Earlier today Community creator Dan Harmon confirmed via a post on his Tumblr that he will not be involved at all with the fourth season of NBC comedy and immediately we were all struck by the realisation that we are in fact living in the darkest timeline. Community without Dan Harmon, without his crazy episode plans, without the continuity he brought to the series and characters as a whole… well Sony really Britta’d that one up.
As happy as I am that there will be another (half) season of the program, I can’t help but wonder whether it would have been better to just cancel it after the amazing three episodes that finished off the third season this week. The first half of the season didn’t do much for me, feeling repetitive and dry, while the second half arced beautifully and continued to play with genres from Law and Order to 8-bit videogames and war documentaries. Harmon’s program showcases some of the strongest writing currently on television, so we’ll have to wait and see whether that continues to be the case with the new showrunners. Still, it will always be Harmon’s show, in the same way in which The West Wing always belonged to Sorkin and Gilmore Girls to Sherman-Palladino. The problem, I think, is much bigger than NBC and Sony. Hiatuses are to blame.
Hiatuses are foreign to those of us not based in the U.S.A.: it seems peculiar to break up what is supposedly a coherent whole into two or three parts dependent on holidays and so on. Television seasons in the U.K. are typically much shorter. With a hiatus, programs like Glee get away with bad writing and repetitive storylines because unless you’re marathoning those episodes, you don’t pick up on the discrepancies that easily. Those programs with season arcs get lost with hiatuses, particularly if that hiatus is longer than normal. Narrative momentum is sacrificed to someone’s attempts at prophesying not only viewing habits, but hype and critical acclaim. See one of the saddest victims of hiatuses: FlashForward. The hiatus promotes amnesia and allows the urgency of a good narrative to be lost amidst a chaotic programming schedule in which everything comes back on television at different times.
Without the ability to assess a program in terms of its consecutive narrative appeal — because the hiatus breaks up that narrative and makes it harder for it to function — networks use ratings to make scheduling choices that further destroy the success of such well-written programs by corrupting the narrative. Once they’ve reached that point, it seems to me that networks try to assign blame to individuals for a program’s low ratings, rather than looking at the way in which the story is being told due to format and broadcast restrictions as potentially problematic.
What do you think? Are hiatuses to blame or do people just not like fantastic writing? Is this the darkest timeline? Let us know your thoughts in comments.