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Exclusive: Dan Harmon speaks candidly about “Community” departure

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Fans of “Community” found it very disheartening when it was announced earlier this year that NBC was going to continue the show without its showrunner Dan Harmon. The critical darling wasn’t performing with the numbers the network wanted, and Harmon kept pushing the show farther and farther from the mainstream by having episodes dedicated to obscure films like “My Dinner with Andre” and taking place in multiple timelines. Harmon has been candid about his departure since NBC let him go, but it’s clear that he’s unhappy that his baby is going to be moving on without him.

IFC had the chance to catch up with Harmon at the red carpet premiere for Daniel Gillies’ documentary “Kingdom Come,” and we asked him about life after “Community.” He signed a TV deal with CBS and was in talks with FOX about a new show back in July, but it’s unclear just what those projects may be.

“I haven’t really thought about [the new shows] all that hard,” Harmon admitted. “My philosophy coming off of the NBC thing is that I’m not going to work quite as hard right out of the gate because working hard in network television, you’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to delegate and you’re supposed to take notes and you’re supposed to be diplomatic. I need to prove with my next couple of jobs that I’m capable of working without burning bridges and biting hands and things.”

He continued, “That’s why I went with CBS and Fox because they’re the two biggest networks and I want to do something good and something that’s successful and somehow not be the bad guy every day that I go to work. If that doesn’t work, I’ll immediately dump the third thing and become unlikable again, but I want to see if it’s possible to have all three and keep my job and make people happy and do something of quality.”

From the sound of those statements, it seemed as though Harmon was talking about maybe toning down his voice in his new television projects. When we asked if that’s what he meant, he explained that it’s a tricky line to walk.

“That’s a really good important question. Obviously if I say, ‘Yes, I’m going to try to tone it down,’ that would be [a trap]. Not that it’s like a ‘gotcha’ thing, I’m just saying, ‘What is the real answer to that question?’ What am I saying when I say I want to not get fired or hoist my sails to the wind that’s there?” he said. “It’s like, I hope that that doesn’t involve toning anything down.”

As an example, he explained that “Community” was his “earnest attempt to make a mainstream show,” so fans shouldn’t worry about him “selling out tonally.” And even though he’s hopefully going to end up on a network whose best comedies are sitcoms, he doesn’t think his project will fit with that mold.

“I’m not really able to write ‘Big Bang Theory.’ If I tried, it would be worse than ‘Big Bang Theory.’ The guys that are good at that write that, do it well, and then the stuff that I write is going to end up inevitably being like ‘Community,” Harmon said. “The sad fact is that that’s as close to the bulls-eye as I get. Just don’t tell CBS that I said that; it may repeat itself all over again. I’ll find some way to make it my own, otherwise it will be bad.”

“Community” has had plenty of iconic and experimental episodes, from the episode-long paintball fights to the stop-motion Christmas special to our personal favorite: “Remedial Chaos Theory” with its multiple timelines. We asked Harmon which of the episodes were his favorite, and he said there were too many to choose from.

“Since the end of the first season onward, it was all about, ‘We’re going to get fired every day now, we’re going to get cancelled, but it didn’t happen today, so what else has anyone else wanted to do on TV for their entire life as a writer?’ and whatever the answer was we’d try to find a way to do it up to and including a multiple timeline, which is something I’d wanted to do for a long time,” he said. “Ever since I’d seen ‘Run Lola Run.’ I mean, I’m a derivative writer. You can see online, I posted a text message conversation I had with one of the writers, Megan Ganz, about just watching ‘Run Lola Run’ a second time and going, ‘There’s got to be a way to do this sliding doors, video game stop-and-start multiple timelines something.’ You can see us hashing it out.”

We asked him about the season three episode “Digital Estate Planning,” which guest starred Giancarlo Esposito and, like the stop-motion episode, ditched live action to instead be told through the style of a retro video game. It turns out that one doesn’t rank to high on his list of favorites.

“That was ridiculous,” he said. “I haven’t watched that one again because it was just like too far. I know that that was the final straw [with NBC].”

What about season two’s “Critical Film Studies,” which is largely inspired by “My Dinner with Andre” and “Pulp Fiction” and features Abed’s hilarious “Cougar Town” crossover?

“God, that’s another one I thought was it,” Harmon said, and then continued on to explain why he thinks so many of “Community’s” experiments slipped through the cracks. “We were very lucky to be at a network that was sort of in flames the whole time because it was like Beirut wasn’t a nice place to live in the ’80s but there was a lot of ammunition lying around and people got to do some stuff they had always been dreaming of doing. I think that’s what NBC was at that time.”

Even with those harsh words, Harmon made it clear that he wishes all the best for the network that sent him away.

“I hope for NBC’s sake that the impulse that made [NBC chairman Robert] Greenblatt get rid of me is coupled with an impulse that brings stability and Camelot back, because it is one of the greatest networks, the one that I grew up watching: ‘Night Rider,’ ‘A-Team,’ ‘Cosby,’ ‘Cheers,'” he told IFC. “It would be great to see them keep fighting that fight for taste and quality but, I don’t know. That’s out of my jurisdiction, I have no idea if that’s going to happen. I saw a poster with a monkey on it and some guys with BabyBjorns, so it’s not looking good.”

What do you think about Harmon’s comments about NBC and “Community”? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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