The return of Dan Harmon as showrunner of Community was announced via Twitter yesterday morning:
If you’ve read this blog, you know I’m a fan of Community. My “What is the Meaning of #SixSeasonsAndAMovie?” post has had over 40,000 views since I posted it in May, 2012 when the third season finale aired. From the comments, I know it’s touched a lot of people.
So like most Community fans, I was shocked when Harmon was fired as showrunner at the end of the third season.
And the fourth season felt, to paraphrase someone on Twitter, like bad fanfic.
So I am thrilled. Not only does it mean Season 5 will return of Harmon’s vision of Community. It is a victory for storytelling and storytellers.
Good television needs a strong, central vision
Not just its creator, Harmon had a hand in every episode of the series. Sometimes considered controlling or stubborn, Harmon has a vision. In a storytelling format where many people—actors, writers, directors, producers—shape an episode, having one person with a singular vision is necessary for a show to stand-out.
Consider MASH, The Walking Dead, The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, 30 Rock and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These are stand-out shows that have and will stand the test of time. The reason is their creators—Larry Gelbart, Frank Darabont, Chris Carter, Ronald D. Moore Tina Fey and Joss Whedon—didn’t just want to create a series of episodes. [NOTE: I realize these are mostly men. (Hat’s off to Robyn adding Tina Fey to the list.) Please leave a comment to let me know of other women of television whose vision has shaped great series.] They knew the stories they wanted to tell. Create shows different than what had come before. When Gelbart and Darabont left their series and Carter and Whedon created more shows, their original efforts suffered.
Victory for fans
But more than a victory for the power of a storyteller, this is a victory for fans. The outcry from Community fans on social media about Season 4 was deafening. The quirky, meta and clever humour had been replaced by Chuck Lorre-inspired comedy aimed at the centre of the bell curve. I admit, Community is not for everyone. But as the old saying goes in storytelling (and marketing), if you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll end up appealing to no one.
So even though I have no doubt NBC’s decision was a commercial one (and I don’t hold a grudge there, they are a business), I also have no doubt it was the pressure of fans that forced this decision. Hey, if it worked for Jericho, it could work for Community.
And not just old-school fans, but those who found seasons 1-3 of Community in syndication, fell in love with it, and wondered why the hell season 4 was so different.
Thanks for coming back, Dan
Let’s also not forget the Harmon could have told NBC go to suck an egg. His dismissal from the show was less than professional on NBC’s part. So his return has this third angle.
So here’s hoping that Season 5 kicks-off with a similar opening as Season 3 (below). As friend and pin-point-precise critic Adam Shaftoe observed, this was Harmon’s middle-finger to NBC execs who no doubt had passed him notes that Community was getting too out there.
And to NBC, leave Harmon alone. Let him make his work. He is gaining fans. This is about ratings, right? Let’s watch them grow.