As a very vocal supporter of the NBC sitcom Community over the past three seasons, I’ve done my part in trying to bring new viewers to the show. I’ve even succeeded in showing episodes to friends who don’t watch any television. If you follow that kind of thing, you might understand why the past few months have been a bit of a roller-coaster for me and my continued support of the show. I mean, for a while it was on unexpected hiatus, then it was back, but next season seemed in doubt…the dream of “six seasons and a movie” seemed bleak. But I’ve been watching diligently, never giving up hope, and plugging the show where and when I could. (Forget Big Bang Theory–Community is the geekiest sitcom on television.)
Since I haven’t had a television for almost two years now, my ritual has been to watch Community on Hulu the next day when I get home from work. This week was extra bountiful, as they had aired the final three episodes back-to-back the night before. Even better, the show had gotten a 13 episode commitment for a season 4. Not ideal, mind you, but it was something. And the season finale triptych did not disappoint. Plots progressed, story-lines tied up, characters evolved. It was funny, geeky, and touching–everything I watch the show for.
It was only afterwards I found out that Dan Harmon, the creator and show runner had been unceremoniously been shown the door.
My first reaction is, of course, a few moments of incoherent nerd-rage as I track down whatever info I can. Sure, I could just let it go. Then again, Dan Harmon is the only reason season two’s amazing “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” episode was ever made. True story! He had to fight for it. Brutally.
But then again, Dan was no stranger for being hands-on and fighting for his show. He had a very strong vision of what Community was supposed to be. He’s the reason it has been such a smart, layered show. He’s the reason it’s like nothing else on television. And some might argue (namely the suits who made this decision) that his intractable desire to have things his way is what made the show a critical darling and commercial disappointment.
At the end of the day, television is a business. I used to have this argument with my friend Ed around the time Firefly was cancelled. He took umbrage that the networks kept cancelling shows that were good. And while that’s true, network television as an entity has never been about producing programming simply because it’s good. The goal is, has been, and always will be to get enough eyes on the screen to maximize how much they can charge for commercial space and make money. It’s great if they can do that with quality programming, shows that the critics love and that win awards. But if they could get the top rated show on any given night by showing two puppets blowing a kangaroo, there isn’t a network in business that wouldn’t be in Australia with a sack trying to get their next TV “star.”
Let me say that again in case any of you missed it. Television doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be “good enough.”
Do you think a season of The Bachelor is going to end up in the fucking Smithsonian? I don’t think so. But it’s going to be renewed sure as shit as long as a few million people think watching it is an acceptable way of spending an hour of their week.
There are a ton of great reasons why firing Dan Harmon (and doing it in a particularly shitty way, might I add) are a bad idea. None of them, ultimately, have to do with business. He was a trouble maker. And I say that with love, because I’ve always loved the trouble makers. I’ve always been a trouble maker. But no one is irreplaceable.
The fans spoke out when Community was put on hiatus. The internets rose up with a mighty yawp and screamed from the hilltops to keep the show alive. But something had to happen. Something had to change if the studio was wiling to gamble on another season. And the studio knew from working with him for three previous seasons that forcing any kind of changes past Dan was going to be difficult, at best. So they looked at an under-performing show and they removed the one thing that they could identify as the greatest irritant. That just happened to Dan Harmon.
It’s not unlike a surgeon opening up the body of an injured alien and wondering what to fix, and seeing one organ that they can’t identify. It’s angry, red, possibly the cause of all the problems. Maybe it’s infected. They don’t know. So they cut it out, put something else in its place, then stitch it closed hoping it wasn’t a vital organ.
We have 13 episodes next season to see if they’re wrong or not.
Because it’s not like I’m going to quit watching Community. For three years it has been the best half hour on television. It will still have the same cast and three years of story to build off of. I’m not sure how many of the writers will remain, but from what I hear, there were mass defections of the writing staff last season anyway, so maybe some will come back. And the two guys who got put in charge of running the show aren’t hacks. In fact David Guarascio and Moses Port have some solid shows under their belt. I used to love Just Shoot Me, and I loved Aliens in America, though it never really found the audience it deserved. I even enjoyed Happy Endings despite myself. I honestly can’t imagine a better pair of dudes to take over. Their comic sensibilities and style are a good fit. I can only hope they come to the show with the same fire and passion that Dan Harmon did. And that they are willing to fight for the best possible story.
Because I’m still holding out for “six seasons and a movie.”