There are a lot of Community-related things happening today, and, as required by federal Internet law, we have to cover each of them with the type of breathless intensity usually reserved for assassination attempts or imminent natural disasters. I’m sorry, but our hands are tied. If you don’t like it you can take it up with the fat cats in Washington.
Anyway, in a bit of curious timing, the day after NBC announced that it would be indefinitely delaying the show’s premiere date, a whole bunch of Q&A’s and promotional interviews with new Community showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port hit the web. The source material — found at Hitfix, Vulture, and TV Guide — is all worth a read if you’re interested in the transition from Dan Harmon to the new, outside voices helming the show, but for those of you who are a little short on time (or interest), I’ve helpfully excerpted some of the highlights below.
On their previous impressions of the show:
Before this came up, were you viewers of “Community,” and, if so, what did you as a neutral party think of it?
DAVID GUARASCIO: We were huge fans of “Community.” As fans, when Sony called us to say, ‘Listen, Dan is going to be off the show, and we’d like you guys to run it,’ our first response was, ‘Are you sure that’s a good idea, not having Dan there?’ We certainly associated him with the show. I think a lot of fans have. From there, we were hesitant about it. But as we started watching episodes, we landed in a place it’s just a unique sandbox from a writer’s perspective. There weren’t a lot of shows where you could tell the kinds of stories you do on the show, and a cast as funny as any cast that’s ever been on TV. WE thought it was a a once in the lifetime opportunity, and maybe we should just do it.
On trying to recreate the Community universe without just repeating it:
This is a show that had a very distinctive, idiosyncratic voice. How do you come in to that show in year four and find a way to replicate that voice and yet have it still feel like something you’re writing as opposed to you just copying the things the people before you did?
MOSES PORT: The first thing is, I don’t think we came in here being like, ‘We need to put our stamp on it.’ When we came in, we made the conscious decision that we’re going to check our ego at the door. We love this show and want to do what’s best for the show. That meant coming in and doing a lot of catch up about how things were done. We weren’t coming in and saying, ‘This is a new show right now.’ We had long discussions with the writers who had been here before us about the way they write stories, the way they held stories, and we wanted to continue in that tradition.
DAVID GUARASCIO: Every year of every show is different from every year that preceded it. Even on “Community,” season 2 is different from season 1 and season 3 from season 2. No matter who’s running the show in season 4, that would be the case, as long as you’re true to following the arc that the characters have been on previously. That’s where we wanted to take the show, is where it’s been. You can’t copy it. Only Dan running the show can do what Dan would do. What we can do is take the information and the stories that have been told over the last three years, and think with our writing staff, and our fellow producers, and our cast — they’re as important as anybody in breathing life into this show and making it something that’s not just on a page but lives and breathes in the medium. In that sense, honestly, we couldn’t really copy if we tried. But we can keep the spirit of the television show alive.
On making the show their own:
When you got the job and realized, ‘Hey, this is our show now,’ what were your initial thoughts on what you wanted to do? Were there certain stories you wanted to tell with these characters? Were there any characters or combinations of characters you were particularly looking forward to writing?
DAVID GUARASCIO: This is not to belittle how much passion we have for the show, but we probably don’t think of it as “our show.” Having created our own TV shows, that have not been on the air as long as this one has, it’s whoever created it, it’s their show. Everyone else is helping take care of the magic garden they planted. One of the things that really informed our thinking is that the show has always done a good job of marking time. Each new season is a new school year, and coming into this year, it’s going to be the senior year for some of the characters on the show. They’re not necessarily planning on being at Greendale for eight years. Some of them, like Jeff Winger, are looking to get out of there as soon as possible. We wanted to approach it as if we weren’t hiding from the end of the school year, so to speak. We wanted to lean into the fact that these people are seniors, and they’re going to be feeling that the end is coming, and that’s going to change not just how they’re thinking of what’s going to happen next to them, but how they’re relating to each other. There’s a maturity that comes with that that may affect some of the personal relationships on the show. We’re doing a little more with that this year. Troy and Britta are more of a real couple now this year, and that has a domino effect on Jeff’s character, and on Annie’s character. When Jeff’s going through some changes and meeting his dad this year, maybe that will perhaps have an inadvertent effect on his relationship with Britta while she’s in a relationship with Troy. We want to mine some of those things that have been seeded over the last three years.
On making the show more “accessible,” and pushing back against network suits:
Sony and NBC both made it clear that they wanted Dan to make the show more accessible, less insular. Not broad — just not as far up its own posterior. Are you trying to do this?
Guarascio: We’ve really never taken that mandate. And I can’t say anyone [at Sony or NBC] has said that with a whole lot of conviction, either. You know, the show is moving to a new night and a new time with fewer eyeballs. One of the things we said was, “There’s a chance ratings might not go up Fridays at 8:30, regardless of who’s running the show. Even from a business [point of view], isn’t your best decision to make sure that the little, loyal audience that loves the show keeps loving it?” So we just figure that we can’t really think about “mandates.” We’d just be second guessing ourselves constantly if we thought about it that way.
Maybe they had some expectations that, because it wasn’t Dan, things would be different to a certain extent. When we pitched them our early batch of episodes, we did get a good deal of resistance to the direction we were going in because they felt it maybe was too reminiscent of what the tone of the show had been. One of things Dan has done successfully is, he sort of tunneled through the mountain so that everyone who comes after him has an easier time telling other powers that be that it’s important that we do the show the way we feel best. It made us easier for us to stand our ground. And they eventually came around to what we were saying. So we’re getting to do it that way.
So Dan Harmon and Chevy Chase seemed to have, at best, an uncomfortable working relationship. How are you finding him?
Guarascio: The truth is, it’s been a very easy relationship. It may be that previous years were such a difficult road that it was just, whatever Chevy brought to that previously isn’t in him right now. I don’t really know. It just has not been difficult.
Well that’s disappointing.
Guarascio: (Laughs) And it’s not even bullshit! We sat down, we had lunch, he comes to work, he does his job. He doesn’t give us a hard time, we don’t give him a hard time. It’s just a pleasant relationship.
On the finale, whenever that will be:
Are you writing these episodes toward a possible series finale? Has NBC given you any direction?
Guarascio: We’re shooting our sixth episode this week. We’ll need to know within a few weeks, really as soon as possible, if we’re going to be doing more. We have a game plan to end the season, and a game plan to end the series. Neither script is written. But the one to end the season, that story is broken. I think the place we’ll land, because the truth is we won’t know about whether this is the last season until May, is that we’ll do an episode that we think will be satisfying if it’s the end of the season and at the same time satisfying if it’s the end of the series. Because, if it is the end, we want the show to go out with a bang, the way it deserves. And if the worst thing that happens is, we do that and it comes back next year? Then great.
And finally, some stuff on their relationship with Dan Harmon…
Did you try to communicate with Dan?
Guarascio: We e-mailed back and forth. That was us saying, “You’ve created an amazing show, and hope we do right by it.” He was very gracious and said, “I’m rooting for you, best of luck.” There were never any hard feelings between us and him. At the same time, the easiest thing for him is to step away from the blackjack table and let someone else play the hand now. He was either going to be all in or all out, which made total sense. But that’s as much as the communication has been.
So he’s totally gone then.
… and an interesting little fact, which you may read into as much as you like:
Port and Guarascio reached out to Harmon to see if he would write the Community finale — should this season be the last for the show. But Harmon opted to pass. “He was very gracious and said thanks and just wished us the best of luck,” Guarascio says.
One thought in closing: What if — and this is admittedly baseless speculation, but I write for a blog, so whatevs — NBC decided a few weeks ago that they were going to delay the show, but they sent out the showrunners and everyone for promotional stuff anyway so all their interviews would hit the morning after the announcement. That way Community’s loyal, somewhat rabid fanbase would be all “RABBLE RABBLE I MUST HAVE MORE COMMUNITY INFO #teamcommunity #teamnbcisabutthole,” and sites like this one would post 2000 word recaps of all the Q&As to give it to them, thus creating some sort of self-mutilating, chumming-the-water guerrilla marketing strategy to ramp up interest in the show?
That would have been, like, a conspiracy, man.