NBC's Community was scheduled to premiere its fourth season on Friday night, but the network is pushing back the release until further notice. The second season of Whitney is also being withheld, allegedly because NBC wants to focus their marketing on budding successes like Go On and The New Normal. This is scary news for Community, a show which has already been cancelled and resurrected once before.
Fans of Community have always known that it was dangling by a thread. When creator/show-runner Dan Harmon was dismissed at the end of last year, many thought it was over for good. Losing Harmon might seem like a big blow, and his presence will definitely be missed, but I think the quality of the show should hold steady.
The appeal of Community has always been the depth of the characters and the strength of the writing, both of which make it a uniquely adaptable program. Some of the best episodes have been their parodies of other styles, most notably the Law and Order spoof and mock Ken Burns Documentary from season three. If the show can succeed while totally shifting form on a weekly basis, surely it can survive a change at the helm.
While programs aired on Friday are typically not expected to get high ratings, this was actually a good fit for the show. That's because a large portion of Community's fan base are young people who watch their TV online on their own schedules. Airing on Friday night — and being available for streaming over the weekend — sounds like an ideal niche for a show with a devoted legion of online fans.
The only real danger facing Community is NBC's apparent lack of confidence in the Emmy-winning comedy. The network's statement regarding the delayed premieres contained some frightening language. “Without having to launch these comedies on Friday at this time, we can keep our promotion focused on earlier in the week.” To me, this phrasing implies that airing Community (and Whitney) is an unwanted obligation for the peacock and that promoting them is a hassle. Maybe NBC has so much Greendale school spirit that they just really want the show to stand out, but that's wishful thinking to say the least.
By far the most worrisome part of NBC's explanation for delaying Community is that the show is now “in our back pocket if we need to make any schedule changes on those nights.” Given that there are currently re-runs of Grimm airing in what would have been Community's slot, I have to wonder how much worse things need to get before they bring back Troy, Abed, and the rest. When you can't beat old episodes of a show about fairy-tale crime fighting, your prospects are pretty ... grim.
NBC's statement concluded with the promise to reschedule the premieres in the next few weeks, but it wouldn't be the first time that a show was left on the back-burner indefinitely. The best source for information is probably the cast members themselves. Joel McHale, Jim Rash, and Donald Glover in particular have been very vocal on Twitter when it comes to cancellation, always seeking to rally the Community community.