Monday, 21 May 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #904: Taking The "Unity" Out Of "Community"

You've probably already heard that creator / executive producer Dan Harmon has been fired from his show-runner position on the NBC sitcom Community just after the show had been renewed for a fourth season. According to Harmon himself, you and he found out at the same time the same way.

Lots of people are speculating on why Harmon got fired. Community has a dedicated, but relatively small audience, and Sony is claiming that the people they're bringing in will work to "broaden the show's appeal." Of course the odds are that they will only succeed in driving away the audience they have while failing to attract any new viewers.

Now one has to assume that the people at Sony and NBC know that the odds are against them having any success making the show more "mainstream," so why rock the boat?

Well, there are causes, and then there are excuses.

If Community's modest ratings were the "cause" of Harmon's firing then just about everyone behind NBC's 30 Rock would have been fired years ago, or the show would have been canceled. The audience of Tina Fey's starring vehicle pretty much consists of Hollywood, critics, and Emmy voters, and nobody else. It's been a ratings black hole since its inception, and it's been getting worse every season, but that doesn't stop it from getting renewed, and the stars and show-runners getting re-upped without anyone asking about "broadening the show's appeal."

This means that the reasoning behind Sony and NBC's decision is not really a cause just an excuse. (Yes, I know Sony claims sole responsibility for the firing but if NBC hadn't given it their blessing he'd still have a job.)

So let's try to figure out why he got the axe.

Could it be Harmon's personality?

Now it's common knowledge that Harmon is not the easiest guy to work with. He's a non-stop font of comedic ideas, but, by his own admission, he's short-tempered, belligerent,  and prone to prolonged feuds, including a very recent and very public one with Community co-star Chevy Chase.

However, both NBC and Sony do a lot of business with people with prickly personalities. Working in network television can be a lot like being the last Alaskan husky in the sled team, nothing but assholes as far as the eye can see.

So it becomes a measure of degrees, and one must ask just how much of an asshole is the person in question? You can measure that by the amount of loyalty those who work with the person in question shows them, and by just who that person feuds with.

A lot of people who work with Harmon show him a lot of loyalty, and feuding with Chevy Chase is pretty much mandatory for anyone who works with him.

This means it can't really be all the fault of his personality. That's not really a cause either, more of an excuse.

If that's not it, then what is the real cause of his firing?

The real cause is power.

As I explained earlier, I doubt Sony acted alone on the career grassy knoll when it came to pulling the trigger on this firing. Sony and NBC must be willing to cooperate, though until a show starts making sweet syndication money, the broadcaster and its license fees is the dominant partner.

I suspect the roots of this firing lies with NBC and its long toxic corporate culture left over from the Zucker reign of error, but with roots in the Fred Silverman era of the late 1970s. It's a corporate culture based on demonstrations of power over people whose basis is not based on achievement or merit, but on the relationships between those in power and those without.

30 Rock is sacrosanct despite its dismal ratings because the people behind it, like executive producer Lorne Micheals, and production studio (Universal) are juiced in deep with the NBC brass. 

Community doesn't have that sort of juice. So it's the perfect place for a demonstration of power. The reports that Harmon himself found out via the media because the studio and network were giving him the silent treatment are extremely believable, because it's a great way to show someone their place on the corporate totem pole.

You see it's not what you do at NBC, but who you know.

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