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The Darkest Timeline: Sony TV Fire Dan Harmon As Showrunner Of 'Community'

by Oliver Lyttelton
May 19, 2012 10:28 AM
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Dan Harmon Community

The writing's been on the wall for a while, but late last night, only 24 hours after the third season of NBC's beloved, if poorly-rated sitcom "Community" came to a close, Sony Pictures Television decided to break the hearts of the show's devoted fanbase, by announcing (per the AV Club, among others) that Dan Harmon, creator of the comedy, won't be returning as showrunner for the recently-recommissioned fourth season of the show. Instead he'll be replaced by David Guarascio and Moses Port, who've most recently looked after ABC's show "Happy Endings."

The show stars Joel McHale, Chevy Chase,Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Danny Pudi, Gillian Jacobs and Yvette Nicole Brown as seven messed-up individuals who form a study group at a community college (with Ken Jeong and Jim Rash as authority figures), but under Harmon's leadership, the show has become a gloriously weird concoction of genres and stylistic experiments (in the third season alone, we had a musical, a show displaying seven alternate timelines for the same event, a collection of horror stories, mock-doc homages to Eleanor Coppola's "Hearts of Darkness" and Ken Burns' "Civil War," a "Law & Order" parody, a fake clip-show, a heist tale and an animated nod to 8-bit video games, among others) that was consistently hilarious and, more often than not, contained a great big heart, with more love for, and understanding of, its characters than virtually any other show on television. 

While it's never crossed over to the mainstream, NBC recommissioned the show a couple of weeks back for a 13-episode fourth season, and fans celebrated heartily. But as it turns out, that recommission came at a price: Harmon's one-year contract was up, and has not been renewed. And to hear the writer/producer's side of the tale, the decision was far from mutual.

He's issued a statement on his Tumblr that indicates that the first he learnt of his replacement was after the announcement had been made public, and that Sony had in fact not been in any communication with him since the show was picked up for its fourth season. Harmon wrote "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 while he has the contractual role of 'consulting producer,' Harmon indicates he has no intention of consulting on the show from now on out, given that he'd have little to no power.

Harmon has a reputation for being quote-unquote difficult to work with. He left "The Sarah Silverman Programme," which he co-created, after a personality clash with his star, has seen a high turnover of writing staff on the series, and has publicly feuded with star Chevy Chase of late. Harmon has admitted in podcasts that his desire to rewrite every script so that they can be the best they can be, keeping writing staff in overnight, and late delivery of said scripts, has led to cost overruns on the show, and we suspect that that, above anything else, is what's led to his replacement. The same thing caused Aaron Sorkin to be fired from "The West Wing," although that was exacerbated by Sorkin's drug problems.

But you know who else is difficult to work with? Anyone who's worth working with. Harmon's uncompromising nature seems to come because he cares so fucking much about making the show as good as it can be. He's not doing it to be a dick, he's doing it to make it excellent. And more crucially, his voice is entirely central to the show, and with producers Neil Goldman & Garret Donovan, directors the Russo Brothers and longest-serving writer Chris McKenna all exiting the show (with more sure to follow), what we'll be seeing when it returns in the fall might be "Community," but it won't really be "Community." We wish Guarascio & Port well and all ("Happy Endings" has developed into a very funny little show), but they'll have performed a miracle if they can keep the show to its high standards of late.

All that being said, we're sure this isn't the last we'll see of Harmon: Adult Swim have ordered a pilot called "Rick & Morty," co-created by Harmon and Justin Roiland. And one only has to look at Sorkin's Oscar-winning success on "The Social Network," or Joss Whedon, who's gone from embattled creator of low-rated TV shows to the man behind one of the most successful movies of all time in "The Avengers," to see how people like Harmon can flourish on the big screen. More than anything else, we're glad we had three exceptional seasons of television, and we can't wait to see what comes out of Harmon's mind next.

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  • Rafaela | May 22, 2012 1:48 PMReply

    "But you know who else is difficult to work with? Anyone who's worth working with." It's a real shame that this myth gets perpetuated. [2]

    Come on people, really? Those are the worst leaders ever! They are labeled as genious but cannot make the "machine" work properly since we're talking about a team effort. People like that should work alone...

  • Daniel | May 22, 2012 2:52 PM

    I think whether a good leader is perceived as 'difficult' often depends on the personality of the people working for them. If someone isn't passionate or committed to the same thing as their boss - if they just wanna clock in and clock out - then, yeah, I bet the boss can come off to them as demanding, unreasonable, etc when he/she pushes them to do better. To those employees I say: you're in the wrong job. Greatness is rarely achieved easily -- if it didn't require blood, sweat, and tears, there'd be a lot more of it in the world. And if you don't want to make the sacrifices to achieve greatness, GTFO.

  • simalex2000 | May 21, 2012 4:58 PMReply

    "But you know who else is difficult to work with? Anyone who's worth working with."

    It's a real shame that this myth gets perpetuated.

  • nickp | May 19, 2012 11:04 PMReply

    Community is one of the most creatively risky and rewarding shows on television

  • ? | May 19, 2012 5:32 PMReply

    wow, internet writers are really obsessed with this guy. enough already. is every website contractually obligated to write gushing praise about him and his show that no one watches?

  • d | May 19, 2012 5:58 PM

    How hard is it to understand that said internet writers who watch the show (the one you claim no one watches) enjoy it and are upset that the show's creator is no longer a part of it? You could expect the same reaction from fans of The Sopranos if David Chase had left before the final season.

  • Mr Anonymous | May 19, 2012 3:25 PMReply

    What i don't understand is why Guarascio & Port have left Happy Endings when it's become such a well liked funny show and been a bit of a success. If it was me i'd have stuck with HE knowing it's doing well and in very good hands! I'm guessing with Guarascio & Port now leaving it'll sink without a trace?

  • Charles | May 19, 2012 2:38 PMReply

    The show is not that great. It has bright spots (the musical parody of Glee was fantastic) but the third season especially got tiresome. They're always trying to be clever at the expense of laughs. It's just not funny anymore. The three-part finale was terrible. Evil Abed? Really? Lame.

  • Daniel | May 19, 2012 1:39 PMReply

    Yeah, this is really not good news for anybody. Community may not have been my favorite show, but I respected it for its ambition and its dedication, which is not something I can say about almost any other sitcom. Not sure what NBC expects to gain from this move - Community's rabid fanbase is what kept it alive before; that same rabid fanbase is going to be committed to NOT watching now.

  • tomincmh | May 19, 2012 12:32 PMReply

    Well, there goes the most ambitious and inventive comedy on network television. Sony and NBC are the opposite of Batman. They're the Jim Belushi of studio and network executives.

  • Micah | May 23, 2012 3:46 PM

    I love this comment so much!

  • Jeff | May 19, 2012 12:22 PMReply

    Terrible move by NBC. Get ready for a watered down 4th and final season, with more chevy physical humor because that's what the show really needs to be a success.

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