Update: Keep up to date on everything Schwifty with our Rick and Morty Season 4 Guide.
The news that the producers of Rick and Morty are embroiled in unforeseen contract negotiations has rippled across the show's devoted fandom, with people wondering when the fourth season of Adult Swim's biggest show will finally make it to air. There's an understandable desire to assign blame to someone in this situation, and while we don't know exactly what's caused the negotiations to break down, it's easy to make a few educated guesses.
First, some context. The demented sci-fi series debuted in 2013, and quickly became a hit for Adult Swim. While it was a success right out of the gate, the show hit a new level of dominance in its third season, as the likes of Pickle Rick and McDonalds Szechuan Sauce entered the cultural lexicon. The show received critical raves and delivered the highest ratings for an original series Adult Swim has ever enjoyed. Rick and Morty suddenly found itself on the same level of acclaim and recognition as series like Family Guy and South Park.
The news of the contract negotiations prompted an obvious question: who in the world would threaten the future of such a good thing, and why? The obvious culprit is Turner Broadcasting, the media conglomerate that owns Adult Swim. Co-creator Dan Harmon confirmed on Kevin Smith's podcast that the contract negotiations are happening with the higher-ups at Turner, not Adult Swim.
There are really only two reasons Turner would threaten to delay the production Rick and Morty's fourth season. The obvious one is money; Rick and Morty made the leap from ratings winner to merchandise behemoth during the third season. The plethora of Pickle Rick merchandise alone is breathtaking. It's possible Turner is playing hardball with merchandising rights, a revenue stream that Harmon and co-creator Justin Roiland almost certainly want a bigger stake in. While obviously not ideal, that's the sort of issue that usually works itself out when a show is successful.
The more ominous possibility has to do with time, or more specifically the ever-increasing amount of time it takes Harmon and Roiland to crank out a season of the show. There was a sixteen month gap between the first and second seasons, and a full two years between seasons two and three. It's easy to imagine that sort of gap concerning Turner, who now have a bonafide sensation they're trying to capitalize on. Two years with no new content is not ideal when you're trying to sell Mr. Poopybutthole action figures. Harmon has been candid about how he and the show's writers have struggled to craft stories they feel are up to the show's standards, which is by all accounts the main reason for the increasing gaps between seasons.
This is also not the first time Harmon has had issues with schedules and budgets; he was fired from his beloved NBC sitcom Community after its third season for his scripts being chronically late and routinely going over budget (his very public feud with series star Chevy Chase didn't help matters). Harmon is something approaching a television storytelling genius, but his track record as a manager is spotty at best. It's both entirely possible and entirely reasonable that Turner wants assurances that their new cash cow can commit to a tighter production schedule, and that that would give Harmon pause.
Turner is almost certainly the culprit here, but it's equally possible that they're making the demands of a cynical corporate entity or a practical assurances that Rick and Morty stays in the public consciousness. Harmon's legendary candor means we'll likely know one way or another soon. In the meantime, Rick and Morty's fourth season remains in limbo, and an antsy fandom awaits the return of Birdperson and Squanchy.