Greendale Disaster!

‘Community’: The NBC Comedy is Shelved Until Later, But Why?

Jace Lacob explores NBC’s decision to hold Community until an undisclosed later date, which arrives during a television season that lowers the bar on expectations and on success.

Lewis Jacobs / NBC

Community will not be returning on Friday, Oct. 19, and will instead remain in limbo for the foreseeable future. While the news left Greendale fans panicking, the network claims it has made the late decision because NBC had focused promotional support on the network’s Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday lineups, apparently forgetting about the existence of Community and Whitney, which were meant to return next Friday. The two low-rated comedies may instead end up filling in for the network’s other trouble spots in the coming weeks or months.

While this sort of network scheduling second-guessing is only too common these days, it comes at an odd time, both for Community and NBC as well as for the broadcasters in general. While a handful of shows have received full season orders, it is head scratching that the networks have still yet to even cancel a single underperforming new series this year. (Yes, even The Mob Doctor remains on the air.) Usually by this time, one or several shows have gotten the ax, sometimes after just as little as two episodes on air.

But the 2012–13 season proves that the bar for keeping a show on is much, much lower than perhaps ever before. Fox’s The Mob Doctor is clinging to life with a 0.9 in the demo on a Monday night. Even CBS has had to make do with a 0.8 in the adults 18–49 demo for its barely-hanging-on legal drama Made in Jersey on a Friday night (beaten even by Fox’s Fringe), opting to keep the show on the air instead of canning it. And when things are sinking at CBS, the television equivalent of the land of milk and honey, things are really, really bad.

Despite the fact that the networks all have held back a number of shows for midseason, they appear to be fearful of swapping them out for what they’ve got on air now. (After all, they’ve already spent millions in advertising, promotion, and press for these duds.) So it might be a case of trying to recoup ad money while they still can while saving their later shows for when things really get bad. But that doesn’t change the fact that many of these shows—at least as largely determined by the outmoded viewership metrics that remain in place—are being more or less rejected by America.

And then there’s NBC. The network seems to have a good hold on Mondays and Tuesdays, one that they played up in their prepared statement regarding the Community scheduling delay. But once you look at Wednesdays and Thursdays, things fall off the precipice altogether. Their nascent comedy block on Wednesday evenings—one made up of severely underperforming newbies Animal Practice and Guys With Kids—is crashing and burning and the network has yet to make a decision on the fate of either. But Whitney seems a far better companion for Guys With Kids than either does with Animal Practice or Community.

Still, Community was meant to air next week. Yes, next week. And the fact that NBC has opted to pull the premiere and sit on it for an undetermined time comes with some consequences. Fans are chomping at the bit to see how the show holds up without series creator Dan Harmon at the helm, and have had Oct. 19 circled on their calendars for a while now.

But the fallout goes well beyond the fans. Series star Yvette Nicole Brown had even recently tweeted a photo of some of the show’s cast members holding up a sign that read, “Community returns Friday, October 19 at 8:30 p.m.” (Ouch.) The new showrunners, Moses Port and David Guarascio—brought in over the summer to replace Harmon—have been doing a ton of press leading up to what was meant to be the season premiere, and those interviews have begun to turn up online, following the agreement these outlets made in order to secure time with Port and Guarascio.

Screeners of Community’s first episode back, meanwhile, were reportedly about to be mailed out to press by Sony Pictures Television, but NBC halted the shipment in time. However, it seems that one outlet already viewed the episode: the season premiere was given a capsule review in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, which—because of a double-issue—had already published its What to Watch listings through Oct. 21.

Whether the decision to keep Community on the shelf ends up being a good thing or a bad thing for the show remains to be seen: there are certainly a number of places on Wednesday or Thursday nights—both in ratings trouble—where Community could sit relatively comfortable. In fact, with 30 Rock ending and Up All Night struggling, there could soon be room for Community before long.

In a television season that is rife with bizarre decisions and lackluster ratings, things are definitely dire when NBC opts to hold Community a week before its planned premiere. In a season that so far has been shockingly casualty-free, the difference between failure and success is not always apparent.