“Community” fans may have experienced a quick moment of panic when the three-part season three finale came to a close last Thursday. The third episode — “Introduction to Finality” — viewed so much like a series finale.
But we took a deep breath, reminding ourselves that the show recently received a 13-episode season four renewal. Then breaking news, hitting less than 24 hours after that #sixseasonsandamovie title card graced our television screens, alerted the Greendale community that a regime change was afoot. Creator-showrunner-producer-writer-wizard Dan Harmon has been replaced — not as an insane revolution staged by Ben Chang and the “Doppeldeaner” — but by an entity far more evil: Sony Pictures Television.
If the backlash on Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere seems volatile, that’s because it should be. Not only did Sony replace Harmon, but they essentially kicked him out the door, gave him the finger and didn’t bother to thank him for creating one of the best sitcoms on television. NBC severed ties without so much as a courtesy call.
Harmon responded to the announcement with a post on his personal blog, writing, “Why’d Sony want me gone? I can’t answer that because I’ve been in as much contact with them as you have. They literally haven’t called me since the season four pickup, so their reasons for replacing me are clearly none of my business.”
When rumors of Harmon’s departure began circulating last week, NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt said in a conference call with reporters: “I expect Dan’s voice to be a part of this show somehow. I’m just not sure if that means him running it day-to-day or him consulting on it.”
But in his blog post, Harmon calls Greenblatt’s assertion false. Though he’ll have a producer’s credit, he’ll have virtually no writing, rewriting, editing or decision-making power.
You can’t have Dan Harmon’s voice without Dan Harmon. This is the man behind two clip episodes that defied the boundaries of clip episodes, a genius “Law & Order” parody, an epic pillow fight told in the style of a Ken Burns war documentary, a charming animated old-school video game adventure … and that’s just this season. No other show could get away with parodies of this eccentric nature, let alone do it and make us care so deeply and intricately about its characters.
When Troy has to say goodbye to the rest of the Greendale Seven so he can go to Air-Conditioning Repair School to pay off his debt to the repairmen for helping execute an elaborate heist to overthrow the Chang dynasty … well, I should have rolled my eyes and asked, “What the hell am I watching”? But I didn’t. Because “Community” has forged a nonsensical, but undeniable bond between its viewers and its characters, and no matter how mind-bending the meta jokes get, they never distance us from that connection. This is Harmon’s doing. He understands fans more than most showrunners, listens to them and uses fan feedback to better the show.
“Shows lose showrunners all the time and do well,” Greenblatt told Vulture last week. But he may have been exaggerating. Plenty of shows have lost their showrunners, but fan distress is usually the more common result than success. “Gilmore Girls” never rang with the same snappy honesty after the husband and wife duo, Dan and Amy Sherman Palladino, stepped out, “Supernatural” without Kripke has been a mess, a Sorkin-less “The West Wing” suffered low ratings, “Dexter” became nearly unwatchable when Clyde Phillips stepped down. Even when shows stay somewhat enjoyable after a showrunner switcharoo, there’s still a noticeable shift that unsettles.
It’s true that Harmon’s notoriously difficult to work with and quite the dissenter, having once left an explosive but intelligent comment on TV critic Maureen’s Ryan’s review of “The Sarah Silverman Show,” which he co-created. But disrespectfully firing him isn’t the solution. Harmon’s worth the drama, because he delivers the comedy. You can’t recreate his unparalleled style.
Well NBC, you Britta’d it once again. Because of you, everything is terrible, and no, I haven’t been watching “Dance Moms.” As Evil Abed might say, “You’re VH1, Robocop 2 and Back to the Future 3 … You’re Jim Belushi.”
I wish the best of luck to new showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port, but Harmon’s exit — especially when combined with the departures of producers Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan and the last remaining season one writer Chris McKenna — means that the show returning next fall will likely not be the “Community” we remember.
And for that, perhaps it’s best we don’t get those six seasons and movie we so desperately campaigned for.