19 May 2012

'Community' creator Dan Harmon reacts to being 'fired'

A few hours ago, I landed in Los Angeles, turned on my phone, and confirmed what you already know.  Sony Pictures Television is replacing me as showrunner on Community, with two seasoned fellows that I’m sure are quite nice - actually, I have it on good authority they’re quite nice, because they once created a show and cast my good friend Jeff Davis on it, so how bad can they be.
Why’d Sony want me gone?  I can’t answer that because I’ve been in as much contact with them as you have.  They literally haven’t called me since the season four pickup, so their reasons for replacing me are clearly none of my business.  Community is their property, I only own ten percent of it, and I kind of don’t want to hear what their complaints are because I’m sure it would hurt my feelings even more now that I’d be listening for free.
I do want to correct a couple points of spin, now that I’m free to do so:
The important one is this quote from Bob Greenblatt in which he says he’s sure I’m going to be involved somehow, something like that.  That’s a misquote.  I think he meant to say he’s sure cookies are yummy, because he’s never called me once in the entire duration of his employment at NBC.  He didn’t call me to say he was starting to work there, he didn’t call me to say I was no longer working there and he definitely didn’t call to ask if I was going to be involved.  I’m not saying it’s wrong for him to have bigger fish to fry, I’m just saying, NBC is not a credible source of All News Dan Harmon.
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 same contract also gives me the same salary and title if I spend all day masturbating and playing Prototype 2.  And before you ask yourself what you would do in my situation: buy Prototype 2.  It’s fucking great.
Because Prototype 2 is great, and because nobody called me, and then started hiring people to run the show, I had my assistant start packing up my office days ago.  I’m sorry.  I’m not saying seasons 1, 2 and 3 were my definition of perfect television, I’m just saying that whatever they’re going to do for season 4, they’re aiming to do without my help.  So do not believe anyone that tells you on Monday that I quit or diminished my role so I could spend more time with my loved ones, or that I negotiated and we couldn’t come to an agreement, etc.  It couldn’t be less true because, just to make this clear, literally nobody called me.  Also don’t believe anyone that says I have sex with animals.  And if there’s a photo of me doing it with an animal - I’m not saying one exists, I’m just saying, if one surfaces - it’s a fake.  Look at the shadow.  Why would it be in front of the giraffe if the sun is behind the jeep?
Where was I?  Oh yeah.  I’m not running Community for season 4.  They replaced me.
Them’s the facts.
When I was a kid, sometimes I’d run home to Mommy with a bloody nose and say, “Mom, my friends beat me up,” and my Mom would say “well then they’re not worth having as friends, are they?”  At the time, I figured she was just trying to put a postive spin on having birthed an unpopular pussy.  But this is, after all, the same lady that bought me my first typewriter.  Then later, a Commodore 64.  And later, a 300 baud modem for it.  Through which I met new friends that did like me much, much more.
I’m 39, now.  The friends my Mom warned me about are bigger now, and older, bloodying my nose with old world numbers, and old world tactics, like, oh, I don’t know, sending out press releases to TV Guide at 7pm on a Friday.
But my Commodore 64 is mobile now, like yours, and the modems are invisible, and the internet is the air all around us.  And the good friends, the real friends, are finding each other, and connecting with each other, and my Mom is turning out to be more right than ever.
Ah, shit, I still haven’t called my fucking Mom.  
          Mom, Happy Mother’s Day.  I got fired.
Yes, Mom.  AGAIN.

While it should be no huge surprise, since corporations discovered metrics, and found out how to value every aspect of job, to manage every portion so maximum profit can be gained, we get things like Harmon's firing from Community. Sony Pictures Television and NBC have not been happy with the series for a while, and have kept it going due, mainly, to the cult following it gained over the years. Plus, on last place NBC, even a moderately successful show can survive.

But while metrics is a device to gain the most profit, it is also a tool to end shows like Community. Or, as in this case, get rid of its creator and showrunner in favor of handling it over to others in hopes of expanding its viewership beyond the ones that already adore this show. While at times, this could be a good idea, it’s usually handled pretty badly.  Executives of large companies do not how to deal with staff members who buck the traditional system. Yes, they want creative people, but only if they stay within certain parameters. It’s like hiring someone radical to change your company, only you never give that person the tools they need to make effective change, because you generally run into the “we’ve never done it this way before.” Of course you haven’t that’s the point. Change sometimes means doing this completely different. 

NBC –and other broadcast networks- are facing huge losses of viewers. Some have fled to basic cable where stories and content are a little less restrictive. Some have gone to premium channels, again to get better stories, character driven ones as well. But a lot have just thrown in the towel. 

TV can be great, when it tries, and I do believe you can have show’s with social commentaries and still be commercial. Unfortunately, that is not the mindset that runs metrics. It’s a numbers game. But because they use mutated mathematics, and an archaic ratings system, who’s to say that Community’s ratings are accurate?

In the end, TV has failed to evolve, even though it does try to show that it does. Community was a show that tried to break out of the norm of stale sitcoms foisted upon a brain-dead audience who think Two and Half Men is funny. We all know it’s not, we all know it’s about as funny as Crone’s Disease. 

I will watch the 13 episodes that NBC has ordered for Community’s fourth season. But I sense that the show will not be as clever, as satirical, as creative as it was before because now it has to form fitted into a box called Mediocrity.

Because, that’s where metrics lives.

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