I don’t know whether there was a specific incident or specific set of incidents that led to Dan Harmon’s dismissal as showrunner of Community, and without knowing that, it’s impossible for me to say if that decision was fair or just. It does seem likely that the show without him will change considerably—a fellow critic suggested over dinner this weekend that Community’s heart will have to shift from Abed to someone else, because the other characters can be more easily kept alive and vibrant by writers other than Harmon. But while many questions about Community’s future remain, I feel pretty certain about one thing: it makes no sense, as some folks have suggested to me online, to pirate or delay watching Community beyond the time when you’d count as part of the audience because you want to punish NBC for Harmon’s dismissal.
First, there’s the question of whether it would even be effective. I tend to believe, as I’ve written before, that repeatedly telling Hollywood that piracy doesn’t actually hurt their bottom line gives content companies license to ignore people who do pirate content because they’ve been informed over and over again that pirates were never their potential customers in the first place. If NBC or Sony, which produces Community, and therefore shares responsibility for Harmon’s firing with the network on which his show has aired, does pay attention to a spike in pirated Community episodes, it’s more likely to be interpreted as a sign that even the angry audience is weak and unwilling to give up the show entirely. This is not a tactic that will move the hearts that broke Harmon’s.
Second, as much as Harmon’s singular vision has informed Community, he isn’t the only person who works on his creation. The actors who have turned in great work for the show, and who are at least publicly deeply distressed by Harmon’s departure, don’t deserve to be punished with declining ratings for a decision that’s beyond their control. If, under the new regime, they continue to turn in good, enjoyable work, it seems unfair to try to drive their chances of continuing to do that work into the ground, perhaps before they even know if they’d like to continue doing it.
And there are people other than Harmon who write Community. We should continue to give them credit if they continue to do good work even absent his tutelage. I’d particularly really like female writers like Megan Ganz and Annie Mebane to have creative and ratings success and to get credentialed by their work with a new regime of showrunners. As upsetting as Harmon’s firing is, I’d like to see people who share some of his wild and wonderful approach to television out there and succeeding to keep the flame he lit alive. Dan Harmon isn’t the only person working on Community I want to support, or keep an eye on to see what tremendously exciting things they do best. Dan Harmon isn’t the only person involved in Community who’s worth trying to keep the ratings up for so they’ll get renewed or have credibility pitching other shows in the future, particularly if you care about weird, smart, innovative, self-reflective television. Maybe pirating or driving down the ratings on those other people’s work will make someone out there feel like they’re in solidarity with Dan Harmon. But it isn’t an effective way to support the kind of work he’s given us for three years, or to make sure we see more like in the future.