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.