Community’s brief history has already been a tumultuous one. The Thursday night NBC comedy debuted to high ratings and higher acclaim, but by the end of its first season, it started trying unique ideas, which went along way to satisfy the show’s hardcore audience but likely hurt its chances at a wider audience, who turned to mainstream comedy like Big Bang Theory.
But Community was unwavering in creator and showrunner Dan Harmon’s vision to bring something original to the world of sitcoms. In doing so, the show not only built up an incredibly strong cult following but also joined the lineage of outstanding comedies — like Fox’s Arrested Development — that outsmarted and out-weirded a large portion of the television audience, with falling ratings making the show subject to questionable decisions made by the network.
In its third season, Community dealt with an awkward mid-season hiatus after it did not return at its regular time. Instead, fans waited (and took to twitter, as well as Rockefeller Center) for months, while NBC promised the remainder of Community’s 22-episode season would air, even if they didn’t clarify that with a specific date and time. In January 2012, the network confirmed the show was not canceled. In February, Dan Harmon confirmed it would return in March. And on March 15, 2012, Community returned in its regular time slot, and NBC aired the remainder of the season.
But the show may be facing its biggest challenge yet in the wake of yet another lengthy hiatus, the threat of cancellation and the loss of Harmon, as well as other producers and writers.
Harmon was notably ousted from his position as showrunner at the end of last season, after some public spats with Chevy Chase, who stars as Pierce Hawthorne — an elderly, often racist, sometimes delusional man still attending community college. News recently surfaced that Chase, himself, agreed to part ways with the show in the fourth season, while having already filmed most episodes.
If they had filmed in order, a high point to look forward to this season may have been seeing how they wrote Pierce out of the crew, but reports are that he filmed for the final episode, so it’s unlikely that will happen unless Community finds renewal and a fifth season.
That’s the least of its problems, though. After NBC toyed with the idea of airing it in a different time slot so it wouldn’t face the same competition, it settled on returning it to its regular 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Central) spot on Thursdays, starting Feb. 7. That’s all well and good, as if Community has any hope of sticking around — it does — it could eventually be helping Parks and Recreation hold down a mostly new comedy lineup that’s set to lose 30 Rock and The Office.
The problem is the show was originally slated to return in October and started filming for that return. Now it appears the episode to air on Valentine’s Day will be “Paranormal Parenting,” which one can only assume is the Greendale gang’s Halloween episode. It wouldn’t be surprising then, either, to see a Christmas episode air at the end of March or in April.
Fans will also likely be keeping a close eye on the tone of the show, which has always featured incredibly quirky humor, steered away from delving too deeply into any of the romantic tropes, and tends to wrap up with John Hughes-esque warm moments, only to hit reset, as if no one really learned from the revelations in the previous episode — at least until the third season, when some things finally started to stick for ongoing story threads. The question is whether or not the formula will remain intact in the absence of Harmon. There’s a reason he’s gone, and it will be interesting to see if those is his place uphold the things most important to the show.
It will also be interesting to see if the show still has a home on NBC after its fourth season, and a lot of that will depend on fans, as well as critical response. At one point, it almost seemed certain that this would be the final run of Community, but NBC’s Robert Greenblatt has in recent interviews indicated nothing is a done deal just yet. And along with NBC losing some of its other cornerstone programs, the network’s attempts at new programming haven’t been met with as much success as hoped, meaning if Community pulls even decent ratings, in comparison to its possible replacements, it could stick around.
Parks and Recreation is a good example of a quality NBC show that found itself near cancellation several times and bounced back to be one of the network’s best comedies. That show, however, has found critical success, especially in the realm of awards — whereas Community has not. And that could be a critical blow to the show. On NBC, it seems executives would love great ratings but are willing to forgive shows with lower ratings if they find that awards success. But without ratings or the awards, there would be little reason to keep the show around.
But there are three things of which fans can be sure. Community has shot and will ideally air all of a fourth season. Joel McHale will shamelessly promote the show on The Soup on E! And if nothing else, Community will live on in syndication on Comedy Central, which picked it up and plans to start airing reruns sometime after the new season starts. But let’s hope it sticks around for more than just that.