Six seasons and a movie: A history of how 'Community' beat the odds
It’s less than a week until NBC’s Upfront, a meeting between television executives and the advertising industry to buy commercial time slots, and Community’s fate is once again up in the air.
It’s not a new position for the show or its loyal fans to be in by any means. In fact, they’ve been here many times before. The show that’s never gotten the best ratings, especially when put directly up against The Big Bang Theory, the most popular comedy on network television. Yet Community has thus far miraculously (or undeservedly, depending on who you ask) been renewed.
The television show that could has been here before. Cancellation seemed imminent, especially after what critics saw as a sub-par Season 4 without creator Dan Harmon. But it got renewed anyway.
Are we about to enter the darkest timeline?
Not to get meta on you, but it’s hard to talk about Community without mentioning the fans and breaking the fourth wall. They’ve been influencing bits of Community’s scripts since the very first season when, during a fan poll, a girl tweeted at Harmon that “both Modern Family and Glee are streets ahead of your meta bullshit.” He made a joke of it for weeks, but the phrase eventually got into an episode. Harmon spent $30,000 of his own money for the rights to use “Gravity” as an homage to a fan video about Jeff and Annie in a clip episode. Every so often, the chalkboard in Greendale’s study room would be an Easter egg to the fans.
So when a throwaway line in a clip show became the fandom’s rallying cry, the creators, the cast, and the fans all ran with it. It’s not the first time it’s been used, and if they have any say, it won’t be the last until they finally get that sixth season and a movie.
“Six seasons and a movie” may have come from “Paradigms of Human Memory,” but it wasn’t always the mantra Community fans stood by. In fact, the first tweet appeared to be nothing more than one fan live-tweeting the episode with some hashtags.
Later on, the phrase seemed to make fun of The Cape, the short-lived NBC show that Abed referenced, more than call for Community’s renewal. It felt like an inside joke.
It wasn’t until NBC announced its spring schedule in November 2011 with no return date for Community that panic started to set in. The show wasn’t canceled but rather on hiatus, the network reassured people. HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall called the move “despicable.”
The backlash started quickly. Fans tweeted out #savecommunity and #sixseasonsandamovie, encouraging others to tweet advertisers to let them know they saw their ads during Community. They signed petitions.
A couple weeks later, it was truly apparent that the cast was on their side. They became TV Guide’s Fan Favorites, a bracket competition based on voting. Their cover shoot showed them all holding signs supporting the fans, but one in particular, located on top of Yvette Nicole Brown, showed them embracing that rallying cry.
Harmon announced that Community would return to its normal timeslot a couple months later, but the uncertainty of a next season loomed over, and in the final shot of Season 3, Community made one last nod to its fans.
Soon after that, Harmon got fired and David Guarascio and Moses Port were announced as the new showrunners. McKenna left with him.
But that didn’t stop the fandom from showing their support. They still created a playable version of “Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne” and held a free Community-themed art gallery in Los Angeles. Appropriately, it was called the Six Seasons and a Movie Art Show. Community’s Inspector Spacetime, which in itself is an elaborate homage to Doctor Who, raised money for a web series based on the character, even though he couldn’t actually use the name.
Fans even created Communicon, a fan-run Community convention in Los Angeles with panels from some of the writers.
Then in October 2012, when Community was pushed back in the schedule yet again, the cast created a video just for the fans wondering why the show was no longer airing on its intended premiere date, Oct. 19.
Somehow, Oct.19 itself became a mini-mantra for the fans, while the cast took to mocking its network in-character. When is the show returning? Oct. 19, whenever that might be.
By the time Season 4 ended, people debated if they even wanted a fifth season. But regardless, the show got renewed. As yet another Easter egg to the fans, there was another “six seasons and a movie nod” in the final episode, only this time it was a background shot.
Photo via Reddit
And two weeks later, largely in part to Joel McHale, Harmon and McKenna came back to produce and write the same kind of delightfully weird episodes viewers had come to know and love. At the end of Season 5, the cast and crew remained optimistic.
“We’re on our fifth year of near-cancellation,” Harmon told an audience at PaleyFest. “The only thing weirder than getting a sixth season would be not getting a sixth season.”
Just days after Season 5 ended, fans created fake movie posters, one for each member of the main cast, that homaged The Social Network and simply said, “You don’t get to a movie without making six seasons.”
Another fan even created a video with all of the questions Harmon and crew left unanswered.
At a certain point, #sixseasonsandamovie became less about renewing the show for another year than about actually making it to six season and a movie. There’s no simple explanation to why Community survived as long as it did. Other shows with low ratings but passionate, niche fanbases have been canceled by networks despite fan efforts. Community somehow succeeded where those other shows failed, time and time again. It’s something the show even managed to mock in its final end tag to date.
Whether you think that six seasons and a movie limits the show’s potential or that it’s just enough for something that somehow made it this far: Rally on as decision time draws nigh. Who knows what could happen in the final hours.
@AltNationNet Late night fatalism based on negative whispers. I should never presume anything regarding this show.— Chris McKenna (@cpmckenna) May 7, 2014
The fate of Community could’ve been decided weeks ago, but don’t count the fans out of the fight just yet.
“No matter what happens, we have been in this together,” JeffsDad wrote. “And we will rejoice together once the news comes down. Whether it's on NBC, USA, Netflix, or just made out of duct tape and rubber bands in Harmons basement, it ain't over yet.”
Screengrab via NBC/YouTube