Yesterday NBC announced its midseason television schedule and as many feared, “Community,” a sitcom about a group of community college malcontents starring Joel McHale, wasn’t on it. Though NBC assured the press that the show is “on the bench for a bit” and will be back, fans are not wholly optimistic for the cult favorite’s long-term prospects.
With the exception of “The Office,” NBC’s comedies are not rating bonanzas, but they have given the struggling network a distinctive brand as home to cutting edge, quirky shows. The network gave shows that weren’t immediate successes, such as “The Office,” time to grow and find their audiences. And while I’m devastated by this shelving (seriously, I’m muttering the lyrics to the “La Biblioteca” rap under my breath as I type), I can’t say that NBC hasn’t given the program a chance to find viewers.
Community was created by Dan Harmon, who also co-created The Sarah Silverman Program. It has never been a ratings winner, which would suggest that it’s out of step with what American viewers want or that it’s not funny. (Blasphemy!) The program has also been accused of being too self-referential and meta (or as my college roommate once said, “about aboutness”), too insider-y, too difficult for the casual viewer to get into.
But wasn’t Seinfeld also an “insider-y” show about a group of terrible, unloveable folks? How come that show wasn’t constantly accused of being smug and too cool for school? Would Seinfeld have been able to survive and thrive on network television circa 2011? Is Community a Seinfeld for the single camera sitcom era? What allowed that show about even more venal characters to thrive on air, while similar efforts like “Community” and the dearly departed “Arrested Development” have been ignored by all except for a dedicated minority?
This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to Harmon, who was iffy about the chances of his show returning for a fourth season in a recent interview with Digital Spy. “It’s always 50/50 in my mind,” he said. He also noted that while the show might have abysmal ratings, it does very well on Netflix and Hulu, which have become increasingly big buyers of television.
What’s interesting to note in the fan uproar about this “hiatus” is that the commenters are just as angry about what has remained on NBC’s schedule as they are about what has been dropped. The number one target of their wrath: the freshman comedy “Whitney,” starring Whitney Cummings, which is being relocated to Wednesday nights. The gist of the hundreds of comments I’ve read goes something like this: How can NBC yank “Community” off the air while allowing the unfunny dreck that is “Whitney” remain?
While I agree with that assessment of “Whitney” — I really wanted to like a sitcom created, written and produced by a woman, but it is God -awful — it’s interesting that fans of the Dan Harmon show have singled out Cummings’ show as Community’s exact evil opposite, “the anti-Community” if you will.
Well, just as was prophesized by the Bible, the anti-Community continues to thrive and tempt the masses with mediocrity. It is up to us, the chosen few, not to be fooled.