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Dean-a-Ling-a-Ling!!! Dan Harmon, Joel McHale and the COMMUNITY Cast Talk Season 6

March 17th is a date most Human Beings have long hoped would arrive — the premiere of Community‘s sixth season on its new home, Yahoo! So stars Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, and Ken Jeong joined creator Dan Harmon and executive producer Chris McKenna to welcome us into this bold new non-network TV era for Greendale at this week’s TCA Winter Press Tour in Pasadena. What awaits Jeff and the gang in the months ahead? Here’s what they had to say.

On how the deal with Yahoo came close to not happening…

Dan Harmon: It was literally hours from our perspective. I mean, the big fancy suits, they make their deals way before us folks get involved. There was a lot of dealing, and if you were following the story at the time, it seemed absolutely impossible that something was going to happen.

Chris McKenna: Having finalized on June 30th, I think all the actors’ contracts were up. We got a call that afternoon at 2:00 saying this is happening — oh, and you have three hours to pick up your writers’ options.

DH: “Oh, and by the way, it’s with Yahoo, not Hulu.” It was very last minute. There were a lot of last-minute phone calls, including Kathy Savitt from Yahoo calling me and having a forty-minute conversation with me where she turned me 180 degrees by explaining Yahoo’s perspective on the whole thing and how they were going to do business. It was all happening in, like, the last eight hours of its legality.

On playing Jeff again…

Joel McHale: I’m playing Shirley in this as well… Now we have Paget Brewster and Keith David, who you will see are tremendous. Other than Paget being unattractive and Keith’s voice sucks, now that they’re on the cast, it’s been this wonderful, great time with them. So I couldn’t be happier.

On whether or not this is the final season of Community…

DH: I’m definitely not writing it as if it’s the end. That’s not happening. Do I think this is my final season or the show’s final season? Those are all very philosophical things for me. I’m very naive about how the business actually works. These guys’ contracts, schedules and all those things. So I just stick with a very sixth-grade mentality about it, and my sixth-grade mentality about it is this show has lived by the sword of a very intimate relationship with fans and needs to die only by that sword. So only when people stop watching would I ever stop wanting to make the product. We’ve cast enough voodoo, taken advantage of that magic, that we owe it to just be used by it. 

I would never feel very comfortable walking away from any version of Community that was existing. So I have to continue to write the show as if it’s going to last for twenty seasons.

On whether Chevy Chase will come back…

DH: His character died. [Laughs.] Yeah. I think he was talking about season 4. I’m not sure. I don’t know. If something like that were to happen, and if you were to take a man and bring him back to life like that, I think you would want to keep that a secret. That would be, like, godlike power.

Gillian Jacobs: Yeah. You could monetize that probably.

DH: You wouldn’t just run into a hotel in Pasadena and go, “I’ve created life.” You would wait to scream that at the crashing thunder in the heavens as the rain spat at your face… Or at least we would wait for it to be a surprise.

On first hearing the show would be picked by Yahoo…

Ken Jeong: I was so happy. I was so excited that we’re coming back, because this is the only series that I know how to be on. [Laughs.] I was ecstatic that we got a sixth season. And like Dan said, we’ve been through so much, and we survived so much, so to come back again to me was just the gift that keeps on giving. That’s how I honestly felt.

GJ: Yeah. I think that it felt like the worst had happened. We’d finally been cancelled by NBC. We had cheated death so many times. I really had mourned the show. I cried when we got cancelled… It was like we had finally died as a show, but we are a phoenix, so we have experienced the resurrection now. It sort of felt like we were an online show for a while, so it’s kind of good that we’re now actually online. Feels right.

DH: It will be weird when we get cancelled by the Internet and just become a roving band of improvised street performers doing, like, stunts in subways.

On how the show will change from being on Yahoo…

GJ: We shoot in a basement. We’re not kidding.

JM: It was a parking garage at one point.

GJ: Yes. It was a parking garage. It’s now a studio, and we shoot in a basement.

JM: With that said, it’s twice the size of the sound stages we had.

DH: It’s actually really cool down there. We struggled with it. “Oh, my God. We’re going to be shooting in a dungeon.”

As far as the production, the animal that that is, or the machine, rather, you would be surprised how very little that changes, because a studio like Sony, they have a template for production of television. Whether Yahoo is going to be the people that are providing it to an audience, that doesn’t really change. The budgets of television shows are based on the price… You hire a makeup person on this date. If they’re not done working by this date, your show is going into overages. So really the budget is the same, if not, I think slightly more, because they’re aware there’s people that depart. You grab that Chevy money and you just distribute it to everybody.

JM: We’re shooting outside for the first time in years.

DH: That was a decision that the [new] Radford lot enables too. There’s a lot more open air, harkening back to Season 1 of Community. It feels a little more cinematic. The answer is no. Nothing really changes. You just kind of transplant. 
Creatively, however, because you’re not in this sort of super officious… As agreeable as NBC was to the content, and they were, they still wear that shell of, “We’re going to be on TV on this appointment-viewable slot, and we need these Nielsen numbers.” That goes away, and the corset loosens a little bit.

GJ: More fart jokes. I would say one hundred percent more fart jokes.

Community - Season 5

On Keith and Paget’s characters…

DH: Paget’s a machine. Her character is something of a machine. She’s a very nuanced character. I wanted to be careful not to bring two new characters into a show and have one of them have an eye patch and always every third word he says rhymes or something that you would feel the plasticity of these new characters. So the tough thing is you’ve got thirteen episodes. You’re very late in the game. How do you, without forcing it on the audience, make these characters feel like classic Community characters? You can’t create a classic out of the box. 

The answer was you put characters with a lot of potential in a petri dish with these guys and let them grow, let the actors grow them. So they have two-dimensional roles, and then, as in the John Hughes films that inspired Community‘s pilot, you let the actors and writers discover very specific details about the characters that, as a whole, start to form the picture. So Paget’s character, on the surface, she’s a problem-solver. She doesn’t like things that don’t make sense. She doesn’t abide nonsense. She is here to help. She’s a very effective person, and the likes of which Greendale’s never really seen, and she’s been specifically hired to wrangle the problems at Greendale and fix them. 

And Keith’s character on the surface is a computer programmer. He wasted a lot of time on virtual reality technology in the ’90s, and he sacrificed a lot of his personal life at the sake of his career, and now he’s starting over.

JM: And he hasn’t bought new clothes since ’99, probably, either.

GJ: ’89.

JM: He looks spectacular.

On whether or not there will be ad breaks…

DH: You will go to the Yahoo app, and you will be watching it, and it is free. It will be advertising-supported. Whether or not that means there will be classic commercial pods placed within the playtime, I’m a little out of my jurisdiction saying that, but I do know that I’m writing it as if there will be, because as a writer, three-act stories are what work for me. So NBC’s clock worked very well. You did a cold open, title sequence. You’ve got a first act where people realize they’re going to be in a new situation. Curtain. If they want to put a commercial there, that’s a good place to put it. Second act, everybody dresses in funny costumes. Another commercial. And third act, everyone apologizes and there’s less jokes and then maybe another commercial and then a tag where someone has a fern on their head.

On writing Shirley out of the show…

DH: I won’t say how, because there’s a satisfaction to the consumption of it that I don’t want to spoil.

On whether she could return…

DH: Absolutely. Yeah. She just couldn’t commit to the schedule for the show…

CM: The door is open.

On whether she could come back this season…

DH: No spoilers. Sorry.

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  1. Landon says:

    That’s a very appreciated write-up of the panel! Thank you very much, Nerdist. 🙂