The internet was abuzz this weekend with news of what can either be regarded as Dan Harmon’s firing or non-rehiring at “Community,” the series he created and served as show runner on for Sony, who produced the series for NBC. Never a clear winner in terms of ratings, the highly regarded sitcom was renewed by the network for at least one more season, albeit an abbreviated, 13-episode one on which Harmon wasn’t confirmed to be aboard — his contract was up, and the fact that he’s not always easy to work with nor the best manager of people has been reported at plenty of outlets.
But Harmon is also a freakish TV genius who’s created a sitcom of gorgeous pop culture referencing complexity and strangeness while never losing track of its characters, and it’s hard to imagine how the show will go on at anywhere near the same greatness without him steering it. He’s being replaced by David Guarascio and Moses Port, both of “Happy Endings,” though technically he’s signed on to continue to serve as a “consulting producer,” a title Harmon has made clear is without any power behind it.
The development has raised a lot of interesting points about authorship in a TV series — here’s a look at some of the responses to Sony’s decision to bring the show back but not its creator, starting with the man himself:
Dan Harmon, Tumblr: “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.”
Josef Adalian, Vulture: “Harmon and Sony have been at odds since the first season of Community, clashing over everything from the show’s creative direction (the studio and NBC have both, at times, asked Harmon to make the show at least somewhat broader in its appeal) to Harmon’s management style (the producer admitted as recently as last month that he was ‘damn bad’ at key elements of his job not related to what gets on the screen). In addition, Community has been plagued with numerous writing staff defections over its three season run.”
Maureen Ryan, Huffington Post: “I will stipulate that Harmon can be a hard guy to get along with. My long-ago, minor experience aside, many credible articles and sources have said so. But I don’t require him to be my friend, nor should the executives at Sony and NBC. I require him to make an inventive show with a lot of heart and wit, a show that is imbued with a particular gleeful/bittersweet point of view. Harmon did that, whatever problems Sony and NBC may have had with his management style.”
Alan Sepinwall, Hitfix: “It’s entirely possible that ‘Community’ will still be a funny show without Harmon. The cast is talented enough, and the characters delineated enough, that you can imagine a much more straightforward version of the show in which an unlikely group of friends have wacky adventures on a college campus. Given how strange — and expensive — Harmon’s deviations from that formula tended to be, it wouldn’t be surprising if that’s a version of the show that both NBC and Sony would prefer. But it’s hard to imagine a post-Harmon version of the show being as unpredictable, as daring, as moving and, yes, as gut-bustingly funny as it was under his watch.”
Jaime Weinman, Macleans: “Community belongs to a small category of shows where the fans aren’t just tuning in for the characters and stories (though obviously, they do like the characters and stories); they’re watching for the creator’s specific point of view. The wild unevenness and mood swings of the show, the huge shifts in tone and the feeling that everything is filtered through one very specific sensibility, is part of what has made it so passionately loved by its fans. Most comedies, including good ones, are a bit filtered through a lot of different sensibilities: there are so many writers and so much rewriting that the creator’s point of view is visible only in very broad strokes. But Community is one of those shows that cultivates the feeling of one man talking directly to his fans, using the resources of a major network budget.”
Jason Mittell, Just TV: “By Sony neglecting to try to work with Harmon toward this goal (as far as we know), they have effectively created a series with a giant void in the author function – when we watch, we’ll be searching for what is missing via Harmon’s departure, rather than trying to look at what is there. Things can change over the summer, but I doubt that if the show ends up being good under the new regime, the core fanbase would be willing to admit that they still like it out of allegiance to their image of Harmon as author.”
Joel McHale, TVLine: “Dan’s the creator of the show, so to lose his voice would be pretty crazy. He gave me the role of a lifetime, so it would be a very weird scenario [to continue] without him.”