Dan Harmon loses his Community

Commenting on the critics with Simon Columb

Russ Fischer for Film covers the latest, depressing, news regarding Community:

When Community was renewed for a short 13-episode fourth season earlier this week, it looked like creator/showrunner Dan Harmon might not be back for the show’s continuation. There was talk that he would be on board as a consultant at least, but tonight word came down that Harmon has been replaced as showrunner, and any involvement with the show seems doubtful at this point. The new exec producer/showrunners will be David Guarascio and Moses Port, who previously worked on Happy Endings, Aliens in America and, er, Just Shoot Me. (At least that had some great David Cross moments, right? Looking for the silver lining here.)

Read the full article here.

What a damn shame. Dan Harmon himself wrote a detailed blog post explaining what had happened – and the complete lack of contact NBC and Sony had with him:

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 … 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.

His blog can be found here.

This happens all the time. What doesn’t happen all the time is how out-spoken and brutally blunt a creator is about the issue. Rarely have we seen, so soon after the decision, the creator speak out. Whilst we have success stories about creators managing to balance the studios expectations with their own aspirations for a show (David Chase and The Sopranos, David Simon and The Wire), we also know of the nightmare some creators have had about controlling their creations – and the unexpected cancelling of a show – or cancelling of their contract (Joss Whedon and Firefly, Mitchell Hurwitz and Arrested Development – even Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing). We rarely see the aftermath of such a decision from the perspectives of those creators and, crucially, we don’t know how much creators have had to compromise for the sake of ensuring their involvement in the show.

I know that sometimes, the creators can be problematic – Aaron Sorkin was famous for his drug addiction during The West Wing and his very much hands-on input to the show – writing almost the entire first four seasons, rather than overseeing the show. He admits he was a writer more than a showrunner. Arrested Development is a sad story because, despite huge critical acclaim, each season was cut down – from 22 episodes to 18 in Season 2 and, tragically, to 13 in Season 3 – Fox announcing the cancellation before the final five episodes were in production. Hurwitz simply couldn’t get the advertisers to support the show and, with low ratings, it had to stop.

With Community, as vocal as the fan base may be – and I am a fan myself – the ratings have decreased season-to-season. Season 1 and 2 roughly garnered 5 million viewers, but the finale of Season 3 barely got half as much, with 2.48 million tuning in. Then we have the big Chevy Chase / Dan Harmon feud which split many fans as both personalities are particularly eccentric. To summarise, whilst Chevy Chase’s daughter and wife were on set, Harmon became particularly insulting towards Chase and he promptly walked off set. The following day, Chase left an answer machine message for Dan Harmon cussing him in every possible way – “You’re a fat, alcoholic, a**hole” etc., to which Harmon, when at a Q&A, aired publicly for all to hear (it easy to find on YouTube). But before jumping to Harmons defence, apparently, the final 15 episodes of the season were never prepped, and scripts were written earlier in the week and handed to cast to read on the day, so the ‘showrunning’ of Harmon was weak at best. Chase, in his message says that his “writing is getting worse and worse” so it seems that maybe Harmon was a problem – both personally and professionally. Chevy Chase wants clarity and professionalism from the showrunner, while Harmon simply wants to run the show however he wants, with no accountability.

Whilst I love Community, it seems like the producers will support shows that are (a) pulling in the numbers either on TV or on DVD and (b) are managed effectively and professionally. In both cases, Community was not achieving these aims. Yes, it is a real shame that Harmon will not be showrunner on the fourth season (and lets be honest, its not going to make a fifth season), but you cannot mismanage something so much without repercussions. If it was only Chevy Chase at fault, the show would survive without him – but if a showrunner is not doing their job effectively, it has ramifications on everyone – the cast, crew and producers. The problem is how Dan Harmon has probably cut off his ties to the show now – because if I was a producer, I would hope that the creator would see through all the politics and see the point being made: get your act together and maybe you can get involved again. Show creators are not untouchable and clearly Harmon has only just realised that – and now these ramifications will affect the fans, because it will take some big apologies to some very powerful people to get him on board again.

Simon Columb