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Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Highlights from the 'Community' Writers' Reddit AMA

The writing staff of Community did a question-and-answer session on Reddit last night in anticipation of the show's return to the airwaves tonight after a hiatus that's lasted nearly nine months. Participating in the Reddit session were longtime Community writers Megan Ganz, Andy Bobrow, Maggie Bandur, and Tim Saccardo; new co-showrunner David Guarascio; and new-to-the-show Gene Hong. Hit the jump for a collection of the best parts from the Reddit session, including Jeff and Britta's sex tape, writing Chevy Chase out of the show, and a planned episode that puts the supporting cast at the forefront:

How do you guys keep track of all the continuity references?

Gene Hong: We have this crazy thing in the writers room that keeps track of every reference the show has ever made called a "Tim Saccardo."

Tim Saccardo: Um, Gene, I think somebody already made that joke in season 2's AMA…Those of us who have been around the longest just tend to remember everything (probably because we spent an inordinate amount of our lives working on the show).

What I want to ask is that we know that Abed had a camera in his dorm at the college and that Jeff and Britta had sex in Abeds room at the time (during the Paradigms of Human Memory episode). Does this mean that Abed is in possession of a Jeff/Britta sex tape?

Megan Ganz: We have discussed this in the writers' room, actually. The general consensus was: definitely.

Do you plan on doing anything for May 23rd, 2013, Jeff has an 'unmovable appointment' [in a season one episode, Jeff alludes to this being the date he becomes a lawyer again]?

Andy Bobrow: Unfortunately, when we wrote and shot this batch of episodes, we believed we would be airing from October through January. So we never even thought to plan a May 23rd thing. Then, when we were postponed, we didn't know when we would start airing, so even if we wanted to do a May 23rd thing, we wouldn't know which episode to put it in. So unfortunately, there's no May 23rd shout-out.

We will have to explain it away next season if there is one.

What are your hopes for the show's future?

Tim Saccardo: sixseasonsandamovie

We often hear other students complaining that life at Greendale is all about the Greendale 7. Any chance of an episode just focusing on the daily lives of Fat Neil, Vicky, Todd, Leonard, Magnitude, Garret and Asian Annie?

Megan Ganz: We always wanted to do an episode like this. Actually, for a while we discussed having the Star-burns wake episode be a tribute to the background characters, who are really foreground characters in their own story (a world in which our group would be considered background). It didn't come to anything but it's still a good idea.

Tim Saccardo: Somewhere I have like 60 pages of notes about this from when I thought this was the episode I'd be writing.

I know this question is kind of inevitable, but how has the dynamic changed without Harmon in the room?

Maggie Bandur: Moses Port and David Guarascio give us significantly less updates on their bodily functions. Dan was very open that way.

David Guarascio: just peed.

Maggie Bandur: Thank you.

Are there any jokes from the show that you're surprised got picked up by the fans? Are there any jokes that you wrote that you're surprised didn't get embraced?

Megan Ganz: I'm always surprised that people find the hidden easter eggs so friggin' fast. It's like we can't bury them deep enough. I was happy to see people liked the Dean's costume montage in the first clip show episode as much as we did. When we read that section at the table read it got a solid minute of laughter and applause. It basically stopped the read cold. Quite possibly our best table read yet.

To Megan Ganz, how different is working on Modern Family compared to community? Secondly, in a recent episode of modern family, we saw a pretty epic tribute to The Godfather. I immediately thought of Community and was wondering if you had anything to do with it.

Megan Ganz: I didn't have anything to do with that tribute, but it is a funny coincidence. The episodes I've had a hand in haven't aired yet. So far it's a completely different job, because it's a completely different show. But the people are really, really nice and welcoming, and they have made me feel right at home despite the fact that I joined them mid-season. I probably won't write an episode this year, but I'm excited for the possibility of getting one next season. I'll get to try my hand at writing mockumentary instead of mock-mockumentary.

How did you all end up becoming writers for Community? Is it an executive decision? Or do the other writers in the room bring in people they think will mesh well with the other writers?

Tim Saccardo: This one is good for me because I have a different story than the other Community writers on this AMA. I was hired as a writers assistant in season 2. The main job of that position is taking/organizing writers room notes and formatting/publishing scripts and revisions. It's a rough job but an amazing opportunity to learn from the best and become intimately familiar with a show. You're also part of the staff in a way and get to contribute to scripts when the situation calls for it. After a while, I was given a script of my own to write and eventually was promoted to the writing staff. So, in a way, my writers assistant job ended up being like an extended interview/trial where the writers and producers got to see that I was good at writing the show and also wasn't a dick that would be terrible to be in a room with all day (and sometimes all night. This is Community, after all.)

Which episode are you most proud of?

Andy Bobrow: There's an episode this season that I believe I am most proud of. WEll, tentatively. It depends on how it's received. I wrote some high concept eps in seasons 2 and 3 (Space Bus, Troy's Birthday, Pillows and Blankets) but all of them were heavily guided by Dan. So while I'm proud of them, I went into this season challenging myself to come up with a "special" episode and see if I could pull one off without my mentor. I am very proud of this season's Christmas episode because of that. It is a bottle episode and borrows heavily from Hitchcock. It's a one-act play and I am very proud of that one. Basically because I took everything that Dan Harmon taught me, everything I learned from Community, and I worked really hard to apply it.

What was one joke/line/scene that you were really proud of that never made it into an episode?

Megan Ganz: We had to cut a bunch from the finale I wrote for season 4. I had a Leonard exchange with Annie that I really liked, but it's on the cutting room floor. (Not literally of course, everything is digital.)

Leonard sees Annie trying on a wedding veil.

LEONARD: If you build it, he will come.

ANNIE: Shut up, Leonard. I know you have a soft spot for me.

LEONARD: You look like you should be tattooed on a sailor.

Maggie Bandur: Abed and Troy had an inflatable couch filled with helium in their apartment — you know, so it could float back up to the ceiling when not in use — and the bit got cut. (They lost the ottoman, but then it flew back in the window at the end of the scene.) A chemist friend, Dr. Anthony Pease, had dreamed of such a couch, and I told him it was going to be in the episode, and he illegally downloaded it in England and everything, and there was no couch. But I named the creator of Inspector Spacetime after him. So, he can stop whining now!

Tim Saccardo: Off the top of my head, there was a joke this year where Pierce yelled at Jeff "Don't you dare 'She's All That' Me!" and Jeff looked at him in awe that he would even know that reference and Pierce yelled back "What? I have cable!"

What happened to Ian Duncan? Is John Oliver going to be returning to the show?

Unfortunately he isn't in this season. He's on The Daily Show primarily, and there was a big election or something going on this year. I didn't pay attention, but that's what people tell me.

Who is your favorite recurring character and why?

Tim Saccardo: I personally love Magnitude. First because of the overt "one-jokeness" of his character, but I really started loving him when that was called out by Professor Kane and he started to question his life — "You know they're laughing at you, right?

Is there any episode or scene that you wish you could have a redo, because you were never satisfied with how it read or because you came up with an alternate punchline that worked way better?

Megan Ganz: Sigh. This is probably a bad thing to say — especially when we haven't aired one episode yet — but I wish I could redo the finale of season 4. I had to write it in a bit of a pinch, during a period of upheaval on the show. I wrote it too long (like… 6 minutes too long) and we had to cut a ton out of it in the edit bay. Part of me fears I was too freaked out to do my best work on it, because I wanted it to be a finale worthy of a show it could never be worthy of. Finales are generally terrible, and I am expecting that people will say this one is trying to hard, because it is. Because I was. God was I ever trying too hard on that one. My hope is that you'll all love the Halloween episode and forgive me for the finale. Maybe you'll like it. I have no way of knowing anymore.

What is your favorite episode theme/arc that was unilaterally rejected by NBC for whatever circumstance?

Megan Ganz: Dungeons & Dragons. Thankfully, Dan rejected their rejection.

who came up with the idea to put chang back into greendale?

Megan Ganz: Well, Sony and NBC I guess, since Ken Jeong is under contract with the show. But I think we found a really funny way to get him back at school, considering that he left last season as a pyro-homocidal maniac. Plus, no one wanted to lose Chang. He's the crazy glue that holds our group together.

What are the chances of a full season 4 and/or a season 5?

David Guarascio: i'm bullish on a season 5. nbc's ratings are so low. do we really have to do that well to get more episodes? long live the low bar.

Gene Hong: I've heard industry gossip cover the entire spectrum, from "no way we'll get more episodes" to "it's a coin flip" to "for sure we'll get more!" If I were a gambling man, AND I AM, I'd be willing to bet Andy Bobrow's house on us getting more episodes.

IF this is the last season we get, are you guys satisfied with the ending we get in this season?

Andy Bobrow: Very. I'll spoil a teeny bit, but nothing that actually ended up in the episode. Early on, we had this vision, a really heartfelt tearjerking montage that we knew we wanted to do if it was the season ender. A kind of flash-forward, but way more than that. It was going to make you all cry rivers of tears. And we wrote a version of it. Then, two things happened. One, we realized that to do it right it would take like five whole minutes, which we really couldn't spare. And two, NBC just didn't want to do a final FINAL montage because what if there's a Season 5? It's a weird moment as a writer when you find yourself wanting to do an ending but being told, well this might not be the ending.

Anyway, point being, we did not end up doing that tearjerker montage. But we did do a kickass finale. One that could be a very satisfying end to the whole journey, but one that also could just be the end of another year at Greendale. You'll see.

Maggie Bandur: They all die at the end. Should I not say that?

Who are your favorite cast member/character is to write for and why?

Gene Hong: I like writing for Magnitude. I'm really good at writing the first "pop" but can't seem to get a handle on the second one. Ganz usually helps me.

Will we get more Abed as Batman?

Megan Ganz: Not this season. The whole Batman clearance issue became a real problem last year for some reason. Kind of a bummer.

If NBC ordered a Troy & Abed spinoff, what's the wacky setting of their lives after Greendale and what would their crazy jobs be?

Maggie Bandur: I hope I'm not stepping on his future development, but I think Dan always pictured them opening a detective agency. With Annie and her chloroform, of course.

Were y'all able to write Chevy Chases character out of the show? I know Joel McHale said that he made it through all the eps of the season, but is he going to just be randomly absent from the next years season or replaced or did y'all kill him off or have him depart some how?

Megan Ganz: There are a couple episodes where we had to cover his untimely absence, but his departure is dealt with in the finale. It might be a bit quick and possibly unfulfilling, but I had exactly one day to come up with something to cover it (mid-filming).

How fun was it to write Chevy Chase out of the show?

Andy Bobrow: It was not fun at all. Especially because for a couple weeks we did not know from day to day, from hour to hour, whether we had Chevy or not. We literally had to come up with multiple contingency plans: what if you had Chevy for one more day? What if you didn't have him at all? What if you had him but only under very specific conditions? It drove us fucking crazy.

Love the character. Tolerated the actor. We ended up having to remove him completely from my Christmas episode at the last minute. Had to rewrite the show on the Friday before shoot week. So that was a heartbreak. We basically moved Ken Jeong into the story to do what Pierce was going to do. It worked okay, but was not ideal, IMO.

EDIT: I really want to say this, and it's not to be politically correct or anything. Chevy is a gifted comic actor. He honestly is. And not a terrible person. Just, how shall we say, difficult. I call him a brilliant hurricane. Similar things could be said of Harmon.

  • ian_macintyre

    "Early on, we had this vision, a really heartfelt tearjerking montage that we knew we wanted to do if it was the season ender. A kind of flash-forward, but way more than that. It was going to make you all cry rivers of tears."

    Oh my Christ. If they were going to have the finale of Community be a parody of the finale of Six Feet Under, I think my brain would fall apart.