It appears NBC’s former problem child, Dan Harmon may have found a new home. TV Guide reported earlier today that the former Community showrunner is close to a deal to bring an untitled multi-camera comedy pilot to Fox, his first major move since being booted from the NBC clever-but-cult-favorite comedy he created. Harmon is also hard at work in developing an animated series called Rick & Morty for Adult Swim.
Since becoming a darling with fans and some of the media, New Girl has expanded Fox’s idea of what makes for a good comedy. For one, it’s NOT animated. Animated series are not a bad thing, but outside of Raising Hope, and before New Girl was a hit, the only comedies Fox seemed willing to develop were spinoffs of Family Guy. The climate is changing at Fox as former Community executive producers Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan are showrunners for Ben and Kate this fall, and Chris McKenna is writing for The Mindy Project. But here is what worries me as a fan of Harmon’s work. Fox didn’t know what to do to launch Breaking In the last two years. The niche, geek-friendly heist comedy starring Christian Slater never got a fair shot the first time around and its most endearing qualities were toned down or scrapped in Season 2. In order to stick with Fox, Harmon’s new show will have to be much more mainstream than Community ever was, or land a media darling on the same level as Zooey Deschanel to draw in curious viewers willing to wait for the show to find its stride.
Harmon is obviously not the easiest showrunner to work with, but there is something to be said about being original and that’s worth something if you’re in the business of programming television. If NBC doesn’t recognize how great Community was with him and what he brought to the show, despite it not being a draw for advertisers, we can assume a return to NBC in the near future is unlikely. Then again, we are talking about a network that had trouble deciding if it wanted to renew Whitney and still did it anyway.
While it’s great news to see Fox swooping in and giving Harmon another shot (he shot a pilot for them called Heat Vision and Jack in 1999) it made me think about where else Harmon or any similarly minded creator could realistically take a comedy in this current landscape of television? In addition to Fox, other networks are reportedly interested in working with Harmon, who is sure to have more ideas for unique television. It can’t be easy shopping geeky shows to networks, but we’ve come up with our list of potential suitors based on their track records and potential draws as a creator.
While NBC was once on the pulse of what America wanted in their comedies, ABC has quickly swooped in and filled that role with rapid fire shows like Modern Family and Happy Endings leading the way. But satirical and sharply written shows like Suburgatory and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23 give them some real bite too. The Neighbors is up this fall and will be as quirky a show as ABC has ever attempted in recent years. If they can make that show work, then they can handle anything and market anything Harmon could dream up. Plus they also have a lineup to sandwich any new concept he came up with and give it the best launch it could need.
2. FX or Adult Swim
Needing even fewer numbers, Harmon could be talking to FX where a creative talent like Harmon could make the show he wants and be edgy. Shows like The League, Louie, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Archer show the range at which a comedy could be defined. Something like Wilfred could appeal to the more intellectually crass, but the key to succeed on FX is to push the envelope, be edgy, be experimental, be a distinct voice even in the face of cancellation. For instance, Charlie Sheen’s new show Anger Management is essentially a network show that could easily be shown on any of the majors, but somehow feels mismatched at FX. Why do something so safe at FX? If Harmon wanted a marketing group that was as creative as he is, this is the place to go, but again, we’re not talking about needing to please 10 million viewers. He could get away with two million or maybe a bit less. It all comes down to what type of show Harmon wants to make and what kind of audience he’s trying to reach.
As for Adult Swim? If he wants to play with the shorter format, like say, Children’s Hospital or NTSF:SD:SUV, then that’s available too and would be a great place to expand with Rick & Morty. The problem with Adult Swim shows is it would air on late nights, to a smaller audience that would need a season or two to be built up and over time can sustain itself like Children’s Hospital. Casting choices may not be as widely known and that’s fine, good writing always comes through.
3. Premium Cable: HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, and Starz
Taking the FX model for comedy and going one step further, Harmon could be courted by one of the above to make a show with limitless vision and restraints but be patient enough to weather a slow start, banking on critical acclaim. The benefit of one of these networks is that they could land that actor or ensemble to bring in subscribers. And maybe, just maybe, get recognized by the Emmys like how Girls, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Nurse Jackie have, that is, if the idea is novel enough. This would give Harmon a chance to really be daring and experimental and be applauded for it every step of the way no matter the returns. There’s no pressure to do #sixseasonsandamovie, just do the best work and leave when you want to. HBO works with Larry David, David Simon and Aaron Sorkin and give them absolute free reign to do with their shows as they please. What showrunner wouldn’t want that?
4. TBS or the CW
Don’t look now, but TBS is growing a stable of original comedies like Sullivan and Son, Men at Work and they just saved Cougartown. They’re also the network that houses Conan O’Brien. Their audiences and original programming tends to skew towards younger demographics and Harmon’s shows and ideas tend to do that also. The only problem is that not enough people watch TBS, or even know they’re doing original content. They’re an afterthought in the comedy circles. TBS shows feel like they should be on a major network but lack that home run quality to them. It’s not a bad thing but it’s just different.
Now, if you want to talk about skewing to a younger audience, The CW is where Harmon would go. Known for hour-long genre dramas, this is an unlikely landing spot for Harmon, however, shows on The CW require less of an audience to keep it afloat, and they still have the marketing power of Warner Brothers behind them. For example, they are trying to branch out with The Cult, a meta-horror show and it’s as violent as anything they’ve put out in recent years. I’m not saying different equals success, but why wouldn’t they try a comedy? They’re showing a propensity to diversify and even though they have no good history with comedies, The CW does offer the best of both worlds in being able to reach a wider (and international) audience but not needing the numbers to justify its existence every week.
Outside of The Big Bang Theory, CBS is as vanilla as they come. When they’re not using the Laurel and Hardy model within a marriage (King of Queens or Mike and Molly), they’re going for the easy jokes in 2 Broke Girls or Two and a Half Men. It’s the antithesis of what Harmon is known for, but people love them and that’s all that concerns them. They’re TV lineup is as solid as they come and they don’t need to develop new, ground-breaking shows every year when they can keep pumping out the same stuff, repackaged and their loyal audiences aren’t as picky. What makes CBS even in the conversation? They have gobs and gobs of money! Something just tells me it would be more of the same head-butting with Harmon and CBS execs though.
6. The Alternatives
If Harmon just wanted to be a viral sensation, then he could take his skills to any number of services like YouTube, Netflix, amongst the dozens of other players trying to create original content in this ever evolving mass called entertainment. Just like premium cable, it would be easily trackable and reach that younger demographic that’s entitled to pay nothing or very little for their entertainment. Harmon has already made a name for himself however so he doesn’t need to raise awareness of his creativity, he’d just be looking for a place to sustain his esoteric ideas. This would purely be a vanity project, but the new Arrested Development deal with Netflix shows that for the right show, they’re willing to shell out some money. As “cool” as this move would be, it just seems like it would be a step back for Harmon’s career.
Other in the mix: IFC, Comedy Central, AMC, MTV
So what networks do you think is in the talks with Harmon? Where would you like to see his future projects land, because whichever network steps up will certainly have a fit or mold to their lineup. Share your thoughts below.