Probably time to break out the old “creative differences” chestnut — Dan Harmon, showrunner of Community, revealed that he has been unceremoniously fired from the show he created days after its third season finale and not long after news of its renewal. NBC has replaced him with David Guarascio and Moses Port, and Harmon will still be called upon as a “consulting producer.” And apparently, all the official dealings took place behind closed doors, without Harmon, which has left Harmon wondering “Hey, did I miss anything?”
It’s yet another turbulent chapter in the life of the “quirky sitcom that could,” as it ends a season that saw an unexpected mid-season break, persistent speculation that the show would be canceled while the internet rallied for its survival (#SixSeasonsandaMovie!), plus infighting among the showrunner and one of its most famous stars (Chevy Chase), and a renewal that came with a move to Friday nights and a smaller episode order. And now, the man who made the show and cultivated that fan base has been fired after being left out of any talks.
Following the news of the show’s renewal, there was some question about Harmon’s contract since there had been no news of that being renewed; apparently, his contracts were season-to-season and not for multiple years. After the renewal news came out, Sony Pictures Television (who owns the show) never reached out to Harmon and went ahead with hiring Guarascio and Port to take his place.
Harmon wrote on his Tumblr:
Why’d Sony want me gone? I can’t answer that because I’ve been in as much contact with them as you have. They literally haven’t called me since the season four pickup, so their reasons for replacing me are clearly none of my business. Community is their property, I only own ten percent of it, and I kind of don’t want to hear what their complaints are because I’m sure it would hurt my feelings even more now that I’d be listening for free.
And on his role as “consulting producer”:
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. Guys like me can’t actually just be shot and left in a ditch by Skynet, we’re still allowed to have a title on the things we create and “help out,” like, I guess sharpening pencils and stuff.
However, 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. Are my….periods giving this enough….pointedness? I’m not saying you can’t make a good version of Community without me, but I am definitely saying that you can’t make my version of it unless I have the option of saying “it has to be like this or I quit” roughly 8 times a day.
Following the announcement, Community cast members stood up for Harmon, expressing their gratitude for being given the opportunity to be a part of his show. Predictably, nothing from Chase, who had a public falling out with Harmon last month.
It’s no secret that Harmon, while a creative genius to some (including me), is not the easiest person to work with. He has admitted that himself, and has never tried to deny that sometimes, he can be a bit impossible. But most people realize that creative types — especially when they’re creative on the level of Harmon — are weirder than most, have a very specific vision for the art they’re making, and will fight less knowledgeable people (i.e., television executives) tooth and nail to preserve the message they’re trying to send. Was it this that caused Sony to drop Harmon, who created a show like none other on TV right now, but couldn’t get him to increase his ratings? Who knows? Answer: Not Harmon.
What this means for the kind of show Community will be when it returns mid-season is unclear. Many think that the show is effectively dead. While that might be premature, one thing is for certain: it’s going to be different, because it won’t be Harmon.
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