A lot of people have written some really excellent, in-depth things about Dan Harmon getting fired, most of it linked to on Twitter, lots of complicated arguments thru twitter using the reply key in misleading ways and requiring in depth understanding of ratings technology. But I know you – all this time, you’ve been waiting to here what Neon Apologist thinks about Dan Harmon leaving Community. Well, here I finally am!
A brief refresher – DanHarmon created a show, called Community. It’s so wonderful. I havent blogged about it yet but Jim and I have been watching it, constantly, for the past few weeks. It’s just…I just love it with like a fiery, complex, piercing love.
Then, most recently, Community got renewed for 13 episodes of a fourth season (yay!!), and then last Friday at like 11 pm, it was revealed that Dan Harmon, showrunner, creator, driving force, wouldn’t be coming back to the show, ie, Sony (the studio that makes Community) fired him. Which is pretty sad! I spent Saturday afternoon reading a lot of people on twitter’s feelings about this in a cabin in the Pennsylvania mountains; Dan Harmon himself wrote a blog post about it, too, which you should read, it’s fairly heartbreaking.
It seems that…well, ok. Here’s what we know. Community has been on for three seasons. During that time it has gotten increasingly bizarre and convoluted; it has also never had good ratings, and those ratings have not improved (they haven’t declined really, per se, but still – 4 million people is basically no people). Community has a lot of very devoted fans, so does Dan Harmon. NBC execs do not appear to be among those fans, nor do the Sony suits, whoever they are. Dan Harmon went over budget, was sometimes behind schedule, worked constantly and had to have everything perfect. He was angry and disagreeable, and people who worked for him sometimes didn’t like it much. He got in fights, especially with one of his purported “stars,” but also with the network over costs, schedules, management, all the things that a showrunner is in charge of. He also got in fights about the direction of the show itself – NBC wanted it to be a little less weird, a little more approachable, Harmon…didn’t. Harmon seems to have often won his battles, but, according to his blog post, that involved “saying ‘it has to be like this or I quit’ roughly 8 times a day.”
That’s…I mean, that’s crazy. I spent a lot of time watching Community, especially season three, thinking “Geez, how did this nutty, dark thing end up on network television?” That’s how – Dan Harmon was a huge jerk about it. A jerk to the network, for sure, but also kind of a jerk to his staff and the people who worked for him, and to himself, for what it’s worth. All that for a show with a fiercely devoted audience, including pretty much all the TV critics, an audience that will probably follow it to the Friday night death slot (we all watch it online, anyway, right?), an audience that will tell their friends about it, rewatch episodes, make needlepoint pillows, all that. And yet…a really small audience, still. Like, really small. So NBC and Sony decided to cut their losses, remove the tyrant from the scene, and keep the show on, hoping that more people might tune in if it’s less weird, and if not, the same people will tune in and the show will be cheaper and have less stress.
Which like, is a fairly sensible thing for a network to think (although I personally can’t quite see how the masses are gonna show up for this weird sitcom in its fourth season on Friday nights, but ok). It’s still sad, though, from the perspective of like, great things being made. Art, if you will. Which is not to say that the new season, with these apparently very competent showrunners from Happy Endings, won’t necessarily be good. It might be very good! Community can be…well, it gets sort of twisted up its own ass sometimes, and it might be nice to see Troy and Britta actaully get together, and figure out what they’re all doing in school, and Shirley’s business, and Annie and Abed, maybe. I would be happy, actually, to see the study group get healthier and happier instead of stranger and darker and sadder. Maybe this will still be a great show.
And, not that this is like, corporate television apologist here, but I can understand they’re making that decision. It doesn’t make me any happier about it, but it makes sense for them, as a business. NBC has been this strange wacky corner of network television for the past few years; since they had nothing else to put on, no hits to replace it with, they let 30 Rock and Parks and Rec and Community grow and flourish, where they probably wouldn’t otherwise. Now that NBC has moved from “consistently last place” to “third place in some important ways,” that freedom will probably…lessen.
There’s no one to blame here, really, except the masses of America who never loved our crazy show. But would we love our crazy show as much, if they all did? Would it be such a fierce love if it was easy to love? I don’t know. People still watch TV in ways I fundamentally don’t understand. Dan Harmon sees it that way, too, this is what he said about critical opinion in his completely fascinating and amazing walkthrough of the second season on the AV Club, which you should definitely go read if you are a Community fan (if you are not a Community fan, you should go watch all the episodes, and then go read it) [also thanks for reading this far!]:
“And it’s a big question. Like, are you supposed to assume that the audience is critical and invested? Or are you making a fundamental error there in a medium that is not designed to engage, but to comfort? … So you have that spectrum of HBO on one end and ABC on the other end, and you get these huge numbers of people going, “Hey! Don’t assume anything about my IQ, but I got work in the morning, and I’ve got better things to think about than the concept of entertainment. Charlie Sheen just made me laugh with a boner joke. Done! He reminds me of me. He likes his slippers. He’s got amnesia in this episode.” It’s not an easy debate. Like, are you supposed to engage in fucking art on TV? Is there a way to do both?”
I think there is. But now, I’m not sure.
To sum up: Is Dan Harmon a jerk to work with/for/employ? Yeah, probably.
Can jerks make amazing art? Yes.
Does that mean jerks should keep their jobs? …Maybe.
I’m still sad though.
And Dan Harmon is probably in a better place.