As year-end lists have poured in, it’s been nice to see Community top or near the top of so many rankings of the best thing on television. I’m in something of withdrawal over the show’s hiatus already, and my thoughts are turning, rather grimly, of what it’s going to take for the series to survive.
In some ways, Community reminds me of 30 Rock. Like its network sibling, Community had a strong first season, and then hit a string of undeniable comic and parodic genius in its second season. 30 Rock‘s generally considered somewhat less pop-culture obsessed than Community, but many of that second season’s high points were hugely referential, and very much about creating shadow versions of events, whether it was Jack’s failed attempt to reform Tracy’s baseball team, or the episode-ending cast-wide rendition of “Midnight Train to Georgia.”
Unlike 30 Rock, however, that creative streak hasn’t resulted in a ratings bump for Community. 30 Rock took place during a strike-shortened second season, which may have helped its ratings rise from 5.35 million viewers per episode to 6.09 million: people were getting in all the original television they could before succumbing to a half-season’s worth of cheap reality programming and re-runs. Community‘s average viewers have dropped from 5.54 million per episode to 4.64 million per episode. I’m sure a lot of that is due to Hulu and iTunes: even on weeks when I can’t get to the television on Thursday nights, I’m definitely watching the show by other means on Friday.
So in this bold new world, what combination of real-time tuning in and alternate viewing is enough to keep a show on the air? I can see a world in which Community is limited to a perfect, four-year run. This is a series that’s incredibly particular to the combination of actors involved, it’s not a concept I want to see spun off with a new class of students. But I’d do almost anything that I, as an individual viewer, could contribute to make sure it gets those four years. I’m sure this is as much of a mystery for studios as it is for me. I just hope they decide to err on the side of the risk.