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May 21 2012

Harmon-down

Learning over the weekend that Dan Harmon was replaced on the show he created and guided over the past three years really bummed me out. There’s been a lot of reaction online, and this is more public than most behind-the-scenes firings tend to be. Now that I’ve had a little time to think about it, I figured putting one more blog entry out there might make me feel better.

Community is a show built around going unexpected directions. Even the inspiring speeches that resolve so many of their half-hour descents into madness (enough to give audiences permission to return to their daily lives) have done little to address the deep reservoir of insanity in the characters at the center of them. Part of the beauty of the creative team Harmon has gathered is that with each season, the writers have grown in their abandon to let that madness take the characters places they never expected to go. Audiences willing to go along on that ride are limited in number, but those who’ve stuck around have shown they’re willing to follow a show like that anywhere.

The fan base may not be wide, but as they say, it’s deep. These are the fans responsible for countless artwork tributes and turning the show into a regularly “trending topic” on twitter. Trouble is, network TV isn’t interested in that kind of niche audience. I’m looking at you, Firefly, Arrested Development and now the first three seasons of Community. This is why we can’t have nice things… on network TV.

That wasn’t always the case. The Twilight Zone aired every weird idea those guys could think of, but that was a long time ago. Times are changing. DVD sales are a significant factor in the way television does business, but they’ve given up a huge chunk of their audience to cable and now the internet. All executives think they have left are people too complacent to search for things anywhere else. NBC looks at that Two and a Half Men money and salivates.

I’ve read a lot of speculation about how Harmon is hard to work with. I’ve been following his writers on twitter for years now and seen record of the #writerallnighter slogs, but I think the results deserve some indulgence. Hell, maybe he had it and used it up. I don’t know.

So here we are, on the internet. Show creators get to interact directly with the fans, and everyone can get their panties in a bunch, but it might also be the best hope we’ve got for good shows. With sites like Kickstarter, money is going towards projects like Husbands and Space Command in amounts which are still minuscule by network TV standards but are making those shows happen, and the die-hardest fans are deciding what’s worth their money, giving directly to the show creators they want to see more from.

So now we wait for that bubble to burst, because everyone working on those new projects is taking huge pay cuts for the price of creative freedom.

So they join struggling artists like myself, where freedom’s just another word for nothing left to…

I don’t know where I was going with that, but I guess I don’t feel as bad.