Dan Harmon Talks Scrapped Plans for COMMUNITY Season 4, the Significance of the Season 3 Finale, Chevy Chase, His New Series and More

     August 22, 2012


Fans of NBC’s Community await the upcoming fourth season with mixed emotions, as we’ll be seeing a version of the show not spearheaded by showrunner/creative wizard Dan Harmon.  As you probably know by now, Harmon was not-so-quietly ousted from his showrunner position by Sony and NBC and replaced by new producers that have no history with the oddball series.

In the wake of his exit, Harmon has signed blind deals to create new half-hour comedies at both Fox and CBS and he’s also developing a stop-motion animated feature from the mind of Charlie Kaufman called Anomalisa.  Harmon recently took part in a Reddit AMA (“ask me anything”), and he candidly discussed circumstances surrounding his exit from Community, his plans for season four, why he wrote the season three finale as a semi-series finale, difficulties with Chevy Chase, the status of his project with Charlie Kaufman, and more.  Hit the jump to read on.

dan-harmon-communityHat tip to reader Vivek for bringing this AMA to our attention.  Harmon was asked about his future vision for the show that we’ll never see, and while the scribe noted that he tried not to think too far ahead specifically, he revealed that we saw at least one season four idea towards the end of the third season:

“You can actually see one [of] my ‘fourth season’ ideas getting bumped up into the end of season three, because Jeff Winger has to decide, at the end of season three, that even though he’s endured Greendale for the express purpose of getting his old life back, in the end, he has to choose Greendale over his old life, because Greendale has made him a better person. The fact that it happened at the end of season three is because at the time of writing the script, I had a sneaking suspicion that either the show or its creator would not be back for season four.”

Harmon did say that he knows of one plot point he cooked up that will definitely appear in the upcoming Harmon-less season:

“I’m sure there’s lots of things we talked about over three years that will be useable by the new guys. And yes, it’s their property to use if that’s the case. One thing I’m sure will happen in season 4 is Jeff will meet his Dad, because we were going to do it in season 3 but then one of the NBC execs started saying ‘just make sure Jeff meeting his Dad isn’t a dark story,’ and I didn’t want to write one of the series’ most important stories under that hex, so I said, ‘let’s just punt that story to season 4.’ And we ended season 3 with Jeff googling his Dad, so…!”

community-danny-pudiOne user asked Harmon if the season three finale was also written as a series finale, and Harmon offered a bit of heartbreaking insight into what the season ender symbolized:

1. Did you write the finale of S3 as if it could have been a series finale? The last 5minutes, the wrap-up, is perfect.

2. At the end of the S3 finale, Abed goes into his mini-Dreamatorium. To me this symbolises that everything we see from now on isn’t the real timeline, but that S4 and onward is all happening within that Dreamatorium. Was this intentional?

1. yes

2. it symbolizes me leaving the show. I didn’t know for sure I was going to but I had a feeling I might have to.

community-chevy-chaseOf course the tension between Harmon and castmember Chevy Chase was brought up, and Harmon was forthcoming with exactly what went down:

The rumour mill says that Chevy Chase walked off set at the end of filming for Season 3 because he refused to do something. What did he refuse to do?

He refused to do the “tag” for the Digital Estate Planning episode (the 8 bit video game episode). In the scripted tag, Abed comes to Pierce with the thumb drive he took, and says “Pierce, I’ve been able to adjust some of the code for your Dad’s video game and I’ve made a version I think you might like better.” He puts the thumb drive into a laptop in front of Pierce. We cut to the laptop screen, where we see Pierce’s avatar on a front lawn with the giant floating head of Cornelius. Every time Pierce presses the space bar, his avatar throws a baseball to his father’s head, which gives him a thousand points and a “great job, son!” Pierce presses the space bar a few times, pauses, then leans over and embraces Abed and we fade to black. When Adam Countee pitched that tag, tears instantly rolled down my cheeks, and in point of fact, my eyes are getting watery describing it to you. It was the most important part of the episode and possibly one of the most important moments of the season. I was very upset to hear that it wasn’t shot because someone didn’t feel like shooting it, especially since it was literally the last day of shooting, which meant we’d never be able to pick it up. I regret nothing about how upset I got. My job was to care about my show.

Why did he refuse to do it?

The answer I heard from the people on set was that he didn’t think it was funny. After he realized how upset I was about it, he said things in voicemails like “there was no script” (untrue) and “I have a weird relationship with the name Cornelius” (dumb, he had no dialogue in the tag). The real answer, I believe, is that he wanted to go home because he was tired. He probably didn’t realize he was permanently damaging the episode by doing so because he often walked off set and then we would just pick up his shots later in the week. But this was the final shot of the season. The sets came down after he walked away. So this was the one time in three years that his personality caused unfixable damage to something I really held valuable.

Community-art-Sam-SprattHarmon was also asked whether he’d plan on tuning in for the new season, to which he replied:

“I’m going to wait a few episodes, maybe the whole season, and see how other people react. If people love it, then I’ll be able to safely watch it with an open, friendly heart, because the whole point is whatever makes the audience happy. If they say it’s good, it’s good, and I can watch it and even say it’s good. But I’m not going to be part of any campaign to convince anyone – me or others – of anything, good or bad. I’ve received a lot of advice from a lot of creatives that in a situation like this, it’s best for everyone on all sides that I make a clean break and not look back. I’ll be one of the very last people you hear weighing in on New Community. It’s the most practical, healthy decision I can make for its audience. Here’s an important related question: DO I HOPE IT’S GOOD? The honest answer is yes.”

On a non Community-related note, Harmon was asked why he chose network television for his two new shows that he’s developing:

“Is there such a thing as a network with a heart of gold that only treats creatives with respect? You have to go down to basic cable to find that, and basic cable will keep. Not to be presumptuous, but, a year from now, I can still talk to a basic cable network about doing my ‘breaking bad.’ A year from now, nobody in network TV is going to be interested in working with me. And my goal has always been and always will be to make the most people happy that I can. So I want to try network, one more time (two more times simultaneously). I want to see if it’s possible to make something Good AND Successful. There’s a lot of people out there worshipping at the altar of ‘those are mutually exclusive.’ I don’t want to live in that world until it’s finally beaten me to a pulp and forced that truth on me. I want to be the guy that proves that religion untrue. I have to try. My heroes are the ones that try to disprove that religion.

anomalisa charlie kaufmanHarmon also provided some insight into how he became involved with a stop-motion animated feature film with Charlie Kaufman:

“Charlie has been friends with my partner at Starburns Industries, Dino Stamatopolous, for years. TRIVIA: they were on the writing staff for the Dana Carvey Show together. Through Dino’s friendship with Charlie, I got an opportunity to meet Charlie, one of my absolute top heroes – beyond hero, he’s one of my gods – and it was at a live performance of a radio play he wrote called Anomalisa, this tragic, ingenious expression of our craving for abnormality (I hope Charlie doesn’t read me describing his work, it’ll be wrong). Ever since we started our own studio, Dino’s been on Charlie to sign the rights to Anomalisa over so we could try to do something with it. Charlie has finally done us the favor and so, there ya go.”

dan-harmonThe project is currently up on Kickstarter, and Harmon said that they can’t start working on it until they know what the budget will look like:

“Work on Anomalisa can’t really start until we see what kind of real money we’re looking at. The first decisions about making stop motion are the most financially dependent – what kind of dolls are we going to design, are they going to have fancy ball-and-socket armatures like the Community Christmas dolls, or faster, cheaper wireframe armatures like the Frankenhole dolls, etc. Eyes, lips, hair, set design, storyboards, everything is affected on a fundamental level by whether we have 300K or 350K at the outset of pre-production. Also, until we get started with that stuff, Charlie’s not weighing in on how he WANTS it done, and however Charlie wants it done is how it’s going to get done…so, while all of that should amount to a great piece of stop motion storytelling, it doesn’t amount to me being able to say much right now, other than: KEEP PLEDGING TO ANOMALISA, there’s a MILLION DOLLAR VERSION OF IT, pledge pledge pledge and every penny will end up on screen.”

Harmon spent a long time answering questions at Reddit, so I highly suggest you head on over and check out the full AMA for his thoughts on favorite episodes, regrets, insight into the production and writing of certain episodes, etc.  Community certainly won’t be the same without him, but we definitely haven’t seen the last of Dan Harmon.