Why I'm Not Worried That 'Community' Is On Hiatus
As many TV fans are aware, Community was placed on hiatus this week. It was postponed to make way for 30 Rock, which is returning to the air after Tina Fey’s maternity leave. Almost immediately, the Internet was aflame with upset fans, who are afraid that it’s the “beginning of the end” for the NBC comedy, which has endeared itself to viewers and critics alike.
Still, I’m not worried. It’s not that I blindly trust the quality of Community as a show, or that I have an insider at NBC feeding me info. It’s that even if the show were cancelled, we would all be better off.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it follows a group of students at Greendale Community College in the fictional town of Greendale, Colorado (which looks shockingly like Southern California). The students, led by disgraced lawyer Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) form an eccentric study group for Spanish class, and hilarity ensues. The show has built a following because of its intelligent pop culture references and its strong cast – all supported by the many Internet trends it has spawned.
I’ll admit that I’m not the most devoted of Community’s viewers. I tend to watch a lot more dramatic TV, but what I’ve seen of Community I like a lot, mostly because of the characters, who are surprisingly well-written for an ensemble group. I also like Community’s self-awareness, particularly coming from characters like Troy and Abed.
Given the fan support, why would NBC want to place the show on hiatus? As with everything in the TV business, it comes down to ratings. Despite the outcry on the Internet about the rescheduling, all those fans either weren’t tuning in often enough or made up too small a number for NBC to justify keeping it on the air this season. NBC evidently looked at the return of 30 Rock as a sure-fire ratings boost, and so were willing to strike Community from the schedule.
As I said, I’m not worried that Community is gone for a while. As more than one TV writer pointed out this week, a hiatus does not necessarily beget cancellation. But more than that, consider what would happen if the show were cancelled (NBC has promised, by the way, to air the rest of Season 3 when Community is re-launched).
If the show got the axe, we would be left with a concise, effective series that wasn’t forced to stretch beyond the limits of its material. I’ve said many times in the past that one of the worst things that can happen to a TV show is for it to be spun out into 6, 7 or more seasons and become a shell of what it was. When this happens, characters can’t be developed any more, and writers struggle to concoct new scenarios.
Consider other comedy shows like The Simpsons and The Office (American version). I often find myself wishing The Office had been in a similar situation as Community: a hiatus in its third or fourth season, followed by a succinct end. We wouldn’t have had contrived stories like the sale of Dunder-Mifflin to the Sabre printer company or Dwight buying out the Scranton office park. Similarly, if Community is kept on the air too long, it could lose its much-loved edge and imagination.
Frequent readers of Professionally Incoherent might be thinking that I apply this mindset to every show I watch. Nevertheless, there’s another layer to the Community-on-hiatus topic. Many fans have pointed out that this rescheduling is eerily similar to the cancellation of Arrested Development, another smart show that was killed by low ratings. Taking that comparison to its logical conclusion, if Community is cancelled, isn’t the door open for an Arrested-Development-style revival several years from now?
We’ve seen how energized Arrested Development fans have been by the news of the Development mini-series and movie. They're pumped to see their favourite characters return for a proper send-off. If that’s not enough proof for you, look at Family Guy. That show ran for three seasons before taking a three-year break, only to come back stronger than it ever was. Perhaps Community fans need to be deprived of episodes for a few years, so an eventual renewal inspires them to stick with NBC and give Community the ratings it needs to stay on the air.
When you think about it, the model of pausing shows and bringing them back several years later seems like a sensible strategy for comedy series. After all, jokes and characters can get tiresome in comedy, and it could be that staggering the seasons is the best way to keep fans hooked, especially with smarter shows that take an extra level of analysis to totally appreciate.
Suffice it to say I’m not going to march down to Rockefeller Place and picket the NBC offices while Community is off the air. I will, however, catch up on the episodes of Community I’ve missed, and keep an eye on how NBC follows through. It could be that it’s all a big hiccup in the schedule, and Community will soon be back in full swing. The question is whether that’s a good idea for the show, and for the fans.
What do you think about Community going on hiatus? Are you sad? Worried? Ambivalent? Am I wrong about the potential value of the show being cancelled? Join the conversation in the comments down below. You can also browse through some of my other articles on TV: