There has never been a cult show quite like "Community."
NBC's freewheeling farce about the lives of a motley group of community college students drew a fiercely devoted fan base. But the ratings were never stellar, and the network finally canceled the series in 2014 after five seasons.
The show's backstage struggles spilled into open view as well. Executive producer Dan Harmon tangled with his bosses at NBC, who hoped that the show would eventually prove a comedy anchor for the then-struggling network. The battles finally resulted in Harmon's abrupt firing at the start of Season 4. He returned the following year.
Now "Community" has moved to Yahoo for Season 6 starting Tuesday.
Harmon talked with The Times about how the show will change, what fans should expect and what he learned from the NBC experience in the following edited interview.
What the fans want to know, of course, is how "Community" will be different on Yahoo, if at all?
I had sworn up and down that it wasn't going to change very much at all, that my goal was going to be to keep it the same. But it turns out that the run time's a little more flexible. We don't have to turn in cuts that are 20 minutes long, because we're not working with time slots anymore. I am able to just say, "You know what, the story is 25 minutes long, and I'm not going to cut out these four minutes."
The cast is going to be different too. Joel McHale is coming back as sleazy lawyer Jeff Winger, but a lot of other fan favorites, such as Donald Glover and John Oliver, won't be in the Yahoo episodes.
In order to enjoy Season 6, you're definitely going to have to not compare directly to the previous show you've had this relationship with. But the heart of the show is still somehow consistent.
Paget Brewster and Keith David are joining the cast. We're bringing in pros to fill in the gaps. They do so beautifully.
What about the content? Are there things you can do now you couldn't do before?
Well, you're not getting this memo from this [corporate] juggernaut that's just sort of in lockstep with all the other networks enforcing a kind of ... I don't even know what to call it.
On broadcast TV, if somebody pops a balloon beside someone's head and scares the crap out of them, they can say, "Holy crap! You scared the crap out of me." But they can't say the thing that so many of us say, which is "Jesus!" It obviously has something to do with a kind of perception of sacrilege or violation of certain family values.
It was like our job was to push against this wall and the wall's job was to stay there? Now [on Yahoo], it's, "Gee, if we really wanted to, I guess we could be pretty off-color with this particular joke. Or we could use this particular language." We're held in line now by our own sense of what feels right for an audience. That was the first thing I was very excited about in moving to a new media: Now my characters get to get scared right.
You and the show became famous for having a tortured relationship with the executives at NBC. The show was always on the bubble. You were fired as show runner, and then rehired. What's your take on all that now?
Oh, God. I grew up on NBC sitcoms, and I wanted to make a classic NBC sitcom. "Community" was designed from the ground up to be a kind of valentine to that golden age of television.
You have to understand that NBC was under three different regimes during my stay there. There was only one regime that had actually bought the show and was proud of it, and that was [former programming chief] Ben Silverman's, who was then quickly out. Then began the age of people coming into NBC who would regard "Community" as this problem that needed to be solved.
All television networks are slowly losing ratings, but to the people at NBC we were this show that for some mysterious reason, year after year, on Thursday night at 8 o'clock against "Big Bang Theory," was being viewed by less and less people.
Obviously, when Yahoo buys a show, knowing everything that they already know about it, that's immediately out the window. Yahoo didn't buy a show they considered a fixer-upper.