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Dan Harmon coming back to Community for Season 5 is something of a TV miracle. While there have been occasional times where a show’s creator has left and then come back later, it’s never been after they’ve been let go by the studio and network behind the series. But Community has never been a show to do things the normal or predictable way, and so after a season away, Harmon makes his big return to Community, accompanied by Chris McKenna -- who had left when Harmon was let go by Sony and NBC -- with the two now serving as co-showrunners.
A few days before Christmas, I had an in-depth conversation with Harmon about what it was like coming back to the series, which premieres this Thursday. We discussed how he approached the characters after a year away, how he dealt with Donald Glover's decision to leave Community this season and much more.
IGN TV: I'll be honest, when I first read there was even the possibility of bringing you back, I thought, "That's not gonna happen!" Just because... that's never happened! Certainly not under these circumstances. So from your side of it, what was it like to find out that they wanted you to come back?
Dan Harmon: Yeah, well at first it was just Joel [McHale] calling me a couple times and talking about how missed I was and would I ever come back again if he could make it happen. I just thought that was polite talk or well-intended heroics, you know? I didn't think, like you, that anything like that could ever happen. I would get off the phone with him, and my girlfriend would say, "Who was that?" I'd say, "That was Joel McHale. He's asking me if I'd go back if it could happen." She said, "Would you?" I said, "Well, I don't even have to answer that. It's never going to happen. He's just an actor, and they don't affect things that much. They're just good-looking." Then I remember having dinner with my agent and musing that it's exactly the kind of thing that Sony would do, because they're just that weird. He said, "No way. That would never happen. It's never happened, and it never will happen.">
Dan Harmon's Community - from Dan Harmon!
Then a couple weeks later, I got an email from my agent that said that Sony had called, sniffing around about how I'd feel about going back if I could. My initial answer was, "Sony and NBC have to make sure it's what they both want. I don't want the to be that that I wish I could go back, so that I can get my heart broken again. So if both the network and the studio asked me to come back for another season, then the answer will be yes." Because once I realized that it was a real thing -- which didn't make any sense to me – that I needed to answer, it only took about 30 seconds to realize, "Okay, obviously the answer has to be yes." Because if I didn't go back, I would spend the rest of my life wondering what would have happened if I did, and you can't fix that. You can't fix that in therapy, and you can never answer an unanswered question in your life. What you can do is go and do something for six months, and the worst-case scenario is a bad season of TV, which for a cocky guy like me might be the best for me. And the best-case scenario of course is beyond imagining. It's TV history, the idea of going back and making something good. It would be such a satisfying resolve for so many people. So I really had to go back. There wasn't the question at all.
IGN: Story-wise, there's now this season of the show that you didn't work on. Did you have to make the decision to not dwell on thinking "I would have done this, I would have done that" and just dive in and decide, "Okay, here's where we left off, and here's where we're gonna go."?
Harmon: Yeah, I know it was always mused for all that time that I wasn't on the show…. People would tweet me and joke at parties that, “You should go back and say that the fourth season never happened!” - have Abed wake up, etc. The truth is that I had put Abed in that cardboard box at the end of Season 3, and you see that light come out. He makes his own tiny, personal, little Dreamatorium. He goes into the box, and there's that brilliant light that flashes. It always was in my mind, because I could see the writing on the wall at that time, at the end of Season 3. I just had a feeling that one way or another this could be it. So that was sort of my way of saying, "Even if this show comes back, it might be without me, so Abed is going into this box and something is happening," which did make a perfect opportunity, if I wanted to be cheesy about it. I could have started Season 5 with him coming out of that box and going, "That was weird." But I sat down with the writers, and we had that conversation for two days, even though we didn't have a lot of time. It was still necessary to spend a whole 48 hours just pooling our thoughts on what we do in this situation that no one had ever been in. What is our responsibility to the show? What makes the show easiest to watch? What makes the show easiest to write? What do good writers do in this situation? What does the audience want the most, whether they know it or not?
At the end of all of this, it was unanimous -- there wasn't even any argument about it -- we knew that our responsibility was to actually create what essentially would be a pilot for a new TV series. That would start us up again, because we had a protagonist who had gone to a community college and had now left. So it wasn't going to help us to celebrate the serialized, increasingly complicated narrative. It was better to call it all backstory and pretend that we were sort of adapting a series called Community into a new TV pilot, in which this guy comes back to a community college that had turned him into such a good person that he's just become a terrible lawyer. And that he was coming back seeking revenge, and ended up staying there... As a teacher, which I think that cat's out of the bag.
IGN [Laughs] Yeah, when I was on set, we were asked to keep that a secret until after the premiere aired. And then I saw the commercial all about that very subject.
Harmon: NBC marketing didn't get that memo. We had already sent that note to press. That was just because I didn't want the fans to be burdened with that topic of conversation for two months before they watched the show, and saw that it was good. I myself have used the example of Jeff coming back as a teacher as an example of what the show could be if it was bad, you know? [Laughs] I specifically alluded to that and said, "Oh, Jeff's not gonna grow a beard and become a teacher. Don't worry about that, because time moves on and blah, blah, blah." Obviously circumstances changed since I said that. Making him a teacher was the right decision, but if that's all our fans had to think about for two months... I was hoping to keep it a secret, but as it stands, NBC marketing was so thrilled with the result that all of a sudden they really wanted to make a commercial for the show, which was not a deal they always had! So whatever floats their boat is fine with me, so I apologize to the press for swearing everyone to secrecy on something where the secret is out of the bag.
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Source : http://www.ign.com/articles/2014/01/01/dan-harmon-on-his-surprising-return-to-community-and-his-approach-to-season-5