "Networks now control every aspect of the production. There are no more independent studios to stand behind showrunners who are under attack. And if there is an indie studio, they're partnered with the network. It's the Tony Soprano business model. For a network to fire a showrunner, his behavior had to be pretty unruly. The network weighs the value of his contribution with the nightmare of dealing with him and must decide if he’s worth it. Dan Harmon apparently wasn’t worth it." That's harsh, but that's something to consider if Harmon's work ethics were impacting those around him.
The situation was poorly handled from all sides. The mistakes have been made public, thanks to the rabid interest of the viewers. (I don't think that's a bad thing, either. There's a lot that the networks can learn from this.) Community has some of the most loyal fans on television and I believe they will continue to support the show through its now-probable conclusion at the end of this year. As fans, we should come to terms now with the fact that the show won't be the same. But maybe, just maybe, we'll get our six seasons and a movie after all.