From online fan reaction to the news that meta-sitcom “Community” was conspicuously absent from NBC’s recently-released midseason schedule, an uninformed observer might make the mistake of believing it’s one of the most wildly popular comedies on TV.
On the contrary, “Community” remains one of the lowest-rated shows on network TV, lately averaging only about 3.5 million viewers an episode, according to TVbytheNumbers.
After the mid-season schedule release, a “Save Community” campaign quickly up on Twitter and various media outlets, calling for “six seasons and a movie” in reference to one of the show’s more meta lines of dialogue, in addition to setting up things like Facebook pages and online petitions urging NBC to keep TV’s most underrated on the air.
All of this panic is despite the fact that “Community” is not officially cancelled at this point, and is still slated to produce all 22 episodes originally ordered for the season.
“Community” and its fanbase exemplifies pop culture cult devotion: an extremely narrow but fervent audience committed to a quirky, fast-talking show that’s just as nerdy and enthusiastic as its viewers.
Although “Community” fans are justified in their disappointment — the show is one of the most cleverly crafted, delightfully playful and emotionally resonant sitcoms in recent memory — they certainly shouldn’t be surprised. “Community” is full of insular, self-referential, convoluted jokes that reward the kind of loyal viewers who watch and re-watch each episode carefully, combing each for inside-joke Easter eggs and obscure pop culture references they missed the first time around.
This intense complexity makes “Community” intimidating for new viewers to jump into, however, and its ratings suffer for it accordingly. The very thing that makes “Community” such an exceptional half-hour of comedy may well be what helps bring about its demise.
Of course, “Community” is hardly the first show to inspire the outrage of its tiny-but-vehement fanbase when faced with the specter of cancellation. Low-rated but much-adored shows like “Firefly,” “Twin Peaks,” “Roswell” and “Veronica Mars” have all inspired their fans to loudly protest their cancellation.
Most of the time, “save our show” campaigns like these are fruitless. No matter how dedicated a show’s fans may be, networks are only interested in attracting as many viewers possible, and if a show isn’t measuring up, they’re inevitably axed to make room for new possible ratings-drawing programming.
However, intense fan reaction occasionally can actually keep a show on the air. The first fan campaign to successfully keep a beloved show from cancellation came in 1968, when the original “Star Trek” series was performing dismally in the ratings by the end of its second season. A massive Trekkie letter-writing campaign convinced the network to bring the show back for one more season of intergalactic adventures.
More recently, the ever-growing popularity and protracted demands for a movie spin-off of short-lived but ingenious comedy cult “Arrested Development” have now prompted a reunion nearly six years after its 2006 cancellation. The original producers of the show are slated to produce a season of new episodes, which will be distributed exclusively on Netflix in 2013 in a completely unprecedented Internet revival.
Unfortunately, the “Save Community” campaign so far fails to resemble anything like the kinds of Herculean efforts behind “Star Trek” or “Arrested Development.” At this point, fans’ indignation remains devoted to getting the show to trend on Twitter and getting people to sign various petitions, neither of which are likely to do much on their own. If “Community” fans want to get “six seasons and a movie,” like fans have been tweeting for, they’ll have to commit to concrete action — the most effective of which is watching the show live as it airs and convincing others to do the same.
Printed on Friday, December 2, 2011 as: 'Community' has strong community