Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How Do We Save "Community"?

Since NBC announced its midseason schedule, which revealed that "Community" is being put on hiatus, I've been conflicted. One part of me is looking at the declining ratings, and sympathizing with the executives who are running out of rationales to keep the show on the schedule. "Community" is a great show and continues to be great, but it's also proven to be a niche program, like the beloved "Arrested Development." It probably wouldn't have lasted as long as it has on a network, if that network didn't happen to be NBC, which has been in dire straits for years. If "Community never comes back from its premature benching, and the rest of the season's episodes are burned off over the summer, that'll still be sixty-six episodes, which is nine more than "Arrested Development" managed. We should be grateful "Community" got this far, right?

And then of course, there's the louder, madder, fangirl part of me that's shouting, "Screw NBC! Six seasons and a movie!"

"Community" is my favorite television show currently airing, a font of unique, intelligent humor in an otherwise mundane network sitcom landscape, and I want it to continue. I understand the fix that NBC is in, but they could have done a lot more to help the show. It's currently in one of the toughest timeslots on the schedule, up against a much more accessible geek-themed sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory," that is competing for the same audience. If NBC is trying to build a comedy block on Wednesdays, why not let "Community" lead off the night there, where it would be up against family sitcoms like "Modern Family" and the dwindling "Survivor"? Or Monday nights, which were once a nerd show haven?

But never mind what the network could have done. What can "Community" fans do right now to save the show?

First and foremost, help the network generate revenue from it. Buy past seasons of the show, acquire whatever merchandise exists, and keep watching the current season too, while encouraging others to do the same. The watching part is a little more complicated than it sounds, though. There are plenty of passionate "Community" fans out there, from the reactions I've been seeing around the web. The problem is that nobody seems to be watching the show live on Thursdays at 8PM, which are the ratings numbers that still count for the most. "Community" actually gets a significant bump once you factor in the DVR numbers, which signals that many people prefer to time-shift watching the show. More are also watching on Hulu or The audience that loves "Community" is young and web-savvy and doesn't play by the old rules. Traditional appeals to watch the show live just aren't going to work, because these viewing habits are already pretty deeply ingrained and hard to change. However, appeals to watch the show from legal sources might help. There are still way too many torrent fiends out there.

Keeping "Community's" profile high will also help. I think the only reason the show's benching has been in the news at all is because angry reactions started trending on Twitter, and anything that trends on Twitter these days is hailed as newsworthy. Hollywood is youth-obsessed, remember, and Hollywood could stand to be reminded that however small the "Community" audience is, it's young, influential, and highly desirable. There's also been a lot of love from the critics, who regularly praise the show's high ambitions and flair for complexity. I'd suggest amping up the campaigning for Emmy awards, but that's too far off in the future to do much good now, and last year's net of zero nominations suggest that the Hollywood establishment doesn't get the high-minded humor anyway. But the more people discuss the show, the more "Community" memes seep into the culture, and the more outrage can be drummed up over the possible cancellation, the more newbies might be willing to give the show another look.

How about stunts like the campaign to save "Chuck" by buying Subway sandwiches to appeal directly to one of their major sponsors? Couldn't hurt, though NBC isn't seeing very good returns from its decision to keep "Chuck" around, which has been doing far worse in the ratings than "Community" this year and is not long for this world. Stunts would be good for getting attention, but most of these appeals have failed in the past. It would be fun to try and come up with a Save-the-Show campaign for "Community" that is as self-referential and meta as the show itself, just for kicks. I just don't think it would do much good.

However, letting "Community" slip away quietly in the night is not an acceptable option either. So keep yelling and screaming and making a fuss, fellow "Community" fans. In the end, NBC might not listen to us, but at least we can make them regret any unhappy outcome by never letting them hear the end of it.

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