Community was within hours of being truly dead, its actor contracts expiring without another distribution option when Sony Pictures TV and Yahoo cut a deal for a sixth season. And now, with the quirky comedy relaunched on Yahoo earlier this month, creator Dan Harmon said he couldn’t be happier, even if he was “relieved” when NBC first cancelled the show.
“What are the dark days that are coming?” Harmon said semi-seriously during a panel with Yahoo and Sony executives at the Content Industry Connect LA conference today. “Now that we’re rid of that horrible Nielsen metric, what horrible things are coming?”
Harmon said he used to have to deal with the oppressions of both a network stuck in a long-established process of managing and structuring shows and of ratings numbers. Now, not so much.
“I’m one back injury away from being David Milch (giving orders while lying down on the set because of his back),” Harmon joked. “I’m so close to that because of the amount of rope Yahoo has given me.”
Yahoo has kept the reins on Harmon loose, said Ian Moffitt, Yahoo’s sr. director of programming, strategy and acquisitions, to allow the show room to go where Harmon will take it. Sony is taking a similar approach.
“From Sony’s standpoint and mine you embrace the chaos,” said Sony VP of Development Max Aronson. “It would be a waste of all of our time to try to make it that” traditional network show while distributing it online.
“One of the things that’s going to change, I hope, is this enmity will end between people in the bureaucracies of the networks and the people making the content,” Harmon said. “It seems those days have ended, but maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part.”
Harmon, who was fired from the show at one point, then returned for the fifth season, had plenty of fights with network executives. So when NBC finally canceled the show, “I was very relieved,” Harmon said. “I just had so much exhaling to do and was so happy that Community was done. I just needed to celebrate.”
Then a Sony executive asked if he’d be up for having the show revived, on Hulu, which had been running the show in re-runs, and making Harmon a lot of money. After some initial reluctance, and stories that he was the only holdup, Harmon said he decided, “Hulu makes sense. Hulu bought my house. They were paying a lot of money for a Community package. We thought it would be Hulu. Then the Hulu clock ran out. Then I was relieved again.”
Attention turned to Yahoo, but time was very short. And once again, Harmon said he wasn’t enthusiastic, until Yahoo’s Chief of Media and CMO Kathy Savitt called.
“I got the impression from talking to Kathy Savitt that I was on the wrong side of history if I don’t cooperate,” Harmon said. “I thought, ‘These people are going to be in charge of the base on the moon one day and will be in charge of whether I get oxygen or not.'”
Aronson said Sony initially “needed some selling too” on doing a deal with Yahoo. But, “We were incredibly impressed. We thought it was going to be Hulu too and when that fell apart, I thought it was over.”
Yahoo was interested in Community because it always had a very young-skewing audience, and a vocal one,” Moffitt said.
“That younger audience is coming to us in droves, largely in part because of Community and other shows we’re doing,” Moffitt said. “It was about finding the perfect show to demonstrate what we’re trying to do, and it was perfect.”
Harmon said Yahoo was “ahead of the game,” thanks to its deep trove of data about what people are searching for.
“You have numbers beyond numbers beyond numbers, cubes of them and tesseracts of them,” Harmon said. “You are looking at things you looked at before you bought the show. I don’t have to look at anything.”
Moffitt said that the initial couple of episodes are showing that people don’t watch long-form video during work hours, but “evenings are good.” The key is the user experience with the Screen App and whether it makes it easy and attractive for visitors.
No longer having to worry about that weekly number, Harmon said, “That part’s a relief, but I just fill it with other (sources of) anxiety.”
Oh, and regarding rumors about a Community movie, Harmon said, “I have been told not to talk about that (a movie), so that’s an exciting answer. I actually don’t know.