With Support From Yahoo, Community Now Looks to Go Beyond ‘6 Seasons and a Movie’

Creator expects the often-imperiled show to thrive online

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Community has managed to cheat death more times than Jason Voorhees. This year, the cult sitcom pulled off its most improbable comeback yet: after NBC's cancellation, finding a home not on Hulu (where its studio, Sony, already had a digital syndication deal), but Yahoo Screen. The show's sixth season will debut on the streaming service March 17, with a two-episode premiere, and additional episodes following each Tuesday after that.

But the Yahoo deal barely came together, creator Dan Harmon said at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour. It was finalized June 30, with Harmon getting the news just hours before his cast's contracts were set to expire. "It was very last minute," recalled Harmon, who admitted not knowing why talks with Hulu collapsed.

The Yahoo Screen version of Community will be free but ad-supported. "The entire sixth season takes place inside a Honda," joked Harmon. "Whether or not that means there will be classic commercial pods placed within the playtime, I'm a little out of my jurisdiction saying that, but I do know that I'm writing it as if there will [be ads] because as a writer, three-act stories are what work for me.

"So NBC's clock worked very well. You do the cold open, title sequence, you've got a first act where people realize they're going to be in a new situation, curtain. If they want to put a commercial there, that's a good place to put it. Second act: Everyone dresses in funny costumes, another commercial, and third act: Everyone apologizes and there's less jokes. And then maybe another commercial and then a tag where maybe someone has a fern on their head."

Also up in the air: whether Harmon will need to adhere to the same strict 22-minute episode length he had on NBC. While he'll have to produce a 22-minute version of each episode for international and syndication runs, "the things that go on Yahoo, maybe they can be a little chubby, like me," said Harmon, who is making trims to 26-minute rough cuts of each episode. "In lovable way, just a little extra!"

While binge-watching is all the rage, especially with streaming content, "there wasn't any talk" of going that direction with Yahoo. "In my old-school bones, it feels to me like the right way to do it," Harmon said. "Maybe old-school is the best school. It is for rap!"

Harmon is looking forward to not living or dying by the Nielsen overnights the following morning, as he always did on NBC. "That's going to be the coolest thing in the world. I'm biased, but those numbers felt bad to me. That was the worst part, a world where a 0.8 could mean the best day of your life, and a 0.7 meant no doughnuts. It was such an odd, weird religion to live under," said Harmon, who isn't sure whether Yahoo will share any metrics with him. "Are they going to go, 'This is how many people clicked a cat face'? I don't know."

Now that Community has left NBC, "the corset loosens a little bit" content-wise, said Harmon, noting that the comedy has more "Britishness" this season. And the cast has welcomed the Yahoo move with open arms. "It felt like we were an online show for awhile, and now we're actually online!" said Gillian Jacobs.

While the mantra for Community fans—and Harmon—for the series has long been "six seasons and a movie," Harmon said that timetable is no longer set in stone. "I'm definitely not writing it as if it's the end. That's not happening," said Harmon, who notes that Community "has lived by the sword of a very intimate relationship with fans…Only when people stop watching would I ever stop wanting to make the product."

But in true Harmon fashion, the creator couldn't resist joking about the possibility of the show entering what fans call the "darkest timeline" yet again: "It will be weird when we get canceled by the Internet." Perhaps then, joked Jacobs, "We could be a Snapchat show. I'm sure they're looking for content!"

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.