Britta’d It: NBC Executives Fire Dan Harmon From #Community Season 4
Several years ago, when “The Sarah Silverman” program debuted, I wrote a review of it. I didn’t like it much; it just wasn’t my thing, and I said as much in my review.
Within a day or two of that review appearing, a comment appeared on that review — a very negative one from someone named Dan Harmon. I confirmed with Comedy Central that the comment was, in fact, left by Harmon, who was then a writer/producer on Silverman’s show. (I didn’t want anything on my site that had been left under his name if it wasn’t actually from him.) It was him. And then I noticed that my site was getting some traffic from MySpace (remember, this was more than five years ago).
Turns out Harmon posted a more stinging rebuke of me on his MySpace page, because what he’d left on my site apparently hadn’t been harsh enough for him. Needless to say, both comments weren’t complimentary toward me or my intelligence. They weren’t easy to read. When someone writes, “You look like an idiot … I’m looking into the 3 pixels that represent your eyes and right into your unremarkable soul,” that tends to stick with you.
I’m not saying any of this to pile on Dan Harmon. I absolutely am not; he’s had a bad enough week. I’m saying this because I want to make a point: He’s probably as difficult to work with as all the stories say he is. But based on what he’s achieved with “Community,” he’s worth it.
As I said, I didn’t especially enjoy those comments when I read them for the first time. But here’s something that’s also true: I was able to realize that his comments about me were very well-written. Want proof?
A friend of mind, the writer Claire Zulkey, does a regular event called Funny Ha-Ha, where people get up and read amusing things they’ve written. She invited me to be part of it a couple of times, and I’m aware enough of my own limitations to know that I’m not all that funny. So twice (without saying who wrote it), I read Harmon’s diatribe at Funny Ha-Ha, and ladies and gentlemen, it killed. Both times.
The rant has a point of view that Harmon meticulously, if angrily, got across. It’s very far from being a generic angry Internet comment; it’s just another instance of Harmon proving that he’s unstoppable (and pretty diverting) when he’s got something to say.
Now, you may wonder, did that withering comment make it harder for me to like “Community” at first? I wondered about that for a very, very long time — trust me, I thought about it a lot. And I’ve come to two conclusions:
- “Community” made it hard for me to like it, especially in its first season. I gave it a lot of chances in Seasons 1 and 2, and I appreciated what the cast was doing, but the show didn’t quite click for me because of its distancing meta techniques, which weren’t expertly tied to characters I cared about in the early days. It wasn’t due to the fact that Harmon had called me an idiot, I don’t think.
- My little online experience with Harmon didn’t affect my view of the show much, I don’t think, but it did make it hard for me to see a lot of my colleagues in the media fawning over the guy. I’ll admit that that rankled now and again. I’m only human, after all.
But you know what? The show itself eventually won me over. Last year, I became a late convert thanks to the overwhelming brilliance of “Remedial Chaos Theory,” and when I love something, I tend to love it 150 percent. I recognize that not every episode of “Community” is great, and there are still certain things about it that bug me at times, but I sat down to watch that episode with an open mind and I completely fell for the Greendale Seven, which made me really happy. I went back and watched Season 2 and have faithfully watched Season 3, the finale of which was very pleasing, I thought.
What I’m trying to get at here is this: When something, or someone, is difficult, you work on it. When someone rubs you the wrong way, you acknowledge that, figure out how to move forward, and move forward. Why couldn’t NBC and Sony do this?
After all, executives there are paid a lot more than I am to put up with the delicate egos and undeniable flaws of creative people. And I’m of the opinion that whatever baggage Harmon brought to the table was worth putting up with. For him to be shown the door without getting a single phone call from NBC or Sony Pictures Television, as he says in this post about being fired, is horrifying — but more importantly, it’s unprofessional on the part of those above him in the food chain.
I’m not saying every showrunner should get away with everything — far from it — but at the very least, there should have been discussions in the last few weeks with Harmon about his future with the show. And if NBC and Sony weren’t going to go forward with Harmon as showrunner, they should have put on their big-boy pants and canceled the comedy. If Harmon at the helm of “Community” was just too more trouble than they wanted to deal with, they should have pulled the plug, but they didn’t have the guts.
NBC and Sony are not making widgets and not merely replacing a manager who couldn’t get his people to meet their widget quota. As much as the business might involve slicing and dicing Nielsen numbers, it’s not, at the end of the day, about cold numbers and flow charts. Some shows do involve widgets and some shows are topped by executive producers who can be replaced at will. “Community” is not one of those shows, and for Sony and NBC keep the show going but without Harmon — well, that’s just dumb. That’s not a knock on the new “Community” showrunners, that’s a knock on short-sighted TV executives.
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.
Look, creative types can be a real pain in the ass. There aren’t a ton of showrunners who make the trains run on time, make something approaching art and are also nice to everyone (there are a few, and they are worth their weight in gold). But that’s the business “creative” executives are in. It’s messy, it’s not easy, but if TV executives wanted to go into something more predictable and less stressful, why not try accounting?
So, Dan Harmon, I forgave you a long time ago for what you wrote about me, even though it hurt my feelings at the time. I understood, even then, that what prompted your angry response was the fact that your feelings had been hurt. Sensitive types aren’t always fun to be around (and this is something I can relate to). I understood, then and now, that you care about what you do. I’m sure you still care about “Community.”
And as Alan Sepinwall wrote here, I think that shows with unique visions that lose their showrunners late in their runs are often much worse for it. I’m sadly sure that will be the case here. This is one of those cases where something like the thing you loved will just be a reminder of how much you miss the thing you loved.
I’ll miss Harmon’s “Community.” And I think NBC and Sony executives have no idea of the shitstorm they just created. So I’ll leave an angry Internet comment of my own: Whoever thought it would be a good idea to ditch Harmon is a business-casual potted plant. You’re VH1, “Robocop 2,” “Back to the Future 3.”
You’re Jim Belushi.
Dan Harmon’s Response
HEY, DID I MISS ANYTHING?
A few hours ago, I landed in Los Angeles, turned on my phone, and confirmed what you already know. Sony Pictures Television is replacing me as showrunner on Community, with two seasoned fellows that I’m sure are quite nice – actually, I have it on good authority they’re quite nice, because they once created a show and cast my good friend Jeff Davis on it, so how bad can they be.
Why’d Sony want me gone? I can’t answer that because I’ve been in as much contact with them as you have. 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.
I do want to correct a couple points of spin, now that I’m free to do so:
The important one is this quote from Bob Greenblatt in which he says he’s sure I’m going to be involved somehow, something like that. That’s a misquote. I think he meant to say he’s sure cookies are yummy, because he’s never called me once in the entire duration of his employment at NBC. He didn’t call me to say he was starting to work there, he didn’t call me to say I was no longer working there and he definitely didn’t call to ask if I was going to be involved. I’m not saying it’s wrong for him to have bigger fish to fry, I’m just saying, NBC is not a credible source of All News Dan Harmon.
You may have read that I am technically “signed on,” by default, to be an executive consulting something or other – which is a relatively standard protective clause for a creator in my position. Guys like me can’t actually just be shot and left in a ditch by Skynet, we’re still allowed to have a title on the things we create and “help out,” like, I guess sharpening pencils and stuff.
However, if I actually chose to go to the office, I wouldn’t have any power there. Nobody would have to do anything I said, ever. I would be “offering” thoughts on other people’s scripts, not allowed to rewrite them, not allowed to ask anyone else to rewrite them, not allowed to say whether a single joke was funny or go near the edit bay, etc. It’s….not really the way the previous episodes got done. 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.
The same contract also gives me the same salary and title if I spend all day masturbating and playing Prototype 2. And before you ask yourself what you would do in my situation: buy Prototype 2. It’s fucking great.
Because Prototype 2 is great, and because nobody called me, and then started hiring people to run the show, I had my assistant start packing up my office days ago. I’m sorry. I’m not saying seasons 1, 2 and 3 were my definition of perfect television, I’m just saying that whatever they’re going to do for season 4, they’re aiming to do without my help. So do not believe anyone that tells you on Monday that I quit or diminished my role so I could spend more time with my loved ones, or that I negotiated and we couldn’t come to an agreement, etc. It couldn’t be less true because, just to make this clear, literally nobody called me. Also don’t believe anyone that says I have sex with animals. And if there’s a photo of me doing it with an animal – I’m not saying one exists, I’m just saying, if one surfaces – it’s a fake. Look at the shadow. Why would it be in front of the giraffe if the sun is behind the jeep?
Where was I? Oh yeah. I’m not running Community for season 4. They replaced me. Them’s the facts.
When I was a kid, sometimes I’d run home to Mommy with a bloody nose and say, “Mom, my friends beat me up,” and my Mom would say “well then they’re not worth having as friends, are they?” At the time, I figured she was just trying to put a postive spin on having birthed an unpopular pussy. But this is, after all, the same lady that bought me my first typewriter. Then later, a Commodore 64. And later, a 300 baud modem for it. Through which I met new friends that did like me much, much more.
I’m 39, now. The friends my Mom warned me about are bigger now, and older, bloodying my nose with old world numbers, and old world tactics, like, oh, I don’t know, sending out press releases to TV Guide at 7pm on a Friday.
But my Commodore 64 is mobile now, like yours, and the modems are invisible, and the internet is the air all around us. And the good friends, the real friends, are finding each other, and connecting with each other, and my Mom is turning out to be more right than ever.
Ah, shit, I still haven’t called my fucking Mom.
Mom, Happy Mother’s Day. I got fired.
Yes, Mom. AGAIN.