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Sony Pictures Television president of programming and production Zack Van Amburg talks with THR about reviving Dan Harmon’s cult comedy: Who’s returning, how much it will cost and if they’ll get the movie after season six.

Sony Pictures Television continues to be the biggest champion of its original programming after the studio reached a landmark deal to revive NBC’s canceled cult comedy Community for a sixth season — at Yahoo.

The deal came after weeks of discussions with everyone from former home NBC to Hulu and other suitors, with Yahoo seeing out the Joel McHale-starrer from executive producer Dan Harmon while SPT was already in deep negotiations with fellow streaming service Hulu, which retains online streaming rights to the first five seasons of the show.

Here, Sony Pictures Television president of programming and production Zack Van Amburg talks with The Hollywood Reporter about shopping the series, why Yahoo is a good fit and if the critical darling but ratings-challenged series could continue beyond its upcoming sixth season. (You know, after the first half of #SixSeasonsAndAMovie comes to pass.)

How did this deal come together?

The easiest way to say it is we never give up. We try so hard and have a pretty decent record now of saving and/or rescuing some of our favorite shows, whether it’s Damages or Unforgettable. Certainly, Community is right in there in a passion project and it’s got a storied past. Dan Harmon was gone; we invited Dan back; Dan came back; [NBC Entertainment chairman] Bob [Greenblatt] picking up the show every year — it was a weird pickup we had last year, where he was sort of apologizing to himself and to the audience for picking it up again [laughs] and was bowing under social pressure to do so. When the news came down that we weren’t going to be back on NBC for another year, it wasn’t surprising news but it was disappointing for sure. Usually at other studios, that means the end of the road. Once the network says, “We’ve spoken,” unless you’re Sony and you just think that’s an initial reaction, everywhere else it’s sort of final. We had a series of conversations with NBC and finally Bob, as nicely as he could, said, “Stop f—ing calling me about Community!” [Laughs.] We pushed that one too much and we started to reach out to some of our other partners and networks. I saw it speculated in the press that there was decent interest from Hulu. That was true. We had a pretty advanced conversation. They have been an amazing partner; the show has done great things for them and their support has been beyond appreciated. It made sense that between Hulu and Comedy Central — who both currently carry the show — that maybe that was going to be our savior. We were in pretty advanced conversations with Hulu and we had made a half-dozen or so phone calls to other places. Then out of the blue — and this never happens — I got the best phone call in the world from Yahoo selling us on why Yahoo would be great destination [for Community]. To be honest, we were so far down the path with Hulu that, hopefully not arrogant but [we were], maybe a little bit dismissive of their overture, which made them that much more committed to explaining to us and to Joel McHale and Dan Harmon why this was going to be a cornerstone of the new Yahoo that they’re about to unveil to the world. They really want to be close to their users and viewers and wanted it to be a safe destination for creators. It was an excellent and articulate speech.

Yahoo is slowly starting to get into originals, following the likes of Amazon, Hulu, Microsoft and Netflix. What kind of concerns do you have that Community will find an audience here vs. on a more established streaming platform?

Here’s the good news: For most of the big services, including cable networks that preexisted, it really just takes one show. I think we’ve proven that we have a built-in fan base. I’m less concerned about finding audience on Yahoo than I was at 8 p.m. on NBC. We had no lead-ins because we were kicking off the night. And when you take a look at the ratings on NBC, we did better than everything that followed us and preceded us at 8 on Thursday night. The show has a rabid fan base that I think will come to it no matter where it is. More importantly, we have a younger, very savvy audience that understands shows exist in alternative places. There will be strong online appeal. There’s going to be a groundswell of support. The Yahoo people said something very interesting: They’re looking to create shows and content for people that didn’t know that that’s what they wanted. Meaning they’re very encouraging on the fact that strong word-of-mouth and good buzz is going to bring an audience. But they also believe they have a real plan to intro Community to a whole new audience that may not have heard of it yet. All those marketing plans are going to be forthcoming, but they were pretty savvy about what their new plan is. In terms of their slow rollout, in our history as a studio, The Shield went to FX at a time when nobody really knew what FX was. Breaking Bad went to AMC at a time where nobody knew what AMC was because we sold that and Mad Men hadn’t been on the air yet and there was no original strategy there. We’ve been in early on the Netflix side of things and are very encouraged. I have nothing but genuine high hopes for Yahoo, particularly when you talk to the management there. They’re really savvy and part of why you haven’t seen a lot come from them is because they want to be very strategic and specific about how to be successful. We certainly liked what we were hearing from them.

When we spoke in May during upfronts, you mentioned you were receiving multiple calls about finding the show a new home. Who was part of that first wave of suitors? I’d imagine your first hope was another broadcast or cable network.

I always think the easiest thing to do when a show gets canceled is to convince its home network that they were wrong in their cancellation. The truth about the upfronts is that people are pressured to make decisions, and you try to make the best decision with the information that’s in front of you. But I often think what doesn’t happen is taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. We’re always hopeful that we can keep a show — as we did with CBS’ Unforgettable. I got a nice note this morning from Nina Tassler saying the show is fantastic and she’s happy to have it. That was canceled a few years ago and, out of the rush of May, she looked up and said it made sense to keep it. The hope is always to try your best to keep the show on the originating network. That wasn’t in the cards. The conversations were as wide as you could imagine. We called other broadcast networks. There wasn’t a lot of room on the schedule and it was a strange comedy year for the other broadcast networks. We had targeted conversations cable-wise and most aggressively with Hulu. They made a significant offer on the show, but it was Yahoo that surprised us all and came in so aggressively and positively.

How will Yahoo’s deal impact Hulu’s streaming pact? Will the first five seasons remain there?

That sixth season is an entirely different streaming pact. The Community that was will continue to be on Hulu. The Community that will be will be on Yahoo.

What are the prospects for Community beyond season six? Is this a final season? Could it hit seven seasons?

I don’t know, let’s see how our movie does! Isn’t that our plan? There’s no way we’re not making the movie now! I think once we make the movie, let’s look up and decide how much more Community the world wants. We promised six seasons and a movie, how much more do you want?! [Laughs.] … I’d be lying if I told you that we have not had some very early and preliminary conversations that are very exciting about what a potential movie could be and who might direct it. It’s early but it’s completely in our thought process.

Could the movie stream on Yahoo or are you looking for a theatrical release?

I don’t know; that’s the part that is preliminary. It was not part of our Yahoo conversation. We were singularly focused on getting the series picked up but I think anything is possible.

Is the entire cast returning?

That’s our plan, yes. Today we’re sending notices to everybody only because we have a separate deal both with Joel McHale and Jim Rash; we’ve been having lots of conversations with them and Joel has been fantastic. The hope is that the whole cast is coming back.

How does the per-episode budget for Yahoo compare with NBC?

We will not cut any money from what we were doing on the broadcast version of the show. No low-cost digital whatever; Yahoo was spectacular with that and told us how much they stand for quality. You haven’t seen a whole slew of announcements out of them but when they make announcements, they want them to be loud and to stand for something. They really were beyond supportive with understanding the production demands of a sixth-year show. They are fully supporting it in their deal and beyond; it’s pretty historic.

How big of a role did Harmon play in resurrecting Community?

Dan puts so much of himself into these things. The last thing you want if you’re Dan Harmon is a delusional studio executive calling you up saying, “Here’s the weather report and here’s how we’re shopping it.” We were mindful of the fact that we had tried to do [the show] without Dan at a time and going forward we wanted to do it with him. We gave him a gentle heads-up that we were going to be having conversations without specifics. When it got down to the final moments of making the deal, Dan was front and center and had a great conversation with Yahoo and had a lot of very thoughtful questions about protecting his baby and how they were going to nurture it along. He was intimately involved in the finals steps. He was not involved in getting us to that place just because it’s too hard to mourn the loss of something more than once and he has done that when Bob made the initial call. We didn’t want to prolong the pain.

Community’s sixth season will debut in the fall on Yahoo.



“Six seasons and a movie” almost didn’t happen. As June drew to a close, time was running out to save Community, which NBC had canceled in May. Talks to move the comedy to streaming service Hulu were falling apart, the deal options to keep the show’s cast intact expired at the end of the month, and much of the crew and key writers had already moved on to new jobs. Even the comedy’s offices on the studio lot had been taken over by a new series: Grace and Frankie, Netflix’s upcoming sitcom starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

“When a show is canceled, it’s usually canceled,” says Sony Pictures Television programming president Zack Van Amburg, whose company produces Community. But Sony has earned a reputation for not giving up on its series. When FX lost interest in Damages, Sony found a new home for the Glenn Close drama at DirecTV. The production company also convinced CBS to revive the cop drama Unforgettable and to keep renewing Rules of Engagement. It even got Fox to bring back the Christian Slater comedy Breaking In after initially yanking it from the schedule. Sony even negotiated a deal with USA Network last year to bring back Happy Endings until a last-minute snag pulled the plug.

“You try not to take no for an answer,” Van Amburg says. In the Sony war room, execs continued to call NBC until it was clear the Peacock network wouldn’t even entertain the idea of bringing it back. Cable networks like Comedy Central and USA were approached, but passed on it, and an attempt to make it work on Sony’s own streaming service, Crackle, failed. Hulu seemed like the best shot for Community’s revival. When news leaked that the Hulu talks were over, hope began to fade for fans of the Greendale gang.

Nonetheless, with a built-in rabid fan base, Community seemed like an obvious pickup for an outlet eager to get into the scripted business. That’s where Yahoo came in.

Yahoo made a strong play for the show, enough to keep its $2 million-an-episode budget intact. It took a weekend of frenzied dealmaking, but a pickup was announced on June 30, with just hours to spare before the cast became free agents. “They moved at a rocket pace,” Van Amburg says of Yahoo. “I was really surprised at how fast and aggressive they were.”

For Yahoo, the Community acquisition comes as the Internet service prepares to launch its own original scripted shows. Yahoo has already announced series from Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks) and Mike Tollin (Smallville) for next year. Community will give Yahoo an audience to promote those new shows.

The stay of execution is yet another twist in the history of the cult sitcom. Through its five seasons on NBC, Community was always on the brink of cancellation, it was yanked off the schedule numerous times, and the show weathered the firing and rehiring of creator Dan Harmon. “Community is magic,” says Chris McKenna, who executive produces with Harmon. “You can never guess what is going to happen. It’s a cosmic joke at this point. Holy moly, Sony. The fact they made this happen is remarkable.”

Here’s everything you need to know about Community’s arrival this fall on Yahoo.

Who will be back? Joel McHale (who plays Jeff Winger), the unofficial cast ringleader, got on board early. “If we were doing this at the Pasadena Playhouse, Joel would be there,” McKenna says. “I don’t think there’s a bigger fan of the show.” Jim Rash, who plays Dean Pelton, is on a year-to-year contract but is also expected to sign on. The rest of the main cast (which includes Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi and Ken Jeong) should also return, though some could request an early exit the way Donald Glover (Troy) did last season. But last season’s recurring stars are busy: John Oliver (Professor Duncan) has his HBO talk show and won’t return, while Jonathan Banks (Professor Hickey) is shooting AMC’s Better Call Saul (but could make a guest appearance). Asks McKenna: “Do we try to bring in a new cast member to fill out the group?” Meanwhile, several key writers have moved on to other projects, including Andy Bobrow, who’s now on Fox’s Will Forte comedy Last Man on Earth, and Erik Sommers, now working on NBC’s new sitcom Marry Me.

How will fans watch it on Yahoo? Viewers must download the free Yahoo Screen app in order to watch. “Our current model continues to be advertiser-supported,” says Yahoo’s chief marketing officer Kathy Savitt. “There’s no fee to get to the screen.” While Yahoo plans to upload every episode of the new Feig and Tollin shows at once, a la Netflix’s model, Community will be released on a weekly basis. “We want to start delivering episodes as soon as possible,” Savitt says. “As soon as Dan Harmon feels ready, we will release those episodically. It’s also an audience that has been waiting week-to-week to watch, so they’re used to the television format.” Yahoo has the exclusive deal, which means there won’t be a second window for the show elsewhere.

Will the show look different? The budget’s the same as last season, so nothing has to change. McKenna says he and Harmon must still figure out the storylines for next season, but he expects Community to look and feel like the same show. “My instinct is, let’s do good old Community,” he says. “Classic Community.” McKenna says he felt the show was always “barely tolerated” by NBC, and that Yahoo at least “knows what they’re buying, what they’re getting.”

Community has always been known for experimenting with the form, such as last season’s animated episode, and Savitt says she’s expecting more of that next season. “It’s my hope that Yahoo becomes a true creative laboratory for Dan,” she says. “We hope to give him the support and promotion he needs to build on his audience and also expand on his canvas to tell his story.”

Is this finally the last season? Clearly, one should never bet against Community. But the actors’ six-year deals expire after this year, making it tougher to bring them all back. “The promise that we’ve made to each other and the fans is we’re getting the six seasons,” Van Amburg says. McKenna says he and Harmon will have to decide if they (once again) write a season finale that could double as a series ender. “Trying to plan stuff out for the show has always been tough,” he says. But a Community movie, directed by either Justin Lin or Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, all of whom have directed episodes of the series, seems even more likely now. “I personally have had those conversations,” Van Amburg says. What about a spin-off? “We always joke about it,” McKenna says. “Someone is forming a detective agency — two or three of these characters!”

When does production begin? Yahoo is promising a launch sometime in the fall, so things will have to get moving soon. McKenna says the writers room will open at the end of August, with filming resuming some time after that. “Dan is still finishing up [his Adult Swim series] Rick and Morty, and I have a few things I’m doing too.”

Why didn’t Hulu work out? The streaming service carries Community reruns, making it the likely home for originals. But budgets, as they often do, got in the way. “The reality is, I think they looked at it, they were already paying a lot of money for the off-network version, and to add a giant fee on top of that started to make less sense for them,” Van Amburg says. Sony would have had to help augment the show’s budget — or Community would have had to slash its costs. Neither idea was ideal, which made going with Yahoo an easy decision.

Did NBC have one last opportunity to take Community back? Yes, and NBC’s Universal Television will remain with the show as a co-producer. But bringing the show back to NBC was a non-starter. “[NBC Entertainment chairman] Bob Greenblatt didn’t need to hear from me again why NBC should pick up Community,” Van Amburg says. “That was clearly a decision that was not going to change. After my eighth phone call with Bob he had exercised his last refusal right.” Van Amburg says that he also pitched a revival of Pan Am to Greenblatt, who stopped that conversation quickly.

Will the Community gang be back at Comic-Con this summer? Yes — thanks to TV Guide Magazine. Harmon, McKenna and much of the cast will be at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Thursday, July 24, at 2:15 p.m. in Ballroom 20 to participate in our panel “Greendale Forever: TV Guide Magazine’s Tribute to Community.” Pop pop!



I’ve added screencaps to the gallery from the last two episodes of Community’s fifth season – Basic Story and Basic Sandwich. There’s over a thousand new screencaps from these two episodes, so hopefully you can find what you’re looking for!

With Community now on hiatus, I’ll spend the next few months adding additional screencaps and episode stills to the gallery, so make sure you keep an eye out for them.

Also, don’t forget to tweet along with us, and the cast of Community, every day at 3pm EST this week – #sixseasonsandamovie. The cast themselves are helping to promote this, so know that it just might make a difference to those watching. Community IS on the renewal bubble and every little bit of fan support can help.

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THE SHOW > SEASON FIVE > 5×13: Basic Sandwich Screencaps



Psst…psst…yeah, you. Guess what? We’ve got a special treat for you.

Community’s rejuvenated and hilarious fifth season, which saw the return of creator Dan Harmon, comes to an end on Thursday night with a finale that may just be the series’ best yet. Seriously, we’ve seen “Basic Sandwich” and can safely say fans will not be disappointed.

In case you don’t believe us (which, by the way, how dare you?!) we’ve got an exclusive sneak peek at the NBC sitcom’s finale’s funniest scene, in our humble opinion, that features Jeff (Joel McHale), Abed (Danny Pudi), Britta (Gillian Jacobs), Annie (Alison Brie) and Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) getting in the most hilariously quiet battle of all time!

See, didn’t we tell you it’s hilarious?! Who knew watching people shush each other could be so funny?

In the finale, the group goes on a Goonies-style treasure hunt in order to save Greendale from a Subway takeover. (Now this is how you do product placement, people!) To save the school, they delve into the history of Greendale’s first Dean, Russell Borchert (guest star Chris Elliott), a reclusive genius who mysteriously disappeared after a scandal in the ’70s.

“The finale is awesome,” Danny Pudi recently gushed. “For me, I was excited to work with Jim Rash and Alison Brie, us three go on this side adventure that turns into a group adventure.”

Community’s finale airs Thursday, April 17, at 8 p.m. on NBC.

In addition to the above video from E!Online, there’s another sneak peek over at Hulu.com, which you can view below:



I’ve added 6 HQ episode stills from the penultimate episode of Community’s fifth season – Basic Story. In addition, I’ve added 12 HQ episode stills from the season finale – Basic Sandwich. You check out a few of the stills below or head to the gallery to view both sets!

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The episode description for the season finale of Community has been posted! Check it out below!

BASIC SANDWICH

THURSDAY, APRIL 17th, 8:00pm: THE STUDY GROUP DELVES INTO THE LEGEND OF DISGRACED FORMER GREENDALE DEAN RUSSELL BORCHERT – SUBWAY MAKES PLANS TO TAKE OVER GREENDALE – The group learns the history of Greendale’s first Dean, Russell Borchert, a reclusive, wealthy genius who disappeared amid a personal scandal in the 1970s. Once Shirley and Hickey locate the school’s blueprints, Annie and Abed lead the search for Borchert’s old computer lab, which was sealed off years ago. Subway returns to Greendale with plans to take over the campus for a Subway University and they enlist Chang to secretly keep tabs on the study group. Meanwhile, Jeff and Britta make a grown-up decision about their futures.



I’ve added 895 HD screencaps to the gallery from Thursday night’s episode – Advanced Dungeons & Dragons! You can check out a few of the caps below or follow the link to head to the gallery to view the rest.

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BASIC STORY

THURSDAY, APRIL 10TH at 8:00PM: THE STUDY GROUP LEARNS THAT SUBWAY PLANS TO TAKE OVER THE GREENDALE CAMPUS FOR A UNIVERSITY – THEY ALSO LEARN THAT GREENDALE’S FIRST DEAN MAY HAVE LEFT BEHIND A VALUABLE LEGACY – As Subway makes plans to purchase the Greendale campus for their own Subway University, the study group members contemplate the end of an era. Jeff considers a generous offer of employment he has received from Subway, while Britta considers an offer she has received from Jeff. Meanwhile, Dean Pelton tells Annie and Abed about Greendale’s first Dean Russell Borchert, which leads to an interesting and potentially lucrative discovery in the walls of Greendale.



G.I. JEFF

THURSDAY, APRIL 3rd at 8:00pm: THE STUDY GROUP GETS ‘ANIMATED’ IN THE VEIN OF THE 1980S ‘G.I. JOE’ SERIES.



ADVANCED ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS

THURSDAY, MARCH 20th at 8:00pm: THE STUDY GROUP ORGANIZES A DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS GAME TO HELP PROFESSOR HICKEY REUNITE WITH HIS ESTRANGED SON HANK. Professor Hickey reveals that his estranged son Hank did not invite him to his grandson’s birthday. The group decides to help father and son reunite through a rousing game of “Dungeons and Dragons.”

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