The deal that revived NBC’s canceled “Community” via Yahoo Stream came down to “literally hours,” show creator Dan Harmon told reporters at Tuesday’s Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, citing legalities and contract expirations.
Yahoo stepped in with their own idea for the show at the 11th hour, while Sony was in talks with apparent frontrunner Hulu, he explained.
“It seemed absolutely impossible that something was going to happen,” Harmon said of the time crunch, while the clock was ticking down on talent and writer deals.
Also revealed at Tuesday’s TCA media panel was “Community’s” Yahoo premiere date, which is set to run two episodes on March 17. A new show will stream each Tuesday thereafter until the conclusion of Season 6, which may not spell the ultimate end of the series, even if Harmon is no longer involved — again.
“I’m definitely not writing it as if it was the end,” the on-again-off-again showrunner said of the coming episodes. “In my mind, I have to continue to write the show as if its going to last for 20 seasons.”
Even with Harmon and most of the cast aboard, “Community” will have a different look on a different platform, due to several factors. This time around, the budget is actually slightly more and the show has relocated from Paramount to the CBS Radford Lot. The new shooting spot offers more of an open air environment, which feels more “cinematic,” Harmon said.
However, their basement location offers quite a bit of off-camera comedic fodder as well, Harmon added.
“After years of it figuratively being the case, we are now literally under ‘Parks and Rec,'” he joked of his new “dungeon” setting, which is beneath that of the NBC comedy that “Community” used to share Thursday nights with.
Since the show is running online, several of the traditional TV critics and journalists in the Pasadena crowd were scrambling at how to measure success or failure, now that the Nielsen factor — which got the show canceled — has been removed. Also stripped from the equation as a result is a lot of the other pressures that Harmon felt on NBC.
“The corset loosens a little bit,” he said of his scripts. “There’s a tiny bit more Britishness … a little freer.”
Harmon added that while he lost sleep over those possibly antiquated metrics, he took solace knowing that “Community” was not alone: “To see them going down wasn’t us — it was the weather,” Harmon said of current TV comedy. “Those numbers felt bad to me … A 0.8 could mean the best day of your life. A 0.7 could mean no donuts.”
In terms of how Yahoo will quantify the success — possibly “how many people clicked a cat face” — Harmon has no idea. He also isn’t sure how the advertising support will look, or if the online episodes will stick to the typical 22-minute TV format. And honestly, he’s not even entirely aware of what the cast will look like, other than the main players.
Harmon said John Oliver and Jonathan Banks will be tough to bring back due to their new shows, but that he’d be open for Shirley Bennett (Yvette Nicole Brown) to come back as a guest. That said, her character is written out of the show in the Yahoo St. Patrick’s Day premiere, he added.
In terms of Donald Glover, Harmon quipped to reporters that he “prays to the devil” that the actor behind Troy Barnes will come back. On a possible Chevy Chase return — an Internet rumor — Harmon sung a different, simpler tune: “His character died,” he said.
Finally, the real question was if the new-look “Community” will feature profanity and nudity — things not allowed on broadcast television — and star Joel McHale declared: “Fuck yeah.”
He then added: “You’ll see me topless.”
We’ll see about that on March 17.