May 19, 2012

THE SKED: Evil Abed Wins After All

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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The word, the buzz, the gossip were all true:  COMMUNITY was renewed for a 4th season, but Dan Harmon has been kicked off the show as its Executive Producer/Showrunner.  (He’ll still be credited as some variation of “Consulting Producer,” because that’s the way showrunner contracts work, but it’s a meaningless title.)  It’s over, a done deal, so don’t bother to send homemade Inspector Spacetime phone booths or other fetishistic objects to NBC or production studio Sony Television to make them change their minds:  the team of David Guarascio and Moses Port has been hired to take over the show.  So the real questions are:

What Happened?  Vulture has an excellent account of what was going on behind the scenes at Community; suffice it to say that Harmon managed to piss off everyone a TV producer shouldn’t:  his colleagues on the show (not just Chevy Chase, but his fellows writers too), the studio and the network.  If Community were a blockbuster hit, Harmon might have survived all that, but it’s a success only for those watching in a Dreamatorium, so Harmon was out.  And not just out–these folks hated him so much that they didn’t even attempt to negotiate a new deal with him when this year’s expired, so much that they didn’t even ask his opinion when Port & Guarascio were being hired.  That kind of flat-out detestation is rare in the world of TV, where you never know who you”ll want to be in business with next year, and it inspires a sort of respect.  Harmon didn’t just burn his bridges, he tracked down the people who constructed the bridges and burned their houses down.

Why Renew The Show?  This is seemingly the strangest part of the Community story–why bring back a show that was only a fingernail away from the abyss anyway, and that because of its strong cult following, and then do the one thing guaranteed to alienate every member of the cult?  The answer probably speaks to the difference between the way NBC/Sony see the show and the way fans do.  For the studio and network (and Universal TV, which is part of NBC, is a co-owner of the series and thus a studio as well, even though Sony has operational control), Community is just product.  In this case, it’s product that had already accumulated 66 episodes and a Comedy Central deal that makes more episodes valuable.  Sony is probably all but giving the new episodes away to NBC in order to get those extra episodes produced.  Plus, it’s possible (albeit unlikely) a more mainstream Community could bring new eyeballs to the show.

What Happens Now?  The sad truth is that all the outrage Harmon’s ouster is about to cause will barely move the needle in any meaningful way on Community‘s ratings.  Last night’s season finale had a 1.3 rating, and that’s on well-watched Thursday–in its new Friday spot teamed with Whitney, even with Harmon fully in control, the show would be lucky to see a 1.0 rating.  If all the current fans revolt, maybe that slips to a 0.7 or 0.8–sure, that’s a flop, but hardly unprecedented for NBC these days.  The show is probably dead after 13 more episodes anyway, and this way the Powers That Be have the satisfaction of kicking Harmon in the face.

And Creatively?  No, it won’t be the Harmon version of the show.  For one thing, neither the network nor the studio will want it to be.  For another, although Port & Guarascio are perfectly talented writers (they were on the staff of the terrific Happy Endings, and a few years ago created the short-lived but well-regarded Aliens In America), nothing they’ve ever done suggests they have the mindset or imagination of Dan Harmon.  Community 2.0 will still be wacky and have plenty of pop culture references, Dean Pelton won’t suddenly come to work in a business suit and Britta will still Britta every possible situation.  But it’ll be Community Lite.

I wrote last night that the season finale of Community felt like a farewell, and so it’s turned out to be.  Think of Dan Harmon’s last piece of graffiti, his hash-tagged “sixseasonsandamovie” title card at the end, as its epitaph.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."