Six seasons and a movie: Is Community‘s future in doubt?

November 18, 2012
Cast of Community

photo via Mitchell Haaseth/NBC

“Show’s gonna last 3 weeks”. Those words, spoken by Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi) in response to Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), have become the rallying cry for the fans of Community in attempting to preserve one of television’s most ingeniously written series. Community has garnered critical acclaim and established a cult following, despite gaining neither a sizable audience nor any recognition from either the Primetime Emmys or the Golden Globe Awards. Although Community has been “on the bubble” for the entirety of its series run, it has survived by way of fan devotion for three seasons. But this time around, NBC has scaled back its episode order and delayed the fourth season premiere of the show. Is there still hope for six seasons and a movie? Or are the days numbered for all of the Greendale Human Beings?

The premise of Community takes place at Greendale Community College, where Jeff enrolls to earn his Bachelor’s Degree to save his career as a lawyer and forms a study group with Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs). However, Britta invites Abed, who then proceeds to invite four other members: Troy Barnes (Donald Glover), Annie Edison (Alison Brie), Shirley Bennett (Yvette Nicole Brown) and Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase).  Despite their different ages, backgrounds, personalities, and individual flaws, the group bond together and eventually develop a close relationship. The series profoundly utilizes meta-humour and pop culture references to lampoon the tropes and conventions in film and television and advance the drama in the episode. This drama enables “concept” episodes, depicted in various narrative and visual styles such as a documentary, claymation, and a retro video game complete with old-school graphics and a synthesizer driven soundtrack.

However, while NBC renewed the series for a fourth season, the episode order for Community was scaled back to a mere 13 episodes and moved over from its original Thursday night slot to Friday night, the dreaded graveyard slot signaling imminent cancellation. This season will also be developed without any involvement from series creator Dan Harmon, after being dismissed as both showrunner and executive producer (along with the departure of several executive producers and writers on the show). While it was originally reported that Harmon would still remain on the show as a consulting producer, he has since stated this is not the case, and that he will not return in a position without any executive privileges. Lastly, to further complicate the situation for the series, its fourth season premiere, originally scheduled to debut on October 19, 2012,  was delayed by NBC without any announcement of a new date.

Much of the circumstances affecting Community reflect the concerns held by NBC, the most central concern being that the series has been “on the bubble” for the entirety of its run. From the studio network’s perspective, the show has done well enough to avoid cancellation – despite the unimpressive audience viewership –  because of the combination of both fan devotion and critical acclaim. But neither of these things necessarily guarantees that Community has a future if the show’s weekly audience is not significant enough to justify the production costs for the network. The show’s own internal conflicts don’t help much either, particularly the feud between Dan Harmon and Chevy Chase, wherein an argument occurred extreme enough that the latter threatened to leave the show. This only added further concern for NBC, questioning if production could still be accomplished with ongoing infighting between one the show’s stars and the series’ creator, especially if the studios have to intervene to placate the issue when the public hears of it.

Community’s current situation can happen to any show, and NBC, like any studio network, has to juggle between making profits to justify the show’s costs and appeasing the audiences who tune in weekly – especially its fans. The new date for the fourth season premiere of Community has been announced for February 7th, 2013, but it remains to be seen whether or not the fourth season of Community will be successful enough to fulfill the dreams of all the Greendale Human Beings and reach “six seasons and a movie”.