Dan Harmon recently talked about getting fired from his NBC comedy series Community, mostly discussing the business behind the choice and the seemingly imminent demise of the series with the 13-episode order for a fourth season in a Friday time slot.
Now, through the tell-all forum that has become Reddit’s AMA (Ask Me Anything), Harmon has opened up about some creative choices he made in the third season, not to mention his feud with Chevy Chase, and some of his ideas that might show up in season 4.
One of the more interesting questions from Reddit dealt with the season 3 finale. If you don’t recall, the final shot has Abed heading into his mini-Dreamatorium. The user asking the question says: “To me this symbolizes that everything we see from now on isn’t the real timeline, but that S4 and onward is all happening within that Dreamatorium. Was this intentional?”
Harmon responded, “It symbolizes me leaving the show. I didn’t know for sure I was going to but I had a feeling I might have to.”
As fans can see, the season finale actually feels more like a series finale (Harmon confirms that was what he wanted). Perhaps this is where hardcore fans of the show will view the end as well, if the fourth season turns out to be a disaster in the hands of the new showrunners (producers David Guarascaio and Moses Port). Hopefully, the showrunners never have a worse encounter than that of Harmon’s feud with Chevy Chase – one of the elements that likely contributed to the series creator getting the boot.
Thankfully, someone asked about the ongoing tension between the two, and confirmed a rumor that Chevy Chase walked off the set while filming the season 3 finale and refused to film something. Harmon explained:
“He refused to do the “tag” for the Digital Estate Planning episode (the 8-bit video game episode). In the scripted tag, Abed comes to Pierce 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!” 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. I regret nothing about how upset I got. My job was to care about my show.”
Obviously this is coming from one side of the argument, so we don’t necessarily know how civil this argument was or if this was all explained to Chase in this capacity. However, it is somewhat unprofessional for an actor to walk off set in any instance – especially if it’s for something as pivotal as the season finale. The scene described is a touching one, and a number of fans (besides myself) would’ve loved Pierce to have that moment. Harmon points out:
“He probably didn’t realize he was permanently damaging the episode by doing so because he often walked off set and then we would just pick up his shots later in the week. But this was the final shot of the season. The sets came down after he walked away. So this was the one time in three years that his personality caused unfixable damage to something I really held valuable.”
Finally, with Harmon not coming back for the fourth season, will we still see his influence on the series besides the presence of the world and characters he created? It sounds like a big plot point for the new season was actually planned for the third season, but Harmon held back. He explains:
“I’m sure there’s lots of things we talked about over three years that will be useable by the new guys. And yes, it’s their property to use if that’s the case. One thing I’m sure will happen in season 4 is Jeff will meet his Dad, because we were going to do it in season 3 but then one of the NBC execs started saying ‘just make sure Jeff meeting his Dad isn’t a dark story,’ and I didn’t want to write one of the series’ most important stories under that hex, so I said, ‘let’s just punt that story to season 4.’ And we ended season 3 with Jeff Googling his Dad, so…!”
In addition, the idea of Jeff choosing Greendale over his own life was also a fourth season idea, but he bumped it up because of his uncertainty about coming back to the show.
Show business is a strange business, and hearing these kinds of stories and behind-the-scenes details just goes to show you how hard it is to maintain artistic integrity with network executives breathing down your back, certain creative components not always being cooperative, and a generally close-minded business model focused on ratings rather than quality. Surely some of this blame rests on Harmon’s head for being a little too controlling and difficult to work with (he even admitted so himself), but it’s sad to see a cult-favorite show like this engender such a bleak outlook and troubled working environment.
Here’s hoping the new showrunners keep the spirit of the series alive and well for these potentially final 13 episodes, and maybe for more beyond if all goes well.
Season 4 of Community premieres Friday, October 19th @8:30pm on NBC.