As a fan of Community, it's been a week of ups and downs. First there were rumours of cancelation, trotted out like the reliable workhorses they proved to be when the show was put on mid-season hiatus. And then we got the reprieve; thirteen more episodes, but getting moved to Fridays starting in June of all months. Whatever, we could live with it.
But now this: Dan Harmon is no longer going to be Community's showrunner. I never even bothered to learn his actual title. It's probably Executive Producer; it usually is with these things. The announcement says he will be staying on as a Consulting Producer, which appears to be network code for being paid to stay home and keep his mouth shut.
Given how integral Harmon is to Community—even people who acknowledge that he's a poor manager or otherwise have conflicts with him call him the "soul" of the show—it's hard to imagine the show maintaining its unique spirit and consistently high levels of quality and innovation without him at the helm. Despite the new showrunners coming on board (David Guarascio and Moses Port) having a history of doing reasonably good work, none of that work has been on the same level as Harmon's on Community, and it's easy to imagine how this could actually turn out worse than if they'd simply canceled the show, especially given how strong the Season 3 finale turned out to be.
The rumour right now seems to be that Sony was responsible for Harmon leaving, refusing to renew his contract and signing on the new showrunners without even so much as telling him. It may not be true, but given how much of a clusterfuck Sony has become as a company generally, it wouldn't be at all surprising, and either way it stinks of bad faith.
That's not to say that Harmon is a saint in all this, but he's produced the finest thirty minute comedy American television has seen in more than a decade, more despite Sony's involvement rather than because of it. The Russo brothers are gone, and so are Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan (off to run their own show), and just tonight writer/producer Chris McKenna, responsible for some of the best writing of the season, has announced that he's leaving as well. McKenna has struck a deal with Universal, but Todd VanDerWerff (in the comments section of tonight's AV Club article) thinks there's a good chance he's leaving in solidarity with Harmon.
There are jokes about this being the Darkest Timeline, and I've already heard talk of the fanbase rallying around Harmon to get him reinstated. The thing is, none of that's going to work. Sony and NBC have signed contracts, things are being arranged, and people's jobs are on the line. Not just Harmon's and Guarascio's and Port's, or even the cast's, but all those men and women behind the scenes who make the lights come on and the sets look nice and the jokes funny. Their families need them to have jobs, and as much as I believe Harmon is essential to seeing Community through its natural run (despite retweeting #sixseasonsandamovie a billion times, I think the show really only has four good years in it), I don't see how fan activism will result in a positive outcome. Even if we could somehow get Harmon his job back, the bridges it would burn for him and some of the others involved could poison the well for them for years. Or maybe even permanently.
At this point I don't really know what to think. I'm emotional in a way I never expected I would be over a television series. I plan to spend some of the summer writing about the three amazing seasons we already have, and frankly I need time to think, and more information, before I make any serious predictions about what's in store for Season 4. But right now I see almost no reason for optimism