Given its consistently low ratings and poor network treatment, Community fans are used to fearing for the life of their beloved show. So when NBC announced that they were officially renewing this wonderfully geeky sitcom for at least half a season this coming fall, we all breathed a little sigh of relief. Little did we know that NBC executives still had a couple tricks up their sleeve to ruin what could have been pure fan bliss.
Late last Friday night Sony Pictures Television (who produces the show) put out a press release stating that showrunner Dan Harmon's contract would not be renewed in its current capacity. This comes as a major blow to the show because, well, Harmon was basically the single driving force behind making it the way it was. He admits, in interviews, DVD commentaries, and elsewhere, that he's not exactly easy to work with, and tends to be a bit of a perfectionist and control freak, but the final product speaks for itself.
However, that degree of control—added to things like his recent and noted public feud with show star Chevy Chase—is probably what made the network wary of renewing Harmon's contract. In his stead, they've brought on David Guarascio and Moses Port, who can claim to their credit shows like ABC's Happy Endings and the CW's Aliens in America.
According to Sony's release, Harmon would stay on as a "consulting producer," which basically means he'd be allowed to weigh in with an opinion on every episode. Harmon responded to this with a lengthy, eloquent post on his own blog. Basically, he rejected Sony's offer (which was seemingly extended only as a formality) and decided to leave the show permanently, since it would no longer be the entity he envisioned. You can read all about it here.
So the obvious question on everybody's minds is: Where does this leave Community? Not only is its controlling producer out, but none of its original season 1 writers have stuck around, either. And given NBC's general distaste for treating the show very well (late renewals, half-season teases, random schedule movements), it seems like they'd really prefer if next season the show looked pretty different. This is obviously jumping to conclusions, but it's not hard to imagine Community trying to appeal to a more mainstream audience, more like NBC's version of the Big Bang Theory. And that would probably be kind of awful.
So it seems we're left with this sobering conclusion: it might have been better for Community to not get picked up for (half of) season 4 at all. Had it been cancelled, it might have found it new life on cable TV (like it did for Conan) or even Netflix (like it's about to for Arrested Development). Instead, much like on Scrubs, Community fans may be treated to an weak half-season of show that bears little resemblance to the original material that made it great, then an unceremonious cancellation in December. Obviously it deserves better.
One of the biggest rallying cries for Community fans has been the phrase/hashtag #SixSeasonsAndAMovie… so much so that it popped up on screen at the end of season three's finale. But now, though this writer and others remain cautiously optimistic, we may instead have to adjust that hashtag to #ThreeGreatSeasons. But hey, at least we got those.