Huffpost TV
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Maureen Ryan Headshot

Dan Harmon Fired From 'Community': How TV Executives Britta'd It

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

community 120315

Let me tell you a story about Dan Harmon, who was fired from "Community" on Friday night.

Several years ago, when "The Sarah Silverman" program debuted, I wrote a review of it. I didn't like it much; it just wasn't my thing, and I said as much in my review.

Within a day or two of that review appearing, a comment appeared on that review -- a very negative one from someone named Dan Harmon. I confirmed with Comedy Central that the comment was, in fact, left by Harmon, who was then a writer/producer on Silverman's show. (I didn't want anything on my site that had been left under his name if it wasn't actually from him.) It was him. And then I noticed that my site was getting some traffic from MySpace (remember, this was more than five years ago).

Turns out Harmon posted a more stinging rebuke of me on his MySpace page, because what he'd left on my site apparently hadn't been harsh enough for him. Needless to say, both comments weren't complimentary toward me or my intelligence. They weren't easy to read. When someone writes, "You look like an idiot ... I'm looking into the 3 pixels that represent your eyes and right into your unremarkable soul," that tends to stick with you.

I'm not saying any of this to pile on Dan Harmon. I absolutely am not; he's had a bad enough week. I'm saying this because I want to make a point: He's probably as difficult to work with as all the stories say he is. But based on what he's achieved with "Community," he's worth it.

As I said, I didn't especially enjoy those comments when I read them for the first time. But here's something that's also true: I was able to realize that his comments about me were very well-written. Want proof?

A friend of mind, the writer Claire Zulkey, does a regular event called Funny Ha-Ha, where people get up and read amusing things they've written. She invited me to be part of it a couple of times, and I'm aware enough of my own limitations to know that I'm not all that funny. So twice (without saying who wrote it), I read Harmon's diatribe at Funny Ha-Ha, and ladies and gentlemen, it killed. Both times.

The rant has a point of view that Harmon meticulously, if angrily, got across. It's very far from being a generic angry Internet comment; it's just another instance of Harmon proving that he's unstoppable (and pretty diverting) when he's got something to say.

Now, you may wonder, did that withering comment make it harder for me to like "Community" at first? I wondered about that for a very, very long time -- trust me, I thought about it a lot. And I've come to two conclusions:

  • "Community" made it hard for me to like it, especially in its first season. I gave it a lot of chances in Seasons 1 and 2, and I appreciated what the cast was doing, but the show didn't quite click for me because of its distancing meta techniques, which weren't expertly tied to characters I cared about in the early days. It wasn't due to the fact that Harmon had called me an idiot, I don't think.
  • My little online experience with Harmon didn't affect my view of the show much, I don't think, but it did make it hard for me to see a lot of my colleagues in the media fawning over the guy. I'll admit that that rankled now and again. I'm only human, after all.

But you know what? The show itself eventually won me over. Last year, I became a late convert thanks to the overwhelming brilliance of "Remedial Chaos Theory," and when I love something, I tend to love it 150 percent. I recognize that not every episode of "Community" is great, and there are still certain things about it that bug me at times, but I sat down to watch that episode with an open mind and I completely fell for the Greendale Seven, which made me really happy. I went back and watched Season 2 and have faithfully watched Season 3, the finale of which was very pleasing, I thought.

What I'm trying to get at here is this: When something, or someone, is difficult, you work on it. When someone rubs you the wrong way, you acknowledge that, figure out how to move forward, and move forward. Why couldn't NBC and Sony do this?

After all, executives there are paid a lot more than I am to put up with the delicate egos and undeniable flaws of creative people. And I'm of the opinion that whatever baggage Harmon brought to the table was worth putting up with. For him to be shown the door without getting a single phone call from NBC or Sony Pictures Television, as he says in this post about being fired, is horrifying -- but more importantly, it's unprofessional on the part of those above him in the food chain.

I'm not saying every showrunner should get away with everything -- far from it -- but at the very least, there should have been discussions in the last few weeks with Harmon about his future with the show. And if NBC and Sony weren't going to go forward with Harmon as showrunner, they should have put on their big-boy pants and canceled the comedy. If Harmon at the helm of "Community" was just too more trouble than they wanted to deal with, they should have pulled the plug, but they didn't have the guts.

NBC and Sony are not making widgets and not merely replacing a manager who couldn't get his people to meet their widget quota. As much as the business might involve slicing and dicing Nielsen numbers, it's not, at the end of the day, about cold numbers and flow charts. Some shows do involve widgets and some shows are topped by executive producers who can be replaced at will. "Community" is not one of those shows, and for Sony and NBC keep the show going but without Harmon -- well, that's just dumb. That's not a knock on the new "Community" showrunners, that's a knock on short-sighted TV executives.

I will stipulate that Harmon can be a hard guy to get along with. My long-ago, minor experience aside, many credible articles and sources have said so. But I don't require him to be my friend, nor should the executives at Sony and NBC. I require him to make an inventive show with a lot of heart and wit, a show that is imbued with a particular gleeful/bittersweet point of view. Harmon did that, whatever problems Sony and NBC may have had with his management style.

Look, creative types can be a real pain in the ass. There aren't a ton of showrunners who make the trains run on time, make something approaching art and are also nice to everyone (there are a few, and they are worth their weight in gold). But that's the business "creative" executives are in. It's messy, it's not easy, but if TV executives wanted to go into something more predictable and less stressful, why not try accounting?

So, Dan Harmon, I forgave you a long time ago for what you wrote about me, even though it hurt my feelings at the time. I understood, even then, that what prompted your angry response was the fact that your feelings had been hurt. Sensitive types aren't always fun to be around (and this is something I can relate to). I understood, then and now, that you care about what you do. I'm sure you still care about "Community."

And as Alan Sepinwall wrote here, I think that shows with unique visions that lose their showrunners late in their runs are often much worse for it. I'm sadly sure that will be the case here. This is one of those cases where something like the thing you loved will just be a reminder of how much you miss the thing you loved.

I'll miss Harmon's "Community." And I think NBC and Sony executives have no idea of the shitstorm they just created. So I'll leave an angry Internet comment of my own: Whoever thought it would be a good idea to ditch Harmon is a business-casual potted plant. You're VH1, "Robocop 2," "Back to the Future 3."

You're Jim Belushi.