As the fall television season approaches, there might be a good deal of apprehension attached to one particular returning program: Community. As any dedicated fan knows, series creator Dan Harmon was fired from his showrunner position on the program right around the time of Community's stellar third season finale in May, shortly after NBC had announced that Community would be returning for a fourth run. While Harmon has dropped a few comments here and there since the transaction, the Greendale mastermind recently took a mic on the NPR program The Business to discuss his perspective on the network's decision to let him go. A decision, apparently, that Harmon actually understands: the Community creator admitted to Business host Kim Masters, "I would have fired me, too."
Harmon delved into his difficult relationship with Sony, the studio behind Community, which began around the beginning of the sitcom's second season. "You watch the first season of Community, and you can see me trying to make my mom and Einstein happy at the same time. And then it becomes apparent to me towards the end of the first season that we ain’t coming back."
But then, Harmon got a gift which inspired a boost of creativity. "We got three extra episodes ordered … the paintball episode, the chicken fingers episode, and the food fight episode. I bothered to go a little crazy and self-indulgent and experimental ... While the ratings did not go up because of that, the critical attention started to go up." This was encouraging for Harmon. He thought, "Maybe we can turn those critics into ratings. I am going to keep indulging myself for the second season. That’s the point where I started to alienate Sony."
Even when Harmon attempted to shift gears with the show in Season 3, it still didn't make enough difference. "Third season comes, and it’s my last chance. There’s a new guy at NBC. I go in, and I pitch him the whole season," he said. "The order of the day was, ‘You’ve got to make the show more grounded. All anybody hears about your show is paintball this and Roman gladiator theme that, and black-and-white, and stop-motion.' ... Sad as it is, the third season was my attempt to kind of walk that tightrope."
"I was not talking like a guy who was getting their show syndicated. It became a conflict, creatively," Harmon explained. He discussed the network's decision to let him go, which he understands. "I would have fired me, too. It's a business. NBC was moving the show to Friday at 8:30, and giving it a 13 episode order. Which is them saying, 'We’re going to get this thing to 88 episodes so we can all make some money — the people that own a little bit of it — and then we’re going to take it off the air. We’re going to smother it with a pillow very quietly.'" Harmon continued, "Sony's job is to take that shot clock and do whatever they can with it. They're not going to hand the ball to the guy that spent three years losing in the ratings race and not turning a script over until I felt it was finished. If your ratings are high and there’s money being made, you’re allowed to be a perfectionist in television. But if your ratings are low, have a template."
Of course, Harmon also chastised his own self-directed negative attitude as a self-fulfilling prophecy. "Of course they’re going to create the idea that you were difficult to work with. I think I started [that idea]. I think I’m a self-effacing, self-destructive person. I think that every speech I made to my own crew, and to the people above me, was, ‘Sorry, I’m not good at this.’ Because I’m from Wisconsin ... I think they just went with my own words. If you read any of these articles, there is no source for any information that isn’t from my own blog. Nobody ever came to the set."
Harmon explains that he did end up striking back, so to speak, at the execs during his tenure on the series. "There’s an episode in the third season where one of the B-stories is about a mysterious girl named Kim that left a note in Joel McHale’s character’s locker, and he’s trying to figure out who Kim is. And it turns out that it’s a guy. We were just trying to get under the skin of Kim Rosenfeld, who is the head of Current Programming. There’s just a lot of jokes about how Kim’s a girl’s name, and ‘Who cares about his notes?'"
Despite everything, Harmon insisted that he has no regrets. "Everybody got what they wanted. I would have fired me. And I also would have done exactly what I did for those three seasons over again if I took a time machine back. I wouldn’t have done anything different," adding, "The only thing that’s a bummer about leaving Community, which was an exhausting station to have to occupy, is the relationship with the fans."
Harmon even states that he will definitely watch Community's fourth season ("I'm a fan!") and has nothing but kind things to say about his replacements, Moses Port and David Guarascio: "I’ve never met them in person, but they do have a reputation for being able to balance the quirky and the appealing."
Fans of Harmon's work can look out for the stop-motion animated film he is producing with writer/director Charlie Kaufman; additionally, look out for the various TV projects Harmon has on the horizon, including a deals with Fox and CBS.
[Photo Credit: NBC]