When NBC announced Dan Harmon’s departure from the show Community, a shock wave echoed across the Internet – at least in the households of the shows’ fans, many of whom, in addition to watching the show, religiously follow Harmon’s tumblr (whose entries are often geared toward them) and Twitter. There was an immediate backlash from these folks, who considered Harmon synonymous with the show’s success – and it revealed an interesting trend that’s emerging in TV culture right now.
In the age of instant communication, a new relationship is developing between show creators and the fans who love the shows they make. There’s unprecedent access to the writers themselves, through blogs, articles, and social media like Twitter, creating a fan community not just invested in the characters and actors in the show, but to the person behind the show.
Harmon has used this to his advantage during his tenure as showrunner, utilizing his blog as a way to reflect on episodes, address controversies that come up, and write the occasional mea culpa, explaining to fans why this or that decision was made. He often did so against the wishes of NBC executives and/or the PR department (or so he claimed), which, while thrilling to fans, most likely did him no favors with the Powers That Be.
There has been a lot of talk about how long Community will survive in the wake of Harmon’s exit: its certainly been given a less than auspicious time slot for the upcoming season – and that following a third season essentially willed into existence by loud fan community. However, Harmon, while a driving force behind the show, was certainly not the only writer who filled out the contours of Greendale’s halls. In a recent Comic Con panel, some of the writing team attested to their own commitment to keeping the show great – although their statements about being great fans of the show as it has been were less than encouraging (after all, it takes more than liking something to do it well).
Ultimately, it remains to be seen what impact Harmon’s exit will have on the innovative, dense writing that’s a hallmark of the first three seasons. It will be interesting to see how the show does, and perhaps give us insight into how the cults of personality surrounding show creators will play into the success of the shows they write (especially given that Harmon has moved on two at least two new projects already).