One of my favorite current shows is Community…, sorry, one of my favorite and possibly still current shows is Community. Which has just been put on hiatus due to low ratings.

Did it deserve to go on hiatus? Hate to say it but ratings equal money and networks put TV shows on the air to make money. Yes, I’d love it if they just worried about the quality of their shows but it’s still a business and if Community doesn’t deliver the ratings/cash then they don’t get to stay on the air.

But it is a high quality, verging on brilliant, show, so why doesn’t it have a big enough audience? Is it too smart for the room? It’s certainly smart but has a silly sensibility and enough ‘lowbrow’ humor that I don’t think it actually is ‘too smart’. (On a tangent, I find when some shows get that tag it means they are clever and not actually funny. Though I define funny a little differently; if it made me smile it was clever and if it made me laugh it was funny). Are the characters ill defined and unlikable? No, I could see some people not liking the characters but there have been less defined characters and much less likable characters on TV in big hits.

So watching some behind the scenes stuff with Dan Harmon I came to a different conclusion (and I’m certainly prepared to admit I could be wrong): The NBC suits might

have been right. The suits tried to ramp down the show, make it fit within its own constraints. Fill that niche (adults going to a community college to put their lives back together and how it changes them), explore that niche, exploit that niche. Give the people this week essentially the same thing you gave them last week and keep repeating that until you’re a hit. Some would consider that an insult, but I would have to point out that nearly all of the sitcoms that became hits followed a certain set pattern and merely explored the variations within that set pattern.

The writing is consistently top notch on Community but nearly every episode is a change of pace episode but a change of pace only works if you had a pace in the first place.

Take Seinfeld for example, that show was famous for its change of pace shows. A whole show waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant, a whole show of searching for a car in an underground parking lot, a subway car, and so forth. Great shows. But they only did that kind of stuff once or twice a season. Most other episodes were about somebody’s new girlfriend/boyfriend, a crisis at work, and Kramer’s crazy schemes. Seinfeld had and relied on a set formula and the change of pace episodes stood in contrast to that set formula and looked even more brilliant in relation.

But overall, I think audiences like familiarity, they like to get to know the characters, they like the characters to have a certain set pattern. They want James Bond to beat the bad guy in the last act and walk off with the girl. They want Tim the Tool Man Taylor to apologize to Jill and then share a joke at his expense.

Don’t get me wrong, I think audiences want change too, but every week might be too much change.

Maybe that’s what the NBC suits were trying to tell Dan Harmon, maybe their advocating restraint and structure would have weakened the product for someone like me (who loves the product) but maybe it would have made it more palatable for a wider audience.

And if that happened I think Dan Harmon would have still been brilliant within those constraints. A good writer sometimes even becomes better when given limits.

There might have been other mistakes made (not enough ads, a timeslot that doesn’t have a good lead in, too many of the same kinds of shows on that night for NBC) and there might have been other storytelling mistakes (an example, Annie and Jeff have been set up as a couple and finally in the story they’re approaching the time where a relationship wouldn’t be all that creepy. So this year they’re going for it but making it incredibly creepy? Jeff and Annie could have been used to bring some positive romantic attention but Community seems to be throwing that opportunity away. I don’t know why.), but in the end I think a structural issue might have been the overwhelming issue.

In the special features of the first year they did a graph on the ratings and there were weeks where the ratings looked really good and yet the audience didn’t come back the next week.

Maybe they should have kept it simpler. Or maybe they should never have been on a big network and kept their edge. But this marriage didn’t quite work.

Or maybe when Community comes off of hiatus they will discover a whole new audience and be allowed to come back for another dozen years.

I have hope.
But many more doubts.