Late Friday evening — with many us already deep into our debauched, virgin-piña colada fueled weekends — word came down from NBC that Dan Harmon would not be returning as showrunner for Community’s fourth season. And the streets ran red with blood! Well, OK, no. But people were pretty upset on Twitter!
First, the basics. Harmon’s chances for returning as showrunner had been shaky during the entire upfronts, with NBC chief Bob Greenblatt continuously throwing the most tepid of support behind the guy. And that just followed years and years of a famously strained relationship between Harmon and his network, which boiled down to one thing: NBC thought it had the setup for a perfectly normal sitcom on its hands, with all kinds of attractive people to parade around; Harmon thought whatever the exact opposite of that is. (The show continuously made references to its inability to be “normal,” exactly the kind of meta layering that delighted its intense supporters and drove its detractors nuts.) Now Community, which has already taken a couple of body blows over the last few weeks — it’s coming back for a shortened 13-episode run in a comically irrelevant Friday-night slot — will be run by Moses Port and David Guarascio, who were in charge of Just Shoot Me for a while, created Aliens in America, and were most recently employed as producers on Happy Endings. Harmon can still be onboard as a “consulting producer” — although what that means, as Harmon himself explained in a Tumblr post over the weekend, will most likely be nothing at all. In fact, let’s let Harmon have the first word here. You should read his whole post, at least for the bestiality jokes, but here’s the crux of it:
[Greenblatt] didn’t call me to say he was starting to work there, he didn’t call me to say I was no longer working there and he definitely didn’t call to ask if I was going to be involved. I’m not saying it’s wrong for him to have bigger fish to fry, I’m just saying, NBC is not a credible source of All News Dan Harmon.
You may have read that I am technically “signed on,” by default, to be an executive consulting something or other — which is a relatively standard protective clause for a creator in my position. Guys like me can’t actually just be shot and left in a ditch by Skynet, we’re still allowed to have a title on the things we create and “help out,” like, I guess sharpening pencils and stuff.
However, if I actually chose to go to the office, I wouldn’t have any power there. Nobody would have to do anything I said, ever. I would be “offering” thoughts on other people’s scripts, not allowed to rewrite them, not allowed to ask anyone else to rewrite them, not allowed to say whether a single joke was funny or go near the edit bay, etc. It’s …. not really the way the previous episodes got done. I was what you might call a …. hands on producer. Are my …. periods giving this enough …. pointedness? I’m not saying you can’t make a good version of Community without me, but I am definitely saying that you can’t make my version of it unless I have the option of saying “it has to be like this or I quit” roughly 8 times a day.
The same contract also gives me the same salary and title if I spend all day masturbating and playing Prototype 2. And before you ask yourself what you would do in my situation: Buy Prototype 2. It’s fucking great.
Because Prototype 2 is great, and because nobody called me, and then started hiring people to run the show, I had my assistant start packing up my office days ago. I’m sorry. I’m not saying seasons 1, 2 and 3 were my definition of perfect television, I’m just saying that whatever they’re going to do for season 4, they’re aiming to do without my help.
One other thing he’s saying, in so many words? “Bob Greenblatt’s a dick.” Is that fair? Putting aside the creative considerations here, Community’s ratings were bad, and Greenblatt’s job is to fix that. If he thinks bringing in a couple of TV vets to “normalize” things around Greendale is the way to do that, isn’t that his right? It’s screwed up that Greenblatt never called Harmon directly — but it’s also not really fair of Harmon to put Greenblatt’s personal business practices on blast like that. Harmon is now as well known for Community as he is for being a fearlessly outspoken guy, and it’s almost in his interest to air this all out publicly. Greenblatt, being a professional businessman and all, can’t retaliate. But we can at least assume that if he wanted to, he’d have some material to throw around. As Vulture’s Joe Adalian reported on Friday:
Community has been plagued with numerous writing staff defections over its three season run. Most recently, longtime exec producers Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan announced they were leaving for a new deal at 20th Century Fox TV, while directors/producers Joe and Anthony Russo are also no longer part of Sony and thus are not involved in the show on a day-to-day basis.
According to multiple people familiar with the production of Community, Harmon’s flaws as a showrunner were at least partially responsible for much of the turnover the past few years. As one person familiar with Harmon’s strengths and weaknesses told Vulture, “Dan is a brilliant at ideas, but he’s terrible at [management].”
So he’s bad at running a show and he’s bad at delivering ratings? Isn’t that the kind of thing that makes this a justified firing? Yes … but who cares about that! We’re not bottom-line-minded TV executives, we’re wholly irrational TV fans! Dan Harmon made some weird-ass, mind-blowing television, and now he’s not doing that anymore. And that sucks.
Currently adding fuel to the fan fire is a legion of supportive tweets from Harmon’s creative collaborators. TV Fanatic collected his cast’s reactions, and here’s a sampling. Jeff Winger: “you are a true genius. You gave me the role of a lifetime & three of the best years of my life.” Shirley Bennett: “So many thoughts. So little room. I guess, ‘I heart you’ and ‘Thank you to INFINITY’ will have to do for now.” Annie Edison: “I’m in creative debt to @danharmon who let us ride the coattails of his integrity, pushing boundaries & making f’ing awesome tv. Thanks Dan.” Plus, a GIF!
And Harmon’s writers are not being shy, either. Dino Stamatopoulos, who also plays Star-Burns, spent some of the weekend attempting to launch “fuckbobgreenblatt” hashtags, and also announced that (most likely dead anyway) Star-Burns is dead: “I know that they don’t care about me, and I don’t love acting, but I’d have done the part again ONLY if my friend wanted me to.” It’s unclear if the timing is unrelated, but Chris McKenna is leaving the staff: “Nov. ’09 I joined my favorite show on TV and today leave my favorite anything ever. Thanks Community, fans, and @DanHarmon. E Pluribus Anus.” And Megan Ganz simply adds, “Some people think there are a lot of synonyms for the word “irreplaceable.” I don’t.” Meanwhile, Adalian also reports that the aforementioned Neil Goldman and Garret Donovan “would have been logical successors to Harmon, but they signed a deal with rival studio 20th Century Fox TV, and most likely would not have wanted to do the show without Harmon out of loyalty to the writer.”
There’s sure to be more fallout from one side or the other before long, but let’s go ahead and look to the fourth season of Community. We’re in line for a neutered version of Harmon’s twisted vision, and therefore much less on-screen insanity than before. But how strange of a viewer experience is this going to be? The Harmon-less Community will be hate-watched by a legion of devoted critics and fanboys, screeching and howling at every bizarre Harmon-esque trick cribbed and every conventional non-Harmone-esque sitcom maneuver with equal measure. Meanwhile, the actors who have already come to the man’s defense will be running through lines they quite possibly don’t really feel comfortable saying.
Yes, they are highly paid and they get to write jokes for a living. But, right now, I do not envy Moses Port and David Guarascio one bit.