Dan Harmon Says He Would Have Fired Himself, Explains How Ugly the Network TV Game Can Get
At this point — three months and about 10,000 interviews after the fact — you’re maybe a little burned out on Dan Harmon’s Here’s Why I Got Fired From Community Tour 2012. But there’s a reason Harmon’s still holding our attention: Every time anyone asks him about the hubbub, he seems to have another little layer of nuance about the weirdness of the showrunner–network exec relationship to peel back. Speaking with KCRW over the weekend, Harmon let go some more details about his fraught dealings with NBC and Sony. He doesn’t go so far as to reveal an intricate revenge plan involving framing NBC chief Bob Greenblatt at the center of a massive sex scandal, but it’s still pretty good stuff.
Harmon’s main point, as it has been throughout his post-Community soul-baring sessions, is that he wants us to believe that he really does understand, and is OK with, getting the heave-ho. He knows it’s a business, he knows he wasn’t getting the ratings, and, if the roles were reversed, “I would have fired me.” But he rejects the notion that he was actually difficult to work with, explaining that it was his own on-set humility — he’d often give speeches that led off with “Sorry, I’m not good at this” because “I’m from Wisconsin” — that led to the reputation. Where he takes blame, though, is that his perfectionism screwed things up for the crew: “An anonymous crew worker, who could be shrouded in shadow and have his voice pitch shifted so that he could be hired by me again [might have some things to say] … They had to deal with the horrible prospect that they’re working on the stage and the [BLEEP (it actually bleeps during the interview)] writers are still working on the script … that’s a horribly unfair thing.” The execs, though, he paints in a more dastardly light, saying the shortened 13-episode fourth season is nothing more than a calculation to get into syndication: “We’re going to get this to 88 episodes so we’ll all make some money, the people that own it … we’re going to smother it with a pillow very quietly.”
Harmon explains that the execs approached his right-hand man on the show to see if he’d do the show without him; Harmon’s liege stayed loyal, but the treachery clearly left its mark. Which is maybe why Harmon was OK with not being very nice to those execs when they tried to hand down notes? “My writers would stay up till four in the morning if that’s what they felt was required to make the show airable, and people who don’t stay up till four in the morning don’t have the right to use certain language when they talk about those writers’ work.” A whole subplot involving a fellow named Kim leaving notes in Joel McHale’s locker was an oblique tweak of head of programming Kim Rozenfeld. The joke is that no one cares about notes from a guy named Kim. Kind of dickish, yes! But Harmon felt OK about being a dick to his corporate overlords because, in his estimation, they never really considered the show on its merits. He explains its evolution:
Toward the end of the first season [I can see] that we ain’t coming back … we got three extra episodes ordered before that: the paintball episode, the chicken finger episode, and the food fight episode. I bothered to go a little crazy and experimental because I felt like my time in network television had come to an end. The ratings did not go up, but the critical attention started to go up. We had nothing before. Now we’ve got critics. [I thought,] I’m going to keep indulging myself for the second season. That’s the point where I started to alienate Sony.
It’s all good, though, because now Dan’s very much wanted, having recently signed script deals with Fox and CBS: “All of the networks came a-calling. Everyone in basic cable, especially. Once you have a three-season show, it really doesn’t matter that there’s some rumor circulated out there by the people who made the strange decision to fire you — of course they’re going to create the idea that we were difficult to work with.” OK, potential future showrunners of the world — you now know even more about what being employed by a major network is like. Do with this information what you will.