Why Community’s Hiatus Isn’t That Big a Deal

While NBC’s much-ballyhooed decision to put Community on hiatus at midseason definitely isn’t good news for the show and its fans, it’s not the end of the world – or the end of the show, for that matter. The fate of Community’s fourth season is in NBC’s hands now, but, as things stand, the rest of the full third season will be airing sooner or later. Like most fans of the critically-acclaimed comedy, I was sad to see it pulled from the schedule, but Community’s fate isn’t sealed yet. So, pick your heads up, Community fans, because it’s not all bad. Here are some things the show has going in its favor:

Community isn’t canceled and its episode order hasn’t been cut. NBC is still committed to a full 22-episode order for Community’s third season, meaning that we’ll be getting a handful of new episodes to round out 2011 and several more sometime next year.

Martyrdom might be the best thing for the show. Arrested Development and Party Down are two of the best-known ratings-challenged, critically-acclaimed TV comedies in recent years, and each of those shows received a surge in popularity after being pulled from the airwaves. As fans of Arrested Development and Party Down know, feeling angry at the respective networks that aired each show, frustrated with the audiences that ignored them, and sad over their cancelations is just as big a part of being a fan as actually watching and enjoying the show is. It’s how poorly the shows were mistreated that fuels people to spread the word and to recruit new fans, so Community being yanked off the schedule could actually help with word of mouth.

All of the publicity over Community being benched at midseason could lead to a ratings boost for the rest of Season Three. Sure, Arrested Development’s cancelation was announced before its final episodes aired and did nothing to spike the show’s viewership, but the world was a different place in 2006. Information travels faster now, meaning that fans of the show can mobilize and spread the word in ways they couldn’t before. In 2006, Facebook was only open to students and Twitter wasn’t a thing. Not only do people discuss TV in different forums now, they also watch it in new ways. In 2006, Netflix wasn’t streaming, DVRs weren’t as prevalent, and Hulu didn’t exist. It’s never been easier to start watching a new show, nor has it been to tell people about it online.

Think of the ratings jump Conan O’Brien received when NBC tried to toy with his timeslot last year. Fans rallied around him, turning him into some kind of martyr. This led to a major jump in Conan’s ratings, with his last Tonight Shows besting Letterman and everyone else in late night by a fair margin, as well as beating Leno’s numbers from the year prior. Conan scored his best ratings ever in his final Tonight Show, largely because of the Internet buzz and real-life word of mouth generated by the story. Community still has 3-5 episodes left to air before it’s wiped off the schedule for 30 Rock midseason, and all of the publicity the show’s been receiving for its hiatus could turn out to be great for ratings.

NBC did the same thing for Parks and Rec, and then renewed it. The network also benched Parks and Recreation last season; but when the show returned, its ratings made a significant jump. This little hiatus should give people who have been meaning to get into Community but haven’t yet some time to catch up on the show online and on DVD, especially after hearing about it so much this week from friends who are worried about cancelation. Maybe it’ll give Dan Harmon and company the chance to produce a video like this one, made for Parks and Rec’s return from hiatus, in which Rob Lowe completely loses his shit because he didn’t know the show had been off the air.

Community has a competitive timeslot and is up against the highest-rated comedy on TV. I know it hurts to admit it, but The Big Bang Theory is the highest-rated comedy on TV, and it’s been scheduled directly against Community for the past season-and-a-half. To make matters worse, Fox’s The X-Factor is a hit during this same night and time, too. If you put any other comedy on TV (save for Modern Family) up against Big Bang, it would struggle; so, it’s not entirely Community’s fault that ratings have been low. Wherever Community ends up on the schedule when it comes back (and it will be back), hopefully, it’ll be in a better timeslot. Keeping Community on during that difficult timeslot would mean that the show would probably continue to struggle-ratings-wise, but moving it to a new, better home might actually save the show by slotting it somewhere where it isn’t up against TV’s highest-rated comedy. Like, anywhere else on the primetime grid, for example.

NBC is susceptible to “Save Our Show” campaigns. When another NBC show, Chuck, was in danger of cancelation for its low ratings, the show’s fans bandied together and mounted a campaign to get Chuck renewed, which largely consisted of supporting the show’s sponsor Subway and writing letters to the network. If this worked on NBC once, it could again, especially now that the network has sunk even further in the ratings. Our own Hallie Cantor has several ideas for fan campaigns to save Community, including sending paintballs to NBC and growing starburns.

The Nielsen system is broken. As those who pay close attention to TV ratings know, the Nielsen Ratings, used to gauge how many people watch what show, are wildly inaccurate, so all this talk about Community’s low ratings is suspect. In a nutshell, the Nielsen Company has chosen 50,000 people (from 20,000 households) to be Nielsen viewers, and the company estimates nation-wide ratings based on what this small sample says they’ve been watching. So, .016% of the country is dictating what the rest of us watch and TV executives (and advertisers) are basing their decisions on these numbers. Online and DVR numbers are factored in, but most of Nielsen’s ratings are calculated from live viewers.

NBC has more comedies waiting in the wings and could be planning to add another hour of sitcoms to the schedule. Two more comedies were left off of NBC’s midseason schedule, both new shows: the Amanda Peet vehicle Bent and Best Friends Forever, created by and starring Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair. As with Community, the network has yet to announce the timeslot and premiere date for either series, but NBC could very well clear out a block of programming sometime in the spring to premiere Community with one of these new shows.

The show is very close to syndication. These days, 88 is the magic number of episodes needed for a show to be sold into syndication, which is when the money really starts to roll in. By the end of this season, Community will have 71 episodes (almost as many as Arrested Development and Party Down combined, by the way), putting it just one short season shy of the syndication finish line. Once Community is syndicated, it’ll make a lot of money for everyone involved, and no one will profit more than Sony, the studio that produces the show. As TV by the Numbers points out, Sony may let NBC have a fourth season for a reduced rate, just to get the show to a lucrative syndication deal. Also, when shows make it into syndication, they normally receive a substantial ratings boost, so that could bode well for a hypothetical fifth season.

NBC is the most patient (and lowest-rated) of the big four networks. Partly due to the network’s overall ratings difficulties and internal reshuffling, NBC has been especially patient with its comedies in recent years, allowing shows that initially earned low ratings, like The Office, plenty of time to find an audience and grow into hits. This generosity on the part of NBC execs is mainly why Community is still on the air, as it’s never been a hit show, and hopefully, network brass will continue to be so kind. Because of NBC’s ratings troubles on the whole, it’s not impossible for Community to meet the network’s current standards. The series won’t be expected to perform at the high level that shows on other big networks are, so at least Community has that going for it.

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So, there you have it. The nail’s not in Community’s coffin yet. Things aren’t looking good for the show at the moment, but there’s still plenty of time to start doing something about it. Sign the petition. Tell your friends to watch the show. Kidnap a Nielsen family and force them to report that they’ve been watching it. Let’s get this show a fourth season, so that we Community fans can rest easy — until next season, when we’ll probably have this scare all over again.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

Why Community’s Hiatus Isn’t That Big a Deal