Saturday, May 19, 2012

Why Sony Had To Fire Dan Harmon

"The Madness Could Not Continue"

I hate to make assumptions about stuff when I have no direct knowledge, but let's do that. Let's read between the lines here, because then I think the removal of Dan Harmon from Community makes all the sense in the world despite the fact that it removes me as a viewer from the show’s miniscule audience.

Let’s start with the last part first, so I can establish my bona fides before going on to tell you why Dan Harmon deserved no better than what he got.

I have no intention of watching a non-Dan Harmon helmed Community for a few reasons, not the least being that Harmon obviously saw this coming and crafted a fine series finale. He saw that it was quite possible Community wasn’t going to be renewed, and so he took it out on a grace note.  And he had to know that even if Community were to be renewed, it was getting renewed without him.  Community has been finished filming for months now, and they start filming the next season in July.  Whoever is going to run it has to start breaking episodes in the next few weeks. Showrunner contracts are not left to be worked out mere months prior to a new season debuting. The handwriting was on the wall, on the floor, and probably stenciled in crayon on Dan Harmon's balls: He was finished at Sony.

So Harmon combined those factors together, did some basic Asperger's arithmetic, and the answer to whether or not he’d ever work again on Community probably struck him as close to 0%.  When Pierce Hawthorne spun around and said, “Hey, don’t use the word “gay” as a negative,” I pretty much knew Community (or at least Dan Harmon’s Community) was over.  You don’t swing a character that far around in anything less than the series finale.

So he ended the show well, and I know that no one can make the same show without him (since no one has ever made this show before with or without him), so I am out.  

I am lucky that way.  I have very little trouble cutting the cord with a television show, be it because I don't like it creatively, or because I want to make some sort of pointless stand, or because the chicken bones I threw on the ground that day told me that the next time I watched it my soul would be cast into the pits of Hell. When I want to quit, I just quit.  And the idea of Community continuing without Dan Harmon's distinct voice interests me not at all. Maybe if Todd VanDerWerff tells me that it's just as brilliant without him, then I might check it out.  But I won't be tuning in to see for myself.  For now, I'm just going to be content to remember the show as it was, ending at a point that seemed perfectly appropriate creatively.

So I'm not someone who wanted to see Dan Harmon go, because I am someone who wanted to keep watching a show I thought was wonderful.  This is a very sad day for me, as it is for dozens of people across the land.

Now let’s get back to the first part, which is why I would have fired Dan Harmon myself were I running Sony, even though, as I said, I would no longer wish to watch the show without his participation.

It’s because this isn’t about whether or not anyone watches this show next season.  It's because this about the fact that nobody does watch this show now!

Obviously Sony worked some deficit spending magic to cage a renewal out of NBC in order to get them to syndication, which is that magical land where TV production companies finally get to recoup all the money they invested in a television show, and then possibly make some fine cash-money profit on top of it all.  Studios often produce shows at a deficit; sometimes at a massive deficit.  It's rare when a network pays a studio enough for the broadcast rights to cover all the studio's production costs, but studios do this because reaching syndication (meaning airing on TBS or WGN or wherever, five nights a week, in perpetuity) means more than enough money to paper over any deficits incurred in getting there.

With Community's ratings in cancel-even-if-you're-NBC territory, making it to the magic land of syndication is all that matters.  And it should be noted that, as a business matter, and with Community's ratings being what they are (or are not), just getting to syndication is all that should matter to Sony, which made a massive investment in something and is thisclose to seeing it pay off.  Not getting the next 13-18 episodes completed wouldn’t be quite like winning the lottery and ripping up the ticket, but it would be like winning the lottery and losing the ticket.  All that matters is finding that ticket, and all that should matter to Sony is getting one more season in the can.  Not one more good season, mind you, but simply one more season.  TV is a business always, but it’s a business only at this point for Community.

With that in mind, you have to fire Dan Harmon. This was an easy decision.

Look, as I said, I have no intention of watching a non-Harmon Community, but that doesn't mean I do not recognize that the man had to go.  For a manager, the voicemail incident alone was a firing offense.  Period.  You can be abrasive and whatnot; you can run over budget; you can even take your show in a direction your employers do not like; but unless you are laying golden eggs for them, then you have to still be a manager.   

And managers do not humiliate their employees in public for no reason.

(Scratch that: Managers do not humiliate their employees in public ever.)

If you are Sony, you cannot allow Dan Harmon to come back as a manager, no way, no how. Nothing he can do will make you an extra dime at this point, but allowing him to continue in his position after his very public bad behavior sends a terrible message to everyone in your very large company.  It says, “We have no control over anything, even a minor department which produces zero return on investment.”

That’s not a statement any company can ever make. 

Dan Harmon is a great writer.  Dan Harmon was a shit manager.  When your goal is now solely one of numbers (reach a certain number of episodes), and you are deficit spending in order to reach that goal, then you don’t need your man in charge running around and taking a dump on everybody’s front lawn. 

If Sony wanted to ensure the creative genius of the show, then maybe (maybe!) Dan Harmon could have stayed, but creative genius is not needed at this point.  They don’t care that I am not going to watch anymore.  They don’t care if anyone watches anymore.  They only care that NBC was willing to pony up a small amount of money towards the production of the show, and that they were willing to give them a slot in which they would air it.  And after three years of investment and (it sounds like) agita in getting to this point, that is absolutely all they should care about, because it doesn’t matter if Community draws the same number of viewers next year or half that number.  They are going to make the same amount of money in syndication either way.

It doesn't matter anymore how they get to syndication.  All that matters is that they do get there.

So there is no financial incentive for them to bring back Dan Harmon, and there is an enormous downside in damage to their reputation that would come from letting a manager of theirs behave abominably without repercussion.

Dan Harmon returning next season would be a win for a small number of people watching TV, but it’s a lose-lose proposition for Sony.  He brings positives to the show, no doubt, but he brings zero positives to the company that produces the show.  And if he did anything at all to fuck up their getting to their syndication number, then it would be a complete and utter disaster for them. It would be the kind of disaster that would rightfully get people above Dan Harmon also fired for not preventing such an easily foreseeable, however unlikely, event.

If I were running Sony, I'd have fired Dan Harmon in a minute.

(EDIT: I've been getting a lot of flack for this post, but I cannot stress enough how much I fucking love Community.  I think Dan Harmon is a fucking genius. If I could make it happen, we'd get a hundred seasons and a dozen movies. I'd keep Dan Harmon in suspended animation when he wasn't working in order to lengthen his life span as long as possible.  He'd be the fucking Winter Soldier of television comedy.

All I am saying here is that you don't run a serious business based on how much someone makes you laugh. Sony is a billion dollar business, and they are not going to fuck around with a guy like Harmon, or anyone else for that matter, when he starts burning bridges loudly and in public.  Airing dirty laundry in public in Hollywood is #1 on the Do Not Ever Fucking Do List.

The moment Dan Harmon pressed play on his IPhone, he ended his tenure at Sony. Basically, he fired himself. He put his bosses in a totally untenable position.  Even if they wanted to keep him, they couldn't.  Even if the president of Sony is the #1 Community fan in the world, he has to think of the billion dollar company that he is running. 

You cannot have some dinky little show that is making you no money in the headlines repeatedly because its showrunner enjoys publicly humiliating the talent. That can never happen no matter how big of an asshole Chevy Chase is. There are a lot of assholes out there that Sony wants to work with, and Sony cannot take any chance that they will lose one of those assholes because that asshole is worried his personal shit is going to end up on the internet because Sony can't keep their people in line. 

Just because you and I love Community, why does that make it okay for Dan Harmon to take a shit on the people who employ him? It really is no different than you walking into your boss's office and screaming, "FUCK YOU!" at the top of your lungs. You are going to get canned 10 times out of 10.)


  1. When you put it that way...

    I guess it comes down to, what are the positives for Sony in bringing Dan Harmon back? I can't think of a one either. It won't get them more episodes beyond next year, and it won't draw them more viewers. All it will do is please a small number of viewers, none of whom will ever make or cost Sony a any money down the road. People watch shows because they like them, not because of which studio produced them. People can rail, but the next time Sony produces some great show, those people will watch. And keeping Dan Harmon won't get those people (which include me) to watch future crap they don't like.

    You are right, it's a lose-lose for Sony. There is no upside I can see to keeping him, other than the show will be of better quality, which I guess doesn't matter in the long run.

  2. Not Dan HarmonMay 20, 2012 12:37 AM

    You make sense, Schmoker. It just sucks is all. It really sucks. I just want there to be a way this can work out, but I guess that is fantasy land. But I still don't want to hear how this is Dan Harmon's fault right now. You can be right and I still don't have to like it or accept it.