Why Firing Dan Harmon From 'Community' Was Stupid and Very NBC (Analysis)

Yvette Nicole Brown Dan Harmon Community PaleyFest 2012
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If NBC wanted to send a message to the creative community that writing and running your own show is a job without security, then by all means, congratulations on the impressive chilling effect.

No doubt people will look at, say, Smash and think, “Well, they renewed it but changed things at the top. A mixed message there but no worries.” But now that NBC has ousted Dan Harmon from the recently renewed Community, what’s the thinking outside of Burbank? How about this: “Holy hell, they took Harmon’s show away from him without telling him. Let’s take that meeting with ABC.”

Technically you could say that Sony Pictures Television took Harmon off of his own show. Listen, there’s plenty of blame to go around here, and a good bucketful should be tossed on the head of Sony Pictures Television. Nice work, folks. Is there a paragraph in the fine print of the contract that says, “We’ll develop your show with you, but your value to this process is limited to what we say it is -- up to and including bouncing your ass into the street without warning.”


And yet, unless the tail is wagging the dog here, NBC could have said: “There is no show without Dan Harmon. He stays or we don’t pick it up.”

STORY: 'Community's' Dan Harmon on the Shakeup at the Show: 'I Got Fired'

NBC is no stranger to monumental blunders and idiocy. It’s kind of in the DNA, at least in the past couple of decades. But Robert Greenblatt was supposed to be the new vision, the rescuer from cable who would infuse the Peacock with some kind of anti-Zucker superpowers where all decisions would be sane ones, creativity would be valued and eventually a turnaround in the culture and the ratings would happen. But now it looks like Greenblatt is in some ridiculous Kabletown skit from 30 Rock.  

What, precisely, is the point in removing Harmon from Community when the show comes hard-wired from his brain? There are certain showrunners in the business where you can’t imagine someone else doing their jobs. Matt Weiner of Mad Men is a fine example. Do you want to watch Mad Men without Weiner’s exacting presence?

If you know anything about television and the continuity of quality, the answer to that is, “Of course not, dumbass.”

Arrested Development would not be going into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot without Mitch Hurwitz. Series creators are important for a reason.

Harmon is no different. Is he “erratic” or troublesome to the extent that he needs replacing? He’s certainly outspoken and his less-than-hidden feud with Chevy Chase got headlines. But when has Chase been considered the easiest person to work with? And if Harmon is actively engaged online and with his fans – a creative person prone to saying things without a filter – how does that make him any different than, say, Kurt Sutter? Is FX going to replace Sutter? Of course not. At FX, they know what to do with creative people (hint: Leave them alone).

Because NBC has a history of “pulling a Leno,” how this whole thing was mismanaged is laughably unnecessary. First, Greenblatt renews Community and then says: “I expect Dan’s voice to be a part of this show somehow; I’m just not sure if that means him running it day-to-day or consulting on it."

The problem with that statement is that it was vague enough to not be definitive about Harmon’s job and squirmy enough to cause concern.

As Harmon wrote on his Tumblr page Friday:

“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.”


What about Sony Pictures Television? What has it told Harmon? “I can’t answer that because I’ve been in as much contact with them as you have,” he 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.”

If, as Greenblatt suggests, Harmon could end up a consultant on his own show, Harmon clarified that such a title woud be meaningless.

 “If I actually chose to go to the office, I wouldn’t have any power there,” Harmon wrote. “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.”

In case all of this obviousness hasn’t sunk in, Harmon had a stray declarative sentence for clarity: “I got fired.”

Two producers from ABC comedy Happy Endings (also a Sony Pictures Television product) have been hired to be co-showrunners on Community, because obviously anyone from anywhere can do the job.

Now, with his actors showering him with supportive tweets and others suggesting what is obvious to anyone paying attention -- that there really is no Community without Harmon -- how does this play out for NBC? Fans of the series may be a relatively small lot, but they are damned loyal. If they feel the show is an inferior product or has been adversely tampered with, they might bail. Critics who love the show will no doubt be looking for signs that Community is somehow diminished without Harmon’s twisted vision for it.

If NBC wanted Community to fail, it couldn’t have set the stage for it more perfectly. That may be disheartening for all involved, but isn’t the bigger and sadder issue here that NBC is, sigh, still the same old NBC?

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine