Harmon, who was replaced as head of the show by studio Sony Pictures Television this spring, answered fans’ questions during a reddit AMA, notably shining some light on the difficulty he had with Chevy Chase — problems that ultimately helped lead to his dismissal from the show.
“[Chase] refused to do the ‘tag’ for the Digital Estate Planning episode (the 8-bit video game episode),” Harmon explained. “In the scripted tag, Abed comes to Pierce [Chase’s character] with the thumb drive he took, and says, ‘Pierce, I’ve been able to adjust some of the code for your Dad’s video game and I’ve made a version I think you might like better.’ He puts the thumb drive into a laptop in front of Pierce. We cut to the laptop screen, where we see Pierce’s avatar on a front lawn with the giant floating head of Cornelius.
“Every time Pierce presses the space bar, his avatar throws a baseball to his father’s head, which gives him a thousand points and a ‘great job, son!'” Harmon continued. “Pierce presses the space bar a few times, pauses, then leans over and embraces Abed and we fade to black. When Adam Countee pitched that tag, tears instantly rolled down my cheeks, and in point of fact, my eyes are getting watery describing it to you. It was the most important part of the episode and possibly one of the most important moments of the season.
“I was very upset to hear that it wasn’t shot because someone didn’t feel like shooting it, especially since it was literally the last day of shooting, which meant we’d never be able to pick it up,” he explained. “I regret nothing about how upset I got. My job was to care about my show.”
Ultimately, leaking an angry voicemail Chase left for him would lead to Harmon’s dismissal, which would prevent his plans for season four.
During the chat, he revealed how that fourth season would have been a crucial one for Joel McHale‘s cocky former lawyer-turned-student Jeff Winger, both in his academic and personal life.
“I knew that we had to generally get the audience used to the idea that Greendale, the campus itself, was not necessarily instrumental to the long term viability of the show,” Harmon said, referring to the community college at which the series is based. “That’s why we did episodes like ‘Remedial Chaos’ and Annie’s Move and Abed as Batman, that’s why we moved Annie into Abed and Troy’s apartment and put Shirley and Pierce in business together…because the simple fact, to me, was that as much as we loved Greendale, we had to ‘complete’ the story of Jeff Winger getting his four year degree.
“You can actually see one my ‘fourth season’ ideas getting bumped up into the end of season three,” Harmon continued, “because Jeff Winger has to decide, at the end of season three, that even though he’s endured Greendale for the express purpose of getting his old life back, in the end, he has to choose Greendale over his old life, because Greendale has made him a better person. The fact that it happened at the end of season three is because at the time of writing the script, I had a sneaking suspicion that either the show or its creator would not be back for season four.”
Harmon also explained that Jeff would definitely meet his father in season four — he had initially intended for the meeting to happen in season three — and that he very much approved of a fan’s suggestion of Bill Murray to play the part of the derelict dad.
As for whether he would ever return to the series, which is now being run by David Guarascio and Moses Port, Harmon said that would be a no go.
“If they thought I was bad at being in charge, they’d be even more disappointed in my ability to be not-in-charge,” he said. “I’m a zero-sum personality with very little staff writing experience. I like to create stuff and if people don’t like it I like to try to figure out how to make it better but I’m not great at helping other people make their stuff.”
He’s got plenty on his plate, anyway; he’s executive producing a stop motion animated feature written by Charlie Kaufman called Anomalisa, and has a new deal with CBS for a multi-camera sitcom.