Monday, May 21, 2012
That said, here are some random thoughts:
Networks have been firing showrunners for years. You just never heard about it. Before social networks and the internet, showrunners were essentially invisible. Just names in the credits. Now showrunners have become quasi-celebrities themselves, which I think is a good thing. Only 70% of the viewers think Joel McHale makes up those funny things he says instead of 90%. But the point is, this isn’t precedent setting.
It’s always easier to fire writers than actors. People do notice when their favorite star has been replaced by Ashton Kutcher. (Which tells you how off-the-charts psycho Charlie Sheen had to be to get canned from TWO AND A HALF MEN.)
Shows tend to survive without the original creative force. Even WEST WING when Aaron Sorkin was sacked. Even MASH when Larry Gelbart quit. MASH is a perfect example. If they could replace the genius of Larry Gelbart with a couple of knuckleheads like me and my partner and the show still survived, then you know it’s pretty bulletproof.
Networks now control every aspect of the production. There are no more independent studios to stand behind showrunners who are under attack. And if there is an indie studio, they're partnered with the network. It's the Tony Soprano business model.
For a network to fire a showrunner, his behavior had to be pretty unruly. The network weighs the value of his contribution with the nightmare of dealing with him and must decide if he’s worth it. Dan Harmon apparently wasn’t worth it.
And let’s be real. NBC has no faith in COMMUNITY. They scheduled it in a death slot of Friday night. They’re only looking to appease viewers and show that they’re cool, and make more episodes to fill out a possible syndication deal (i.e. more money for them). So if the creative quality of the show suffers for these last thirteen episodes, no one in Burbank gives a rat’s ass.
Harmon complains that he wasn’t properly told of NBC’s decision. Fact: There is no civility in Hollywood anymore. Courtesy? Respect? That’s over. From another era. People are fired by texts. People are fired on vacation. People are fired at Christmas. Submitted material receives no responses. That’s just how it is now. Gone is even the pretense of humanity. But writers can take heart, executives do the same thing to each other now.
From what I’ve heard second-hand, Dan Harmon was very erratic. There are horror stories of 24-hour writing sessions. A number of writers have supposedly run screaming from the show. So if these stories are true (and I have no proof that they are), it’s not just NBC that has problems dealing with him.
The Chevy Chase incident. Forget who said what to whom and who was an asshole and who was a bigger asshole – the fracas never should have gone public. And it was Harmon who spilled the beans by airing his dirty laundry during a stand-up routine. Networks frown on this.
Although I personally thought some of the format-bending episodes of COMMUNITY didn’t work, I always admired Dan Harmon’s fearlessness in doing them. I love his desire to challenge conventions and push the envelope. Again, networks only love this when the show becomes SEINFELD. Then all the execs who hated it, take credit for it. If it doesn't become a break-out hit then they do hate it. They’ll never say they hate it but they do. They’d much prefer something safe and predictable. Something they know how to give notes on.
I look forward to what the new showrunners might do. It could be they improve the show. Who knows?
And finally, I worry that Dan going public with this will ultimately hurt him. Other networks might put him in the “too much trouble” bin. He’s a talented guy but he’s yet to create FRIENDS. And I wonder, is this worth it? Besides getting all this stuff off his chest, what is the upside of going worldwide with this feud? Yes, your fanboys rally around you and you’re a media martyr, but they’re not the people who can say “yes” to your next project. They can’t make the decisions that will shape your career.
Ultimately, I wish Dan Harmon well. I hope I’m wrong. I hope two networks are lining up to get his next project. And I’m very sorry he got fired, if for no other reason than it must make Chevy Chase really happy. That really pisses me off.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM