dan-harmon

Why 'Community' is the only Internet crossover that matters

Dec. 8, 2011 at 5:29 PM ET

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"Community" creator Dan Harmon likes to get into it on Twitter.

We're talking 3 p.m.-after-school-behind-the-gym into it. What's more, the rocket surgeon of popular culture doesn't need an invitation to throw down.

Take, for example, Harmon's Twitter badness from last November, stemming from a tweet that didn't address @danharmon directly, and only came to his attention via the hashtag #Community:

@ILNY83: I just got done watching the Halloween episode of #Community. It had a lot of laughs, but I'm over the parody episodes. I miss season one.

@danharmon: @ILNY83 I'm over your poop face.

If you don't get why that's awesome, then you probably don't get "Community," which is why the critically acclaimed, modestly-rated NBC sitcom — currently in its third season — goes into indefinite hiatus following Thursday night's holiday episode. And that's too bad — not just for TV, but for the Internet as well.  (FYI: TODAY.com is powered by msnbc.com, which is a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Described by Wired (A story about a sitcom in WIRED MAGAZINE!) as a "nimble, anarchic aesthetic of cheapo online comedy and the comforting structure of a mainstream sitcom," "Community" is also the very first TV  show that does what television marketing execs only dream of – engage the Internet in a meaningful way. Wired notes:

Fittingly for a show with so much Internet-friendly comedy—pop-culture allusions, sight-gag Easter eggs, and hyperaware self-commentary — Community has attracted a spazzily enthusiastic online following. After every episode, the web is besieged with tributes and exegeses in the form of recaps, animated GIFs, and arcana-packed Tumblr pages. (One site ran a 1,300-word oral history on a character named Magnitude, whose total screen time amounts to less than 10 minutes.)

That's right geeks and geek fetishists — Dan Harmon gets us because he is us.

Meanwhile, on the medicore side of things, ABC Family's "Pretty Little Liars" is the top TV topic on Twitter for 2011. It's a title earned via its heavily managed Twitter marketing campaign that takes full advantage of the fact that ever since the Age of Bieber, adolescent girls rule much of the microblogging platform. Take it from TV by the Numbers:

Show talent and producers often live tweet the episodes and evil doer,"A," known in the show for sending mysterious and revealing text messages, will sometimes "take over" the shows Twitter handle," TV by the Numbers describes. "ABC Family also often runs promotions like the #PrettyLittleShhh photo contest where users were asked to tweet pictures of themselves posing in the iconic "shhh" pose from the show key art.

That's what the industry calls a "successful social media campaign." Whatevs.

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Canned maybe be OK for teenage girls — I'd like to think even at that age I was too jaded to buy in — but Harmon's Twitter interactions with his audience are authentic and awesome. 

"I do try many times a season to put Alison [Brie — who plays Annie] in a situation, wardrobe-wise, that I know is going to end up as an animated GIF file," Harmon told Digital Spy. "I observe that stuff and the way people are consuming it, because I'm a nerd too and I love to obsess about my favorite TV shows."

"Community" is loaded with countless meta references that (happily) require multiple viewings and a laptop open to Wikipedia to catch because Harmon respects his audience enough to expect us to get the joke. Same goes for his scatological responses to less-than-positive #Community tweets. He messes with us because he knows we can take it.  

Off putting? Fighting is what you do with your family. Pleasantries are what you do with people you don't give a poop about.

Even Harmon's most venomous anti-fan gets plenty of Harmon "love." 

"Since before the first season of 'Community,' Harmon has been enmeshed in a public feud with Twitter user Gwynth Alcopoz, a.k.a. "Gwynnifer," the Daily Beast reports. "Despite the virulence of Alcopoz’s attacks against the show, Harmon, and even Gwynnifer’s name was mentioned on-air during the November 11, 2010 episode of 'Community,' where it was used as the name of a woman with whom Joel McHale’s Jeff canceled a date.":

"I don’t like making up names and I was imagining this person on the other end of the phone being disappointed in Joel’s character and I pulled that name out of my head because it has something to do with disappointment," said Harmon. Or as McHale’s character says to the unseen Gwynnifer, upon abruptly breaking their date, "Tell your disappointment to suck it."

Other such shout outs are more loving — especially Harmon's homage to a YouTube fan video set to the song "Gravity," which cobbled together "Community" clips imply the Annie character's growing love affair with Jeff, as her interest in Troy fades. In the episode "Paradigm of Human Memory," the video was recreated with similar scene edits, right down to a black and white shot of Troy, even using "Gravity" as the soundtrack, the royalty for which no doubt came out of "Community's" budget. 

What's more, Harmon gave the video creator a heads up on the episode for a very special surprise, assuring her that it wasn't an insult —even though for some insane reason, some YouTube commenters think it is.

Harmon "explicitly stated that it wasn't an insult, so please don't leave gleeful comments about how much the writers must hate me," the video creator points out on her YouTube page.

Harmon's fans are fiercely dedicated in part because we have buy-in. Each episode reinforces the fact that we have real influence over the show.

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No amount of algorithms or statistics will ever create an organic social media relationship between the audience and a TV show that comes close to what we have with "Community." Harmon is a True Believer — and to follow him on Twitter, to read his blog, is to know that "Community" and its audience is not a job, it's his life. Viewers respect that.

Alas, just not enough.

More on the annoying way we live now:

Helen A.S. Popkin goes blah blah blah about the Internet. Tell her to get a real job on Twitter and/or Facebook. Also, Google+.

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