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In a move that should surprise absolutely no one, Sony has decided not to renew Dan Harmon's contract as Community's showrunner and decided to replace him for season 4.
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The news of Harmon's departure from the show broke late last night when the A.V. Club learned that Sony was replacing Harmon with David Guarascio and Moses Port, who most recently worked on ABC's Happy Endings, which our Richard Lawson once called a "perfectly serviceable, sometimes audible-chuckle-worthy sitcom." Also leaving the show is Chris McKenna, the only writer aside from Harmon who was still around from the show's stellar first season.
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Harmon released his own official statement on his Tumblr late last night, explaining that no one from NBC or Sony had even contacted him since the show was picked up for a fourth season, so he could see this coming and started packing up his desk a few days ago. Ouch. Harmon's being kept on as a "consulting producer" of Community, but as he explains that doesn't mean he will have any sort of control with how the show is written or produced:
You may have read that I am technically “signed on,” by default, to be an executive consulting something or other - which is a relatively standard protective clause for a creator in my position. Guys like me can’t actually just be shot and left in a ditch by Skynet, we’re still allowed to have a title on the things we create and “help out,” like, I guess sharpening pencils and stuff.
However, if I actually chose to go to the office, I wouldn’t have any power there. 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.
The show capped off an up and down third season on Thursday with a fabulous episode aptly titled "Introduction to Finality." The whole episode felt like the writers knew everything was going to change at the end of this season. Whether it was going to be the show's season finale or series finale, which was a distinct possibility, it was a fitting end to the Harmon era.
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Vulture's Josef Adalian reports that Sony took issue with Harmon's creative direction and management style. Sony and NBC asked Harmon to make the show appeal to a broader audience, and Harmon has even admitted to being "damn bad" at the mangement part of his job. Adalian reports that Sony's thinking behind the change at the top for Community could mean the show could survive beyond next season. If Harmon had returned it would have been the final nail in the coffin after season four's 13 episodes were done, but if the show can maintain its popularity, or, dare I say it, grow in popularity next year then fans could get the six seasons they lobby for. (I'm still not holding my breath for a movie.)
The show will likely survive, but it won't be the same without Harmon's voice. Gawker's Matt Toder wrote a piece on Harmon's exit that's a tearful champagne toast away from being a eulogy for the show, proclaiming in his headline that "Community As We Know It Is Over." Hitfix's Alan Sepinwall compared Harmon with Aaron Sorkin, most notably, in his list of show's that lost their distinct voice after a few seasons. Sorkin left NBC's (a trend!) The West Wing after the fourth season for much of the same reasons Harmon is. Vulture's Adalian made the same comparison. While The West Wing was allowed to continue on in its plum Wednesday at 9 p.m. time slot after Sorkin left, unlike Community's shuffling to Friday nights, aka where shows go to die, it lasted for seven seasons. So while the show may not be as ambitious as it was under Harmon, and the show may not have the same snappy dialogue, would Community fans trade 13 episodes of the same flawed-but-ambitious show under Harmon for the possibility of more (slightly watered down) seasons under new leadership? We're betting no.