‘Community’ stars and Dan Harmon on the move to Yahoo: Press Tour live-blog

Senior Television Writer
01.13.15 24 Comments

Yahoo

The dream of Six Seasons and a Movie is one step closer to fruition, thanks to Yahoo rescuing “Community” from cancellation, for a sixth season to debut sometime this year. Beyond knowing which castmembers won’t be a part of the new season – Yvette Nicole Brown left for personal reasons, Jonathan Banks is now on “Better Call Saul,” and of course Donald Glover and Chevy Chase have been gone a while, leaving only Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Alison Brie, Ken Jeong and Oscar Winner Jim Rash – we don’t have a whole lot of detail about the new season, including when it might debut on Yahoo Screen, whether Yahoo will try a Netflix all-at-once approach or release the episodes weekly, etc.

Fortunately, we have a “Community” panel this morning at press tour, featuring Dan Harmon, producer Chris McKenna, and stars McHale, Jacobs and Jeong, which will hopefully provide some answers. I’ll be live-blogging the panel as fast as my fingers and the ballroom wifi will allow, so hit reload early and often. (All times are Pacific.)

9:01 a.m.: We open with clips featuring the remaining castmembers and Harmon discussing the return, which will apparently be on March 17. New regular Paget Brewster raves, “I can’t believe they asked me to be on the show.” Brie blows us a kiss as the clip ends. UPDATE: Here’s the clip:

9:03 a.m.: Two episodes will debut on March 17, and there will be one episode every Tuesday for the rest of the season.

9:05 a.m.: We see a clip from the new season, which starts off with Annie talking Chang through an audition for a stage adaptation of “Karate Kid.” We get our first glimpse of both Brewster and our other new regular, Keith David. I won’t give away other jokes, but it’s funny.

9:08 a.m.: How close did we come to the show not being renewed? “It was literally hours, from our perspective,” says Harmon. McKenna says all the actors’ contracts were about to be up, and when the deal came in, they had only hours to pick up any writers’ options. Harmon had a 40-minute conversation with a Yahoo executive that “turned me 180 degrees” in favor of going there. He had been expecting to wind up at Hulu, if the show survived. “Don’t know what happened there,” he adds. “It’s out of my jurisdiction.”

9:09 a.m.: “You can see that the show is still the show,” says McHale, and calls the new castmembers “tremendous. Other than Paget being unattractive, and Keith’s voice sucks – now that they’re in the cast, it’s been a wonderful, great time with them. I couldn’t be happier.”

9:10 a.m.: Does Harmon want to do more than this one season for Yahoo? Is he writing this as the end? “The important answer first is that I’m definitely not writing it as if it’s the end,” he says. “I’m very naive about how the business actually works, these guys’ contracts, scheduling, so I just stick with a very sixth grade mentality. And the mentality is this show has lived by the sword of the very intimate relationship with fans, and has to die by that sword. So only when people stop watching do I want to stop providing the project… We owe it to be used by it. I would never feel very comfortable walking away from any version of ‘Community’ that was existing. In my mind, I have to keep writing the show as if it’s going to exist for 20 seasons.”

9:12 a.m.: What of rumors Chevy Chase is coming back? “His character died,” Harmon deadpans. “If something like that were to happen – if you were to take a man and bring him back to life like that, I would keep it a secret. I wouldn’t reveal it in a hotel in Pasadena.”

9:13 a.m.: How do they feel about the “old-school” scheduling of the show, rather than a binge release after production is done? “Well, the episodes are 70 hours long apiece,” quips McHale. Harmon says there was no talk about a binge release. He doesn’t care about how the show is released and marketed, just about the content. Yahoo always asks for his opinion, but they defer back to them. “I feel in my old-school bones, it feels to me like the right way to do it. I love the fact of releasing the two instead of one, the first week.” He says old-school is the best school, as in rap, and throws in a Doug E. Fresh reference.

9:16 a.m.: “I was so excited that we were coming back,” Jeong says of the day the Yahoo deal closed. “This is the only TV series I know how to be on. For me, I was ecstatic that we got a sixth season. We’ve been through so much, and survived so much.” Jacobs says “it felt like the worst had happened, we’d finally been canceled by NBC when we had cheated death so many times. For myself, I really had mourned the show. I cried when we got canceled.” McKenna recalls that she tweeted him a photo of the crew gift box from the end of season 5 to make him feel sad. “We had finally died as a show, but we are a phoenix, and we have experienced a resurrection now. It sort of felt like we were an online show for a while. So it’s kind of good that we’re now actually online.” “It’ll be weird when we actually get canceled by the internet,” jokes Harmon, “and become a roving gang of street performers.”

9:18 a.m.: The show has moved to a new studio, the CBS Radford lot. “We are now literally underneath ‘Parks and Rec,'” says Harmon. “It was a parking garage, it’s now studios, and we shoot in a basement,” says Jacobs. McHale says it’s twice the size of their studio on the Paramount lot. There are lots of pillars in the basement that they had to now work into the set design. McHale says Harmon has a modified Segway to get around the bigger lot. (Harmon: “I’m always looking for new ways to be a tool.”

9:20 a.m.: Very few of the production details have changed in the new season. “The budget is the same, if not slightly more,” says Harmon, who explains they took some of the money they no longer had to spend on Chase and other departed people and invested it back into the show. McHale notes they’re filming outdoors for the first time in years. The bigger differences are creative; Harmon says NBC was agreeable to most of what they wanted to do, but there’s no more pressure to get a certain ratings number. “The corset loosens a little bit,” he says. “There’s a tiny bit more Britishness to the humor.” (“More fart jokes,” says Jacobs.)

9:23 a.m.: What can they say about Brewster and David’s characters? Harmon wanted to be careful to not bring in two new characters “And one of them have an eyepatch, and every third word rhymes. You’d feel the plasticity of these two new characters.” He didn’t want to force it on the audience, yet make them feel like classic “Community” characters. “You put characters with a lot of potential in a petri dish with these guys, and let the actors grow them,” he says. “They have two-dimensional roles, and then as in the John Hughes movies that inspired Community’s pilot, you let the actors and the writers discover very specific details about the characters.” Brewster’s introduction is that “she’s a problem-solver,” the likes of which Jeff hasn’t seen before, and she’s been hired to fix all the problems at Greendale. David’s character, on the surface, “Is a computer programmer. He wasted a lot of time on virtual reality technology in the 90s, and sacrificed a lot of his personal life for the sake of his career.”

9:26 a.m.: Are people still giving Harmon notes? “Notes are welcome,” he says. They get them from both Sony and Yahoo. “We need them.” He says it helps to get outside feedback from people who are invested in the show, which helps them realize which points are unclear. Will the content be any different because they’re not on NBC? “I think there’s stuff we can do that we couldn’t have done on TV,” says Harmon, but “it would be very easy to corrupt the tone of the show.” They’ve loosened up a bit, but he doesn’t want it to feel too different. McHale calls the scripts “dynamite. I run screaming through my house reciting lines to my nine-year-old and six-year-old.”

9:28 a.m.: “I will not fall into that trap,” says Harmon when asked if he’s enjoyed how poor the ratings for NBC’s new Thursday comedies have been. He’s relieved to see that “them going down wasn’t us, it’s the weather. But, no, I don’t take pleasure in other creatives’ pain. I would love for ‘Selfie’ to run 100 episodes. I know how hard it is to make a show and fall in love with a show.” What will he do without fast national ratings? “That’s going to be the coolest thing in the world,” he says. “That was the worst part: in a world a 0.8 could mean the best day of your life, and a 0.7 could mean no donuts.” He doesn’t know yet how Yahoo is going to measure success.

9:30 a.m.: How refreshing has it been to have new castmembers the last two seasons? “The remarkable thing is how much I still enjoy working with (the remaining original castmembers),” says Jacobs. “In addition to that, we’ve been unbelievably lucky to have people like Jonathan Banks and Paget and Keith… These people make me laugh so hard. It’s a privilege to get to do six years with these people.” McHale jokes, “I’ll work with anybody if the money’s right.” (Jacobs: “We laugh because it’s true.”)

9:33 a.m.: Harmon isn’t sure yet how long each episode will be. Will they have ad breaks? He jokes that all episodes will “take place inside a Honda.” The episodes will be free on the Yahoo ep, but advertiser-supported. He’s writing it as if there will be traditional act breaks, “because as a writer, three-act stories worked for me.” He likes writing to act breaks, doing the tags, etc. McKenna says they might not have to run the credits over the tags now.

9:35 a.m.: Season 5 didn’t have a lot of classroom time. Will we get more of that, and any more of John Oliver or Jonathan Banks? Harmon says Oliver “is tough,” and Banks is too busy doing “Saul.” He liked the response to Jeff being a teacher, and it worked well early in the fifth season, but then they got distracted by Glover’s farewell and other things. He says they got a lot of people asking for more of Jeff as a teacher, and they responded to that. “It is a very grounded season. Gone are the days when we had to wonder why they were all still at school,” he says. “Greendale is the world, and it’s a grounded world. It has bills to pay. It’s becoming a Dunder Mifflin, which you can believe exists.”

9:36 a.m.: “I used to be your avatar!” declares an indignant Jacobs upon learning Todd VanDerWerff tweeted that the photo of the smaller cast was “sad.” Todd asks how important Harmon thinks the setting is versus these particular characters. “I do have a naive feeling that we’ve demonstrated Greendale itself is a character,” says Harmon. The show “has crawled and struggled. And one advantage is it’s learned to survive, like a pine tree. We’ve retained moisture. One of the things we’ve learned how to do is make sure cast fluctuations don’t destroy the show immediately.” He jokes that he prays every night “that Donald Glover will come down the chimney and come back to my show,” but everyone who wants to leave the show should leave, and he thinks there’s a version of the show where more people like Brewster and David could come in.

9:39 a.m.: After more heckling of Todd, someone asks how Shirley is written out. Harmon says it’s explained in the first episode, but doesn’t want to say how. He notes that Yvette Nicole Brown left the show for personal reasons (she’s caring for her ailing father), but she could come back for a guest spot if she wants.

9:41 a.m.: Last question: will there be any specially-formatted episodes like animation or video games? Harmon says “there’s one we keep punting down the road because it terrifies us. It’s a big structural departure for the show, but it’s not a conceit in that ‘Moonlighting’ doing ‘Taming of the Shrew’ sense.” McKenna says this year they’ve held the line on staying grounded and focused on the characters, rather than doing big concept episodes. “We haven’t gone down that rabbit hole of, ‘How are we doing “Highlander”?'”

That’s all, folks.

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