By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com April 2, 2012 at 9:40AM
And it was all going so well for "Community." NBC's innovative, genre-hopping sitcom had gone through its darkest time after being yanked off the schedule late last year, and many wondered if the low-rated show with a cult following was headed to the chopping block. But in fact, being taken off the air might have been the best thing to happen to it: it energized the fans, and when the show returned just over two weeks ago, it was to its best ratings in over a year. Even this week, when hugely popular timeslot nemesis "Big Bang Theory" returned with new episodes, "Community" held strong, and was the NBC's biggest show of the night. Given that a fourth season of the show would see it move closer to the crucial number of episodes for syndication, it all looks but certain that the gang will back next fall.
But it doesn't mean that all is rosy behind-the-scenes, with a feud between the show's creator, Dan Harmon, and its star, comedy veteran Chevy Chase, exploding over the internet at the weekend. Deadline reported that, on the last day of filming of the final episode of the third season, Chase walked off the set without filming one of his last scenes, seemingly angered at a late script delivery. At the wrap party, Harmon, who created and runs the show, gave what's described as a "fuck you Chevy" speech in front of the crew, Chase and his family. This led to the actor leaving a furious, profane voicemail message which Harmon seemingly played to the audience of one of his Harmontown live shows, hence it turning up online.
In many ways, it's surprising that things have been so peaceful between the two, given that the pair each have a reputation for volatility in the past. Chase is notoriously prickly to work with, having physically clashed with Bill Murray shortly before he hosted 'SNL' (leading to Murray's response "Fucking Chevy. Medium talent"), and seemingly burned his bridges with many, having spent much of the last two decades making direct-to-video paycheck fare before returning to the spotlight with "Community," a show on which the actor has walked off the set of before, as well as arguing with executive producers and directors the Russo Brothers. Harmon, meanwhile, was fired from "The Sarah Silverman Programme," which he co-created, after clashing personalities with Silverman herself (his interview on the WTF podcast with Marc Maron has much more on this), and has become known for withering responses to attacks from viewers on Twitter.
And it'd be easy to label both showrunner and actor as highly strung Hollywood dicks, and certainly neither appear to have behaved well, if Deadline's report is taken on the surface: Chase walking off the set is deeply unprofessional no matter the cause, and Harmon's response seems equally so. But one imagines that this is far from the whole story, and a lot of people seem to be rushing to judgement despite knowing a tiny proportion of what actually went on. It might be that Chase and Harmon have since made up (although it's probably unlikely). It might be that this was long-simmering tension that finally erupted at what many of the cast and crew thought was the last time they'd film together, the chances of the show's renewal having looked less than great at the time.
Ultimately, a feud like this seems to get disproportionate amounts of coverage when it happens in the film industry. You undoubtedly have argued with people you work with. You may dislike people you work with. And this goes double for smart, creative people, which both Chase and Harmon are. It's clear from this Wired piece that Harmon cares more about his show than anything else, and it's clear from decades of work that Chase doesn't suffer fools gladly. To label either simply as monstrous egotists purely off the Deadline story is to ignore Chase's years of charity work and his obvious love of his castmastes on the show, or Harmon's charming letter to a young girl traumatized by his film "Monster House" (which also serves as a demonstration of his unwillingness to pull his punches, considering he calls Steven Spielberg a "moron" in it...)
We wouldn't be entirely surprised to see Chase departing the show at the end of the current season, given everything that seems to have gone down: it's clear from a recent Huffington Post interview that he's never quite gelled with the material and may not stick around much longer, which is a shame, as he can be terrific with it. Whether it has further-reaching consequences from that remains to be seen. But at the same time, these explosions can seem more extreme lifted out of context, but one only has to look at Lily Tomlin's stated desire to work with David O. Russell again, despite their famous blowups on the set of "I Heart Huckabees," to see that something like this doesn't necessarily mean the end. In the meantime, "Community" continues to be one of the best comedies on television, and airs on NBC at 8pm Thursdays.