Late Friday night, Vulture reported the unsurprising but disappointing news that NBC has replaced Dan Harmon as the showrunner of Community.
It’s a move that’s sure to ignite rage among the sitcom’s loyal fans, many of whom love Harmon as much as they love the show, and have built a rapport with him on social media.
There’s no word on why Harmon’s getting the boot. In a rather heart-wrenching response to the news on his blog, Harmon says nobody from the network even called him.
Vulture offers a few speculations, among them that the network has repeatedly asked Harmon to give the quirky series about a diverse community college study group a wider appeal, to no avail.
This theory leaves a bad taste. Certainly, the show’s self-referential nature and non-stop gimmicks would be alienating to the casual channel-surfer, but they’re also what make the show great. And they’re undoubtedly the driving force behind the critical darling’s very dedicated fanbase.
Other theories centre around Harmon’s management style, which has reportedly caused some friction behind the scenes. And his recent public feud with star Chevy Chase probably didn’t help either.
Whatever the reason, the network is downright blasé about the decision. Before the news broke, NBC chief Bob Greenblatt shrugged off the possibility that Harmon could be replaced as unimportant, saying: “Shows lose showrunners all the time and do well.”
This may be true, but there are certain shows where the showrunner is heart of the series, and this is one of them. Community without Harmon is on par with Buffy the Vampire Slayer without Joss Whedon or Girls without Lena Dunham.
Here’s how Harmon describes it:
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.
Alan Sepinwall touches on Harmon’s connection to the series over at HitFlix:
With Harmon and “Community,” it’s less about the cadence of the dialogue than it is about the style and ambition of the series. “Community” is the only sitcom I’m aware of where every episode’s story was modeled on Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey,” and the show under Harmon was capable of morphing into a spaghetti Western, a zombie movie, a stop-motion animated Christmas special or whatever other genre Harmon felt like tackling that week. The homages and other high-concept episodes were always lovingly rendered, and the best of them also managed to combine with parody with genuine stories about the show’s characters and the problems they were dealing with. The show isn’t exactly auto-biographical, but its sensibilities are very much filtered through all the pop culture Harmon has consumed in his life, and Harmon has said that researching Asperger’s syndrome to help him better understand Abed made him realize that he had Asperger’s as well. “Community” is Dan Harmon; Dan Harmon is “Community.”
Now, there’s no such thing as a one-man show on television (though FX’s Louie comes close). Any show is the product of a lot of people’s voices and hard work, and a huge part of Community‘s charm stems from the actors’ comic talent and natural chemistry. But Community was really Harmon’s baby, and under his leadership, the last three seasons have provided some of the most innovative and satisfying episodes of television, possibly ever. It’s hard to imagine the show won’t lose some of its magic with Harmon gone.