So as it turns out, we do live in one of the parallel universes where Dan Harmon returns to Community, as tweeted by Harmon himself and confirmed by a justifiably gloating Deadline. Though it appears the deal isn’t quite finalized, that’s almost certainly just because it’s Saturday, and nobody signs contracts on a Saturday. So we’ll repeat it once again for good measure: Dan Harmon is returning to Community, unless the world ends (which it could; you never know).
Iconoclastic showrunners have returned to the shows they left in the past. Larry David, for instance, went back to Seinfeld to write the series finale, while David E. Kelley increased his involvement in Chicago Hope in that show’s final year. But both of those men left their shows voluntarily; neither was fired, as Harmon was. In previous cases of a showrunner being fired or leaving the show under stormy conditions, like Aaron Sorkin’s removal from The West Wing or Amy Sherman-Palladino’s ouster from Gilmore Girls, the showrunner/creator wasn’t even invited back to write the series finale (something of a tradition for long-running shows, even if the creator left somewhere in season one). To have Harmon back not just to write one episode but to run the whole show for a fifth season (which may very well end up being the final one, according to Deadline, but is not yet confirmed as such) is hugely unprecedented.
What’s the reason for this? We’ll almost certainly never know, because Sony is likely to remain as tight-lipped about its reasoning for bringing Harmon back as it was about its reasoning for firing him. In his tweet announcing his return, Harmon thanked series star Joel McHale, and that squares with what Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall has heard: The cast, unhappy with the quality of the fourth season scripts, declared that it wanted Harmon to return. (Sepinwall also boldly refutes that Chevy Chase’s ouster had anything to do with this, which you already knew, but we’ll repeat it anyway.) That, too, would be largely unprecedented in the go-along-to-get-along culture of series television, but it often takes the unprecedented to make something else unprecedented happen.
There’s still no news as to whether any of Harmon’s other key personnel will be returning with him. Deadline said earlier in the week that Chris McKenna might be returning, and his overall deal with NBC-Universal might make that possible. Andy Bobrow’s overall deal with Sony TV also makes his return something worth considering. Megan Ganz is continuing with Modern Family, for the time being, while a bunch of other season two writers, like Hilary Winston, have long since moved on to other things. Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan, key to the series’ first three seasons, have an overall deal with Fox, so their return might be less likely, while Joe and Anthony Russo are filming the Captain America sequel and, thus, highly unlikely to return, even to shoot a single episode (though one could imagine a scenario where they returned for a series finale, if the fifth season finale proved to be that). Harmon also listed a whole bunch of key technical personnel he wanted back whose names we had never even heard of, so we assume they’ll be back, but who knows? The show’s look shifted subtly between seasons two and three, and hopefully, this is an attempt to get back to the more grounded quality of the earlier seasons (if “grounded” is an adjective that can be applied to Community).
We’ll hopefully have more about how this deal happened in the week to come—which will either be original reporting or, more likely, us linking to other people who have done original reporting—but we’ll repeat it one last time: Dan Harmon is returning to Community. Look! Even The Hollywood Reporter says so.