See, these guys are hanging in! (NBC)If all you had to go on was the passion of fans on the internet, you might be forgiven for thinking that "Community" is the most popular sitcom — if not the most popular series — on all of television. In fact, that is not the case. Among NBC's Thursday-night sitcoms, "Community" is the lowest-rated. So while yesterday's news that the show is about to go on hiatus is disappointing, it can't have possibly come as a surprise to its fans, can it? I'm honestly asking. Because I wasn't surprised, and yet the rest of the internet seems to be reacting as though this is a world-shaking shock. And with a petition popping up (and a poorly fact-checked one at that: Show's not canceled, guys) and a movement underway with a name that aligns itself with the protesters of Occupy Wall Street, I feel I must call for peace and restraint before this nonsense gets any further out of hand.
For one thing, as I just said, the show is not canceled. It's getting pulled from the schedule, possibly to its benefit if that means it doesn't air opposite "American Idol" again in the new year. And it airs on NBC, which doesn't have so many gigantic hits that its poor performers look all that bad by comparison. Plus, it's so close to having made enough episodes to get sold into syndication that Sony might very well make a sweetheart deal to keep it alive.
For another, can we be real for a second? Because it's been a pretty long time since the show was as entertaining as we came to expect during its stellar first season. As Richard Lawson writes on TheAtlanticWire.com:
It's full of asides and narrative callbacks and subtle yet intricate references in a way that really no other show is. And that's all well and good, it's what makes the show the show, but good grief did it become awfully impenetrable awfully fast. It didn't take long for all of the quirk and cutesiness and sly winking to pile up into a wall that was likely too high to climb for many a new viewer.
This was also the problem with "Arrested Development" through its whole series run, with one significant difference: "Arrested Development" also contained jokes that would be funny to viewers who'd never seen another episode of the show. On the other hand, because "Community" goes so far with its gimmicky flights of narrative fantasy, virtually every episode has to end with a restatement of why these characters — who've just finished playing Dungeons & Dragons or being Claymation or getting conned by Pierce (Chevy Chase) for the past half-hour, for no good reason that would be obvious to a first-time viewer — will continue to hang out together.
And finally: It's "show business." Not "show friends." NBC didn't make this decision to spite you, it made it because it was the prudent financial move (even if it's only temporary). The show does not do well in the ratings. Too few people watch it to make it viable commercially. It doesn't matter if you personally love it five times as much as you do any other show: That doesn't make Nielsen count you as five people.
Yes, it's a drag when a beloved series is in trouble. But having a protest movement isn't going to change anything (and calling it "OccupyNBC," the day after what happened in Zuccotti Park last night, is in seriously poor taste). Remember how mad everyone got about Conan O'Brien getting kicked off "The Tonight Show"? It didn't end with him keeping the show. And if NBC determines that there isn't a business case to be made for keeping "Community" on the air, it won't matter how many paintballs you mailed to Burbank to change executives' minds.