Dan Harmon: The Opera
Full disclosure: Since the news came that Dan Harmon has been fired as showrunner for NBC’s Community, there’s been little that law enforcement angencies can do to stop me from sitting on his lawn bellowing “Total Eclipse Of The Heart“.
Dan Harmon’s sacking has received little comment from NBC or Sony. Leaked memos show NBC are instructing others on how to deflect questions, rather than answer them, because refusing to answer questions will always stop them from being asked again, obviously. Potential reasons that have been put forward include regular fighting with network executives (and Chevy Chase), Harmon’s refusal to deliberately broaden the appeal of Community and improve their saggy ratings, “erratic behaviour” (precisely what that is, aside from his rumoured alcoholism, is unclear) and Community‘s habit of falling behind schedule. Fans are understandably pessimistic about the show’s future.
The show has been losing many of its most talented writers for a while now, and Harmon’s departure has only sped up the process, with mainstays Chris McKenna and Dino “Starburns” Stamatopoulos departing along with him. Adding into that the fact that Harmon was a very involved showrunner, the show’s future is increasingly iffy, with the cast now being the only thing making the next 13 episodes still Community.
The question is still why. None of the proposed explainations quite stack up to me. These people aren’t stupid, and they must have their reasons. Community’s fan base is one of the most cultish of any show currently broadcast, and Harmon is unusually closely conncted to his fans via his Twitter and Tumblr, so removing him in an attempt to broaden the show will most likely result in an overwhelming alienation of the pre-existing fans. NBC are known to be unhappy with the current ratings, so either they genuinely believe that they can broaden its appeal to the point where they can develop an entire new fanbase for the show in its 4th Season, or this is a last ditch gamble.
Falling behind schedule has never necessarily been a dealbreaker in the past. Some showrunners take it further than others, but many shows fall behind schedule without too much backlash. South Park fell behind on its second episode and never caught up (to the point where each program is now made in the 6 days prior to its airing, and delivered on the day it goes to air). The pressure of being behind schedule is arguably a force for good as far as program quality is concerned. The Simpsons was a renowned last-minute writer-sweatshop, and it only fell into a stable routine under the stewardshipe of Mike Scully in Season 9, which is commonly regarded as the point the show’s quality went into serious decline.
There is some precedent for success here. Aaron Sorkin was incredibly hands on with The West Wing (he’s credited as a writer on all but 3 of the shows first 88 episodes), with a big fan-following, and the show continued until its planned end without him. The quality took a dive, certainly, but the show remained of a reasonable standard. Sony may be trying to work the same magic.
Or maybe, as some have argued, Sony are only tring to keep the show alive long enough to get it into syndication, and sacking Harmon is a token effort to convince NBC to order just a few more episodes. If they were genuinely trying to improve the ratings, Harmon’s replacements, David Guarascio and Moses Port, are an odd choice, considering their track record with Aliens In America.
Or maybe Chevy Chase did it. Yeah. Let’s go with that.