Cult sitcom Community will return for its sixth season March 17 on Yahoo. It will air two episodes in its first week, then one episode per week on Tuesdays, until it has completed its 13-episode order.
The show's revival on Yahoo Screen was far from certain, with the cast and crew getting the announcement that it would happen just hours before their contracts were due to expire. The show was canceled by NBC last spring after five low-rated (but at least consistently low-rated) seasons.
The show is only filming its fifth episode as of this writing, but the writers are deep enough into the season to have some idea of what's coming. Here are five things we learned about the show at today's Television Critics Association winter press-tour panel for the series.
1) Season six will feature more of Jeff teaching
Creator Dan Harmon admitted that season five too quickly got away from the idea of main character Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) becoming a teacher at Greendale Community College, where he had previously matriculated.
He blamed the issue on the departure of original cast member Donald Glover midway through the season — something that took up lots of time that could have otherwise been spent on Jeff's new career, because the departure had to be properly built to and dealt with in terms of fallout. By the time the season was largely done with that storyline, there was very little time left for Jeff teaching. Fans told Harmon on Twitter that they had hoped to see more of Jeff in the classroom, an arc the season had promised, and Harmon said he found that to be good feedback.
Harmon also said the season would be more "grounded," with more episodes about the characters hanging out at Greendale and fewer episodes that act as elaborate parodies of movie genres. ("Though there's this Logan's Run thing..." cracked co-executive producer Chris McKenna.) Getting back to Jeff's teaching career seems like it will be in keeping with that.
2) Episodes won't be radically different on Yahoo
Harmon couldn't confirm whether the new season would have traditional commercial breaks, but the episodes will be ad-supported in some form. Harmon said that writing in the traditional, three-act television structure worked well for him, so he and the writers are continuing to structure episodes as they did in the NBC days.
And though Yahoo has looser content restrictions than NBC did, it's also not like the show will turn into a nudity-filled, profanity-laden violence fest. That would be a radical break from the show as it was previously, and Harmon is rarely fond of shattering continuity that much.
One thing that might be different: episode cuts are coming in at 26 minutes long, whereas the NBC episodes ran around 22. Harmon said he still hasn't figured out if he's going to cut the episodes down. McKenna, meanwhile, suggested the episodes' tags (short scenes that ran under the closing credits at NBC) might now run preceding the credits, rather than under them.
3) The show will probably look better
For its last several seasons, Community has stayed on the air by pinching pennies in its budget, which has resulted in scenes shot mostly indoors, over-lit shots, and crowd scenes with maybe a dozen people in them.
That will no longer be the case in season six. The move to Yahoo has resulted in a bigger budget, which has meant that the show can now return to its seasons one and two production aesthetics. According to McKenna, the show has hired a new director of photography, and both that and the budget increases showed in a short clip previewed for critics. In it, the lighting was much more natural and less harshly fluorescent, a nice return to the show's early look.
On the other hand, the renewal also necessitated a move from the Paramount lot (where the show shot its first five seasons) to the CBS Radford lot (where, Harmon quipped, the show is now "literally underneath" Parks & Recreation, "after years of it being figuratively the case"). Moving to the basement of a soundstage sounds like a uniquely Community thing to do, but CBS Radford has allowed for a larger soundstage, on the whole, and has also given the production a nice terrace area it can use for outdoor scenes, McKenna said in a post-panel interview.
Gone, however, will be the exterior of the show's library, which was always the outside of its old soundstage.
4) The two new characters sound interesting
In order to replace several cast departures (including Glover, Chevy Chase, and Yvette Nicole Brown), the series is introducing two characters played by Paget Brewster and Keith David. Brewster's character will be a relentlessly focused problem solver, while David's will be a man who spent much of his life trying to develop a virtual-reality system and failed. Both actors are tremendously funny, and could easily prove vital additions to the Community universe.
Harmon also said that he hoped the show had now proved it could introduce new characters and deal with cast turnover effectively, suggesting that the show could accommodate the natural points where its actors might want to go do other things. So long as Greendale exists, then, Community could exist, perhaps even beyond this sixth season.
Will Chase be back, as he's seemingly hinted at? Harmon and McKenna would only say that the character Chase plays is dead, so if he were to come back, they probably wouldn't want to tell everybody it was coming.
5) There could be a seventh season — and beyond
Yes, the rallying cry was always "six seasons and a movie." But Harmon says the show is only still alive because of its fans, and he wouldn't want to disappoint them.
"So only when people stop watching do I want to stop providing the project," he said.
Twelve seasons and a newspaper comic strip then?