Three Seasons And A Betrayal: Harmon Out Of COMMUNITY
Well as I'm sure most/all of you have heard by now, Dan Harmon is officially out as Community's showrunner, reduced to a "consulting producer" position that probably means shit (since writing this post, Dan Harmon has confirmed as much, in fact). Worse, his replacements have already been named - a pair of guys named David Guarascio and Moses Port, who have worked on some landmark comedies like Just Shoot Me and an insane number of pilots that, in the words of Jules Winnfield, "become nothing". One was with the Russo brothers, and that's about the only tie I can find to Community.
But to be honest I haven't seen any of their work, and for all I know they're really funny and talented guys. However, they're not Dan Harmon. They didn't create the show, they didn't protect it from suits who have tried to make the show more accessible over the past three years (in fact they're contracted under (Community owner) Sony, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence of how they plan to do things), and they certainly didn't assemble an amazing staff of writers that have given the show the spark it has, that thing that makes us love it and obsess over it as much as we do.
Worse, Harmon's not the only one out. Not long after the news broke, Chris McKenna made it clear that he would not be staying with the show (rumored since he secured a new deal at Universal, but since the show airs on Universal's NBC network it wasn't too much of a stretch to think he'd stay on), another crippling blow. McKenna is the guy behind some of the show's best scripts ("Remedial Chaos Theory" and "Paradigms Of Human Memory" among them), and no doubt was a major player in the writer's room. We've also lost executive producers Garrett Donovan and Neil Goldman, who have been with the show practically since the beginning. And I wouldn't be surprised if more writers have penned their last jokes for Chevy to not understand - if this article went up next week, I'm sure this paragraph would be even longer.
Now, as far as we know the cast won't be changing at all, and I doubt that a show basically on life-support would have the dough for all new sets - Trobed's apartment, the Study Room, the cafeteria... our heroes will still be sitting around those familiar places, saying funny things and getting into wacky adventures when the show returns in September. But it won't be the same. Hell, it CAN'T be the same. As someone lucky enough to live in LA and thus attend several "Harmontown" performances, I can tell you for a fact that there is more Harmon in the show than most people realize. The surprising sentimentality, the roundabout ways of making a point (think of how many episodes didn't really come together until a brilliant 3rd act), the deep affection for the history of television - all of these things that we love on the show are present in his freeform rambles that are delivered in the back of a comic store once a month. I never realized how much his personality had informed the show until I started attending these events, and now I almost wish I had never gone to them, as I might be a bit more optimistic about the show's upcoming incarnation.
Because instead, I think we will have a pod person version of the show. It'll look and sound like Community, hell it'll probably even get a few laughs out of me (one should not discount the talent of the cast, but how much they too informed the evolution of their characters). But the soul will be gone. The new guys can try to replicate it, but it will be instantly spotted as a fake, like a colorized version of a black & white movie. OR they can just do their own thing, and give us fans whiplash as our beloved show turns into some generic sitcom 71 episodes in. And what sort of thing is that to do to the fans, who have kept the show alive with their hashtags, flash mobs, and endless (and yes, annoying) cheerleading over the past 3 years? Seems to me either way they have no shot of satisfying the fanbase. The best thing Sony could have done (besides just cancel the show - again, last night's episode made for a pretty damn good series finale) would be to promote one of the show's main writers (Megan Ganz or Andy Bobrow, perhaps) to showrunner and bulk up the roles of the other existing writers so that the transition would be smoother, instead of bringing in outsiders with no experience on the show and, best as I can tell, no working relationship with anyone else involved besides the Russos, who themselves are probably taking off as well given their own new development deals and projects.
I've seen several people tweet tonight that they won't be watching "Fauxmunity" when it comes back in September, and I can't really blame them. Hell, they even got a pretty good ending with "Introduction to Finality", and I love that Harmon and the other outgoing staff actually managed to make a series finale for themselves - one final bit of meta brilliance. I think Abed would appreciate that.
But I'll stick around, mainly just to satisfy my curiosity, but also because I still watch The Office, which I haven't really enjoyed in two seasons, and I never loved it as much as I love Community to begin with, so it'll take more than this to get me to quit cold turkey. But it's not going to be fun watching something I love fall apart simply because Harmon, like most geniuses (and yes, I think he's a genius, and I don't throw that word around), might be a pain in the ass to deal with. Whatever issues may have arose behind the scenes shouldn't matter when the results are so wonderful and special - a pity Sony didn't recognize that.
And yes, you might say that this is a lot of worry and anger over something we haven't seen yet, and someone is sure to point out that there were guys who thought Heath Ledger would be a terrible Joker, and blah blah. But read that post from Harmon. The fact that he was ousted without as much of a phone call speaks volumes about how much Sony (and to some extent, NBC/Universal) give a shit about him or the show going forward. Hell, even Chevy had enough respect to pick up a phone.