Dan Harmon Opens Up About Community Ouster: 'To People Who Work Above Me, I Am a Liability'

In his first in-depth public interview since being relieved of his command at Community, Dan Harmon owns up to some shortcomings, casts aspersion on the ratings system that ultimately handicapped his vision and – worse yet – hints that he may rein in his creativity his next time around the dial.

Appearing on G4’s Attack of the Show, Harmon was asked if he saw his termination coming. “I always joked about it – [so] maybe they got the idea from me?” he quipped. “I always said these guys are going to fire me, I know it… They hate me.”

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In numerous accounts of the circumstances of Harmon’s removal as boss of the acclaimed yet undersampled NBC comedy, a picture was painted of a creative genius who suffers no fools and can be a lot to handle. Harmon conceded that characterization, saying, “If 20 people call you a horse’s a–, you buy a saddle.” He then contended that he sees himself as “a good person and a very able leader of men,” but that when it comes “people who work over me, I am a liability that isn’t worth the benefit,” given Community‘s low ratings.

To NBC’s credit, Harmon said the network “respect[ed] the idea of [Community] being a critical darling instead of a ratings juggernaut,” but he senses that with the season gone by, he perhaps took their good faith for granted.

“Television is a populist… medium. You’re supposed to make a hamburger that everyone wants in their mouth,” he said. “But in the third season, you can see me start to go, ‘Never mind – just give me a good review in the Times!'”

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Harmon acknowledges that while the saga of the Greendale study group enjoyed a certain buzz, especially online – “We were a cross-platform triumph,” he raved – “The problem is that the Nielsen [ratings] system isn’t designed to measure that yet.”

Sadly, the lesson learned could stick with Harmon. Because when asked about what he next has up his sleeve, he said, “My idea is to have less ideas, because I want to be successful in television.”

Sigh.

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Watch the full sit-down here:

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69 Comments
  1. TV Gord says:

    I love Dan, and I think his dismissal from Community is one of the biggest mistakes of the decade (but a writer should know it’s “fewer” ideas, not “less”). ;-) [I know, I know. I hate that about myself, too...]

  2. tv decider says:

    “sigh?” really?

  3. Sky Lark says:

    Wow, delusional much? It’s not me….. it’s big bad tv executives. If the show was so great, why is nobody watching it? Ponder that.

    • How is he delusional? Did you even read what he said? Did you watch what he said? He said nothing about the show not being successful because of bad executives. He said the executives fired him because he was a liability. What part of that sounds anything like what you said?

      Reading comprehension is important.

    • TigerNightmare says:

      Because it was always on a tough night on a struggling network. Popularity is no indication of quality otherwise no one would watch American Idol 3 hours a week and I am sick of morons who claim otherwise. There ARE fans of the show, plenty of them, who are very vocal in their support because of its quality. Ratings smash hits rarely inspire what Community has, which includes Comic-Con panels, an art show, a video game, a plethora of YouTube clips from a gaggle of different users, a fashion blog dedicated to one of the characters, an Occupy NBC flash mob outside Rockefeller Center and so many other things that people just won’t do for CSI or Idol.

      Network suits are slaves to the value of ad revenue according to the outdated Nielsens rating system and their fickle viewing households who apparently don’t even watch TV on Fridays anymore. It’s not an unholy mission, since they’re just trying to pay the bills, but shows suffer in creativity by the network’s need to play it safe with what they think would attract an audience as if focus groups and media audience pattern studies could somehow create a perfect cattle feed. The truth is, there is no easy way to make a hit show and if it’s up against something else they have already been watching, it doesn’t stand a chance with the DVR-less public except for those who hate all the other shows that are on at the time anyway.

      • Jason says:

        The Nielsens system is not outdated. It doesn’t measure online viewing or DVR viewing because those numbers are not useful for it’s purpose. Nielsen is not designed to measure the popularity of a show. It was designed to collect demographics of the people watching the show. It is a tool used by advertisers and it gives them exactly what they need. Just because it doesn’t do what YOU want it to do doesn’t mean it isn’t working. Believe me, it affects how much money they spend and how much they make. If you think they haven’t researched the H*LL out of the system to ensure it is the best for their purposes you are dilusional.

        • themurph2000 says:

          Actually, the Nielsen system does record all of that. If you watch a show before 3AM on the original day it airs, that counts the same as watching it live. In fact, Live+3 ratings are counted towards ad revenue at this point. The problem comes in for those who watch programs via online websites or Hulu. A model has to be developed on how to charge revenue for ads on those.

          • Aimee says:

            You’re almost right. Nielsen does measure a lot of data including DVR usage but the only data that advertisers are interested in (and thus, TV executives are interested in) is what they call C3 or C+3. The ‘C’ stands for commercial viewing. Yes they can tell if you watch the commercials on your DVR and if you don’t then you aren’t counted.

        • TigerNightmare says:

          Jason, it’s a system that’s been put in place when there were only three networks and a very small percentage of the population owned a TV and they STILL didn’t have a box on every set. I don’t know if their website has been updated since I last saw, but they compare the viewing population to carrots and potatoes in a stew. They think that if there are 300,000,000 bowls of stew and there are an average of 10 potato pieces in their sample of 100 bowls, that MUST mean that there a total of 300,000 potato pieces, give or take. But I am not a potato or a carrot. I am a human being. Just because X amount of white 20-somethings out of Y watch a show, it does NOT mean X/Y is accurate in the slightest. It is ONLY accurate in measuring the households with a NIELSEN BOX and every other household in America without the “privilege” of having one is just guessed at based on who’s white, who’s the “right” age and whether or not they should market tampons or beer. It does not account for Nielsen families having plans or emergencies, but if they’re not home watching TV on that one night, that must mean 3 million other people just didn’t feel like watching anything, right?

          If you want to continue eating this BS, be my freaking guest. Be a potato. But don’t try to tell me or anyone else that a bunch of geniuses are behind this system. Do some bloody research. Took me seconds to find out that they sample 25,000 households out of 114,500,000 American television households, making their sampling a paltry 0.02183%. That’s 1/50 of 1%. Do you think anything less than 1% would be acceptable in medical or scientific research? The only reason it’s still in place is because no other company is bothering to create more accurate viewer measuring. Long as they get to cash their checks, they don’t need to bother improving their medieval boxes.

          RRRRRRRRRAWRRRRRRR! WHY IS EVERYONE SO STUPID?!

          • just saying says:

            Thanks for your incisive comment. I’ve been screaming about this for years (and we are not the only ones who feel this way), but still nothing changes. Using statistical analysis, especially of such a small sample size) to predict viewing patterns of americans in this day and age is idiotic to the extreme. Back in the fifties, there was less variety, period. Less programming variety and less variety of opinion, lifestyle, etc… People were raised in very small worlds with little access to anything outside of their worldview. If everyone in an area went to the same schools, knew the same people, read the same books, etc… , then it’s easier to predict what would be entertaining to them. But we live in a global world, now. Each individual’s likes and dislikes differ, what they’ve been exposed to differs. Sure, a lot of people still fall into stereotypical lines of like/dislike/thought patterns. But a lot of people don’t. And those of us who don’t fit stereotypes tend not to be counted because the suits still use the old paradigm. One thing I will correct about what you say re: Nielsen’s. They don’t care about just “white” people. But the problem is that they think that if they get a certain amount of a particular “ethnicity” that somehow that is representative of every other person of that ethnicity. But just someone identifies as black, white, hispanic, asian, catholic, jewish, muslim, atheist, etc… doesn’t mean that they are representative of others of the same “category”. Within these broad divisions are so many other divisions that breaking down market research based on these things is pointless. Would that people would just make good products and trust that that was enough. The reason why capitalism doesn’t work is because it’s not truly capitalism. It’s manipulation by corporate entities to buy things not based on what is the best product but what has the best advertising et al. Ok. I’m done ranting for now, but sometimes I really hate how we’ve squandered the promise of this country.

          • S says:

            It doesn’t matter what you want them to do. If need be, Nielsen will just make up data or have their team extremely weight/shift the collected data. Source: Used to work there

          • over troll says:

            actually Harmon was just pointing out that web/phone/ondemand viewing isn’t measure…you actually are a potato and sample derived statistics are not the issue

        • Jack Brennan says:

          Showrunners make shows they hope will last forever. Executives want shows that will be successful RIGHT NOW, because they are most likely to be fired within a year and looking for a job.

          Nielsens represent only one revenue stream — and probably the most lucrative, for now. There’s also home video — discs, iTunes, Netflix, Amazon. There’s syndication. That stuff sells forever. Twenty years from now, people will be buying Community — but that doesn’t help the suits now.

          The biggest audience for Community hasn’t been born yet.

    • Britt says:

      If you measure the greatness of a show by the amounts of people who watch it, then how do you explain that there is still a gigantic amount of people who watch those horrible reality shows? I personally think that the last season was great and that NBC really shouldn’t have fired him… What makes Community special is that its special and not like any other show on tv.

      • Toulouse says:

        maybe last season was great, but this guy was an A-hole to chevy chase, he was the epitome of unprofessional, and now he’s crying about it like a baby. he made his bed, and his fans can sleep in it. good luck next season, crappy show!

        • Davey says:

          Chevy Chase is awful on the show and he comes across as a bit of an idiot of interviews. I was hoping he would leave Community which is (was?) brilliant.

        • Alan says:

          chevy chase was a dick to him. he got it into his head that he was bigger than the show and needed to be pulled into line in order to save the moral of everyone else who worked on the show. harmon was in the right

        • Katiecat says:

          From the articles I read, it was Chevy who was being a pain – he always has been a pain in the a$$ at work and will likely always be one. I don’t care, Chevy is good at his job. Having said that, so is Dan Harmon – I was in awe this season.

        • TV Gord says:

          If anyone deserves to be treated like an A-hole, it’s Chevy Chase. However, although I can’t stand him, he is very good on Community. I’m sad that he and Harmon couldn’t pull it together for 13 more episodes. Harmon may be an A-hole, but he’s a brilliant A-hole. He should still be on the show.

        • Angela says:

          Chase and Harmon both acted like immature babies. Harmon may be a brilliant guy (and I won’t argue that), but he did a very stupid thing by ragging on Chevy the way he did, and making the rants public. That’s not how you handle a problem with someone you work with. And Chevy hasn’t had much luck with his career for some time now, this show came along to get his name back out there again and to restore his classic comedy status, and yet he’s whining about how the show’s written (if it bothered him that much, why not just, y’know, quit?). They both share the blame, and I think it sucks that their inability to act like mature grownups may have played a big part in all the drastic changes that went on. Why Harmon was let go and Chase got to stay, I do not know. But let’s not pretend one person was more guilty in that whole thing than the other.

      • Rock Golf says:

        I really, really, REALLY hope Britt meant to say something more substantial than “What makes Community special is that its special”.
        Hey, I love the show myself, but I’m not under any delusion that there’s a good financial reason to continue producing it if it doesn’t get better ratings. Better shows have been cancelled in less time. Much less.

    • Ruby says:

      Um, the show actually *is* that great. But that doesn’t mean he’s not delusional.

    • Angela says:

      Well, SOME are. I watch “Community”. I love the show. I wish more people were watching it.

      But just because it’s not at the top of the TV viewing list doesn’t mean it’s not a good show. There’s all sorts of reasons why it’s not doing better. Crappy timeslot. Going up against other big shows. Lack of proper promotion (fans raving online is great, but we’re not legitimate advertisers, unfortunately). And, yeah, also the fact that it may not be everyone’s taste-I freely admit it’s weird and while that’s one of the reasons I love the show, I also know that not everyone likes weird things. That happens.

      But to say that it’s failing and that means it’s a crap show as a result, well, that’s a pretty simplistic way of looking at things.

  4. Polly says:

    If ratings are signs of good television, then Jersey Shore is a fantastic and inspirational show.

    Community is indeed amazing and I pity the ones that are not watching and enjoying the crazyness…

  5. Kiki says:

    I don’t know if anyone else besides me noticed by one week via his Twitter handle @hodgeman demanded people stop watching Community online and watch the actual broadcast or a DVR’d version and that week the ratings shot up. I would wager plenty of people are watching Community, but believe they are above watching it on actual television and don’t know that behavior threatens its very existence.

    • AJ says:

      I”m not sure I would buy into that story. Ratings come from Neilsen people meters and there aren’t actually that many households in the sample. Fewer than 20,000 I think. Even the DVR numbers come from those same households. So unless Neilsen families are watching online, which I doubt, it is probably just a coincidence.

  6. stevie says:

    he should’ve talked about what on gods green earth made him insult chevy in front of his wive and children.

    • bobbie says:

      I was sort of expecting an apology for that, too. He sees himself as some kind of martyr to rating systems and doesn’t see his own mistake…… Too bad he’s so angry. I really liked Community. His last comment about from now on he’ll have less ideas is his martyr statement.

  7. AJ says:

    It’s a shame when creative and NEW tv gets the shaft in the ratings because people are too busy watching the same drivel they have been spoon fed for years. I understand where he is coming from though. Look at Two and a Half Men. Not a 10th of the creativity that goes into Community goes into that show and it has been a ratings juggernaut forever. It’s sad to say, but the smarter a show is the less people out there “get it” and don’t watch. No I am not saying people are stupid, just that they would rather watch something plain or some really awful reality stuff than something that requires a little thought to gt all the jokes.

  8. Britta Unfiltered says:

    Dan, Dan, Dan….it absolutely does become a self-fulfilling prophecy when you keep repeating that people don’t like you and are going to fire you. This happened to me with my job earlier this year as well. I kept saying, “They don’t like me, they’re going to fire me.” And then one day they did. Don’t do that anymore, Dan. You are a smart, creative guy who has a ton of fans out there, and you’re one of the best comedy writers to ever have a show on TV. That’s the self-fulfilling prophecy you need to keep telling yourself, and it’s a true one.
    .
    I feel like I get Dan Harmon. I very much have that same self-deprecating, self-destructive streak that he admits to having. I feel like he and I would have had a kinship had we ever known each other. And I’m still convinced all that time he was writing Britta’s lines he was secretly getting his material from my online journal. Because that girl is absolutely my alter ego. Not even alter ego, she’s just a 100% representation of my ego. That’s me…a needlessly defiant, anarchist cat owner who has more fights about stuff that doesn’t matter than a Youtube comments section. I’ll always appreciate what I learned about myself from that girl. Community…it’s not just funny, it also has lessons for life! I hope things go well for Dan in the future. I love his blog, and I’m pretty excited to check out Harmontown on iTunes to see what that’s all about. I wish him luck and good fortune.

  9. AJ says:

    He should do a show on FX or HBO, the cable networks, that way he’ll have less interference.

  10. Michael says:

    I loved Community and had since the first episode…but Dan Harmon…not so much….I guess he didnt’ want to talk about his thing with Chevy…that wouldn’t have meshed with the whole I am the anit hero thing her tried to play…the only thing I will give him for this interview is that I think the Nielson box system needs to updated and take into account new viewship methods…but you have to wonder…every show that fails to get ratings, it’s always “the system”, never…hey I just didn’t make something that enough people liked enough to change their viewing habits enough to watch…oh well…

  11. AJ says:

    On a side note, for those who gripe about the current ratings system not working, you are very wrong. You could put a Nielsen box in every home with a TV and expect to get nearly identical numbers as what they get now. It’s called math. As the founder of the company points out, it’s no different than a doctor drawing a blood sample. Calculations are made off that sample in an identical format as to how Nielsen calculates viewers(your blood has many components and cell types that all have to be accurately measured off of that one small sample and we accept them as correct without thinking about it). They take great care in what type of households they put in to get a sample representative of the entire population including economic, racial, and family size categories just to name a few. You can insist it doesn’t work, and they can line up a thousand mathematicians that will not only tell you it works, but that it is highly accurate. They don’t care about online viewership or iTunes or any other medium that either has no commercials or a very limited number. They are interested in the numbers generated in the live + same day DVR viewings. That is where the numbers you see are generated. They generate live + 3 and +7 ratings but advertisers don’t care about them generally. The TLDR version: Nielsen is not inaccurate and they can prove it with the magic of math.

    • AJ says:

      Oh and just a few other comparisons. Sampling is how scientific polls are conducted and they generally have pretty low margins of error. It’s also how we test pharmaceuticals and an endless number of other things. If it is god enough to base scientific research off of, I have a hard time accepting the argument that it is just “too antiquated” for TV. If that is the case, you should demand the doctor test all your blood for disease, not just a small tube of it ;)

    • CallMeJim says:

      Wrong! Young people are watching television programs less and less by way of live viewing and are watching online, which Nielsen doesn’t count. That’s why a lot of shows targeted toward the young demo are failing and shows old people like are putting up big numbers.

      • Patrick says:

        No, the Networks don’t care about those young people. The people who finance the production of television shows don’t care how many people watch the shows. They care about how many people watch the commercials, which is how they get revenue. On-line viewership? Why would the nets care.

        If online viewership is so important, let the internet fund the show and pay the cast, crew, insurance, writers, food staff, et al. How do the producers make money.

      • Rock Golf says:

        The number of people who watch on-line is still small compared to network TV. That why it’s called BROADcasting. And if NBC isn’t earning revenue for pirated on-line views, then whether 100 people or 100 million people watch online, there’s no advantage.

      • AJ says:

        Wrong CallMeJim. If Nielsen wasn’t accurate when it comes to young viewers American Idol and Jersey Shore would both be cancelled by now. Both shows skew extremely young.

    • jess says:

      yea, this is wrong. I’m a statistics person, but that sentence from founder of the company made me lol. There’s no way Nielsen rating (or anything in real life, political polling, phone survey, anything) can be compared to drawing a blood sample because there’s no way the sample will be as homogeneous (and a blood sample isn’t even totally homogeneous depending on what you’re testing, yea, i’m a biology person too).
      Random sampling is not achieved due to a host of biases in this case. For example, having a sample box is a lot of work because the person watching has to put in a code periodically to ensure they’re still watching the show. This is a hassel not everyone is willing to do, so there are people who take themselves out of the pool. A simple volunteer sample bias, and that’s given Nielsen selection method is absolutely rigorous, which without knowing their model, I can’t comment on but I highly doubt it (for example, if they select who gets a box by calling people up randomly, that’s a bias because not everyone has a landline, or listed number, etc and gets into a lot of biases that phone survey have).
      I’m not saying Community actually has 10 million viewers, 7 of which are not captured. The margin of error wouldn’t be that big (it might, but the probability of that is low). I AM saying that having the same methodology that has been used for decades probably means there need to be an update, or that people need to stop putting so much stock in pure math.

      • Rock Golf says:

        Your point is moot. Unless, that is, you can draw a corollary proving that persons watching Community are more likely to not follow proper Nielsen procedures than viewers of any other show. There is no inherent bias in Nielsen specifically against Community.

        I really don’t for an instant think that Dancing With the Stars views are more intellectually capable than Community viewers.

        • just saying says:

          I’m pretty sure Jess wasn’t saying the method was outdated purely as it relates to Community, but that it is a faulty model for looking at ratings in general. For example, the networks still think it is important to build nights for viewing as if people don’t own tvs with remote controls. I know very few people who base what they watch on a specific channel. Usually those people tend to be older and less patient with figuring out channel guides and hundreds of choices of programming. My guess would be that whatever procedures Nielsen viewers have to go through, might make them less likely to do a lot of flipping as well, which would skew the ratings. I know my viewing drastically changes if i have to manually change the channel. And if i had to put in a code or something, that would probably change my habits as well.

          • AJ says:

            Networks build nights where you are less inclined to change the channel so that they have consistent ratings over the entire night which means more money in ad revenue. They have increased the Nielsen sample size but it does not mean everyone needs their individual TV watching habits recorded. Good old mathematics proves that the numbers won’t change. Claim all the biases you want, but it simply will not.

    • just saying says:

      Because if you are 20 something white and make over 35k a year, you have the same viewing habits as everyone else in that category. Or if you are 40 something and black and make over 50k a year you all have the same viewing habits. Sorry. this is erroneous thinking. Anyone who has lived in nonsegregated communities (and i’ll admit that there some communities are more homogenous than others) realize that everyone is different and you can’t categorize people based on their race and economic make up. At one time it may have made more sense to do so, but for the younger generations especially this does not hold true. And if everything creatively was based on stereotypes, most of the really good quality television and films would NEVER get made. I get that tv is a business, but the business model should have changed over the past 60 years because television viewing has changed and the tv viewer himself has changed.

      • AJ says:

        I only named 3 demos off the top of my head that they consider. They also change the makeup of the sample every year. It’s not like the same people have the same people meter year after year. It is constantly changing to avoid all the problems you guys claim exist.

  12. Dwigt says:

    Dan Harmon is a very talented guy, by far the biggest creative force in Community, but I’m not fond of his defense about his ousting.
    He doesn’t try to understand the basic rules of economics in a TV show. Sure, studios enjoy a very positive review in the New York Times… but because it can entice people to watch the show.

    Community didn’t make enough money. When shows don’t make enough money for networks, either directly (by advertisement) or indirectly (DVD sales, syndication, improvement to the network image, more subscription to a premium channel), they get canceled or retooled. It has always been that way, and Harmon should have been aware of this.

    Instead of this, he doesn’t admit a single mistake outside of some self-inflicted backhanded praise. But not seeing the bottom line for the network and the studio is a very big mistake in itself. Unfortunately his words that everybody loved him except for the people who worked over him are exactly what David Brent would say in the UK version of The Office.

    • TigerNightmare says:

      This was a 10 minute TV interview. If you wish, you can view his more in-depth thoughts on his Tumblr, amongst other areas he’s expressed as much or more. He wasn’t being Charlie Sheen at all. It is true that much of the cast and crew (outside of Chevy) love him. Joel McHale has said he’s been praying for Dan to keep his job. Praying. Now that’s loyalty.

      • over troll says:

        shhhh, Tiger, Dwigt is telling us what Dan Harmon doesn’t understand about television with his knowledge of the Office – and not just the Yank Office, legit UK Office knowledge…
        please continue Dwigt

  13. Aimee says:

    TV studios and advertisers don’t care if you watch the show. They only care if you watch the commercials because that’s where the money is. It doesn’t matter if 50 billion people watch a show online. You aren’t seeing the commercials so you are worthless to advertisers and won’t be counted. End of story.

  14. Oki says:

    Still amazed that people side with Chevy Chase in the matter.

    • tripoli says:

      They both acted like dicks but for some reason Harmon gets most of the blame because he was a dick in front of the wife and children of Chase. Bad form, but both are guilty of petty behavior.

  15. tigerstripes says:

    The ‘Remedial Chaos Theory’ episode of Community is up for a Hugo. The ep is ‘not currently available’ on NBC’s site, or on any other site.

    Hugo voters who haven’t seen it won’t vote for it. Those who have seen it, but find viewing of the ep blocked, may well throw their vote to something else in protest.

    I’m sure NBC doesn’t give a rat’s ass, but it’s my axe, and I’m grinding it.

    • TV Gord says:

      I didn’t realize that episodes is up for a Hugo! That’s amazing news. My mind still gets blown just thinking about it. What an amazing episode. Hopefully, the Hugo voters get DVDs of the shows up for consideration!

      • TV Gord says:

        Oops, I meant ‘episode’, without an ‘s’. :-]

      • tigerstripes says:

        The Hugos are voted on by the attendees of the Worldcon. If RCT was available to view free on NBC.com, it might stand a good chance to win. It was an amazing ep of Community; maybe the best ep ever.

  16. Hojana says:

    Nielsen whoever you’re F.U

    (yes i know i cursed at an innate system)

  17. Florence says:

    ok, this guy is brilliant.