by: Marissa Morales
It’s the zombie version of a show, and no I’m not talking about literal zombies here, this isn’t The Walking Dead. I’m speaking of Community. It’s the show whose fans, myself included, refuse to let die. With good reason. With a show-runner like Dan Harmon, it was able to develop its own little niche on NBC and relate to that strange, meta sense of humor that resides, it would appear, in a great deal of us.
This past winter, when NBC decided to pull it mid-season on “hiatus,” the fans took to the internet demanding their show return. And guess what? It worked. Then on May 18th, the seemingly unthinkable happened: NBC and Sony axed Harmon. The news left me in a heap on the floor clutching a glass of wine listening to the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” on repeat. So why did it happen, and more importantly, now what?
The simple answer as to why is creative differences. NBC and Sony wanted the show to appeal to a broader audience while Harmon just wanted to keep it as his own creative baby. Once NBC and Sony caught onto the show’s obsessively loyal fan base, the notes for the show became lighter, an example: possibly airing certain episodes in a specific order in order to keep with continuity. Harmon’s response? A solid no. Any note given by a “higher up” was simply disregarded. Not necessarily how to handle the hands that feed. The bigger difference came in Harmon seeing it a successful, he had a rabid fan base who understood him and were in love with the universe he had created, while NBC and Sony wanted something to put into syndication and make them obscene amounts of money.
Dan Harmon became notorious in the writing community as being “difficult,” to put it lightly. He often was unruly even while journalists would visit the set, but the show has always been his creation, his vision quite specific, and it worked. Sure Harmon may be a nightmare at times, but the cast, crew and writers have always stuck by his side. When WIRED Magazine did an article on Harmon, writer Megan Ganz said, “He cares about his work in a way that he doesn’t necessarily care about other people.” This is probably more than accurate. Even listening to Harmon on the commentaries of the show, he is very much in charge of the entire situation. He’s also not the only difficult show-runner out there. Do we remember the ruckus that was caused a while back with a guy named Matthew Weiner and a little show called Mad Men? So why could Weiner get away with a micro-managing? Easy, his show brings in viewers and awards.
And as this horrible train wreck began picking up even more momentum, a memo meant for cast members’ eyes only surfaced from Sony and NBC. If you have not yet seen this memo, I highly suggest digging around on tumblr for it, as it tells the cast members verbatim how to answer questions they will be asked by the press. To sum it up, it pretty told them to play stupid and parrot, “We don’t know what happened, but we are so grateful to have worked with Dan, and wish him the best and can’t wait to work with our new show-runners!” It was pretty awful, and I understand that it had to happen, but it felt like an even bigger slap in the face. Especially due to how diplomatic the cast had already been about the situation. How did such a thing leak? My money’s on Alison Brie, did you see her performance in the Heart of Darkness episode? That loyalty came from a very real place.
What does this mean for Harmon? One can only hope that he has Apatow syndrome, no matter how you feel about Judd Apatow. He was screwed over by many a network, even after one of his shows was declared by Time Magazine to be one of the most important of the year (Undeclared). Look at him now, he is one of the most successful film producers and directors in the game at present. Clearly, being difficult worked for him. Harmon is also allegedly fielding requests from film studios and has a show in production at Adult Swim, so don’t (like me) cry for him just yet.
There is no fan base quite like Community’s. It is one of very few shows where fans know not only the cast and creator, but the writers and regular directors by name. The team behind the show is family, family we fight for and believe in. Even in light of NBC’s decision to place the show in what is known as the “Friday Night Death Slot,” we were no deterred, bring it NBC. Shortly after the announcement of a Friday night slot, the creative head was lopped off, and fans were left with a burning question… What happens to our little Greendale universe now? Its fate is completely up to us.
Will the show be the same? Of course not, it would be like Mad Men without Weiner or Girls without Lena Dunham, it’s just not going to work in the same way. Does that mean it’s going to be new Office bad? Not necessarily, but you would think that NBC would have learned what happens when you get rid of a show’s icon after that whole debacle. Community writer Andy Bobrow may have said it best, “It may be as good as Parks and Rec but the fans won’t care. They’ll say ‘this sucks.’” This is harsh, but possibly true.
A week after the announcement, the new show-runners David Guarascio and Moses Port held meetings with the remaining writers, and most of them, including Ganz, are sticking around for season four. The important thing to remember Human Beings is that being loyal to Harmon is not the same as being loyal to the show. We need to rally and put our faith in the remaining writers and the phenomenal cast. I believe that they have our best interests at heart and will give the show the final lap it deserves, as best it can.