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SXSW '15: Sitcom Community Finds a New Home at Yahoo

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Sitcom Community has come back from the dead twice. The first time, NBC reinstated the show on its schedule after fan outcry followed a mid-season cancellation in 2011. The second time begins this Tuesday, when the show’s sixth season premieres not on network television—NBC canceled it for good—but on Yahoo.

The show's cast and creators talked about the switch at a panel Sunday morning at SXSW called "The Cast of Community on Moving to Digital." While much has been made of the advantages online offers versus television, Community is one of the few shows to test that theory. Alison Brie, who plays Annie on the show, says the biggest change comes from the fact that she and her colleagues aren't constantly fighting an uphill battle against a network that wasn't supportive.

"It's like a whole new show, even though it's not," she said. "Part of that is being at Yahoo and feeling incredibly supported, because anyone from Yahoo who comes and visits the set is like 'We get it, we love it, just do your thing'."

Creator and writer Dan Harmon said that, in addition to working and creating in a more supportive environment, the move online frees him up creatively, by allowing him and the cast to stretch out scenes that would have previously been cut to allow for commercials, and to extend episode lengths beyond the traditional television sitcome limit of 21 minutes.

"We can do a 26-minute show if we want," Harmon said, "but we always have to ask ourselves if we're being true to what Community is all about."

"If you watch old episodes of the Dick Van Dyke Show, they're 29 minutes long," added actor Joel McHale, who plays Jeff. "Why wouldn't you want to take advantage of that?"

Joel McHale, Paget Brewster, Dan Harmon, and Ken Jeong

Just because you have the freedom to do something doesn't mean you necessarily should, Harmon said. While he and his writers no longer have to answer to a network's standards and practices department when it comes to things like profanity, Harmon says he'll only do what makes sense for the show.

"I always come in below where TV is at in terms of vulgarity, because part of the flavor of the show is a certain amount of wholesomeness," said Harmon.

Harmon said he gets feedback from Yahoo, but not in the way he did at NBC. "At the first table reading, (a character) smoked a cigarette or got high, and Yahoo folks came up to do notes, and we discussed not whether you can do that, but do we want to do that? There’s an open window that we’re choosing not to go near because we wouldn’t be Community anymore."

In addition to moving to Yahoo, the show has been shaken up by the departure of one cast member—Donald Glover—and the addition of two new ones, Keith David and Paget Brewster. Gillian Jacobs, who plays Britta, said that the longtime cast members found themselves making inside jokes or references to lines that were cut from final episodes, often to the confusion of the new cast members.

Now, though, the new members of the ensemble are clearly at home. "We didn't get all the jokes," said Brewster, "but we've got our own jokes now from this season."

"Coming in as a new person, you never know what it’s going to feel like walking into a situation that’s been established so long," said David. "I’ve been doing this a long time, and I can’t remember ever feeling so welcomed."

Judging from the capacity crowd that watched the panel in one of the Austin Convention Center's larger rooms, Community continues to have a home with a passionate fanbase, regardless of where the sitcome actually lives.

The cast and creators of Community: Joel McHale, Paget Brewster, Keith David (hidden), Dan Harmon, Ken Jeong, Chris McKenna, Jim Rash, Alison Brie, and Gillian Jacobs.

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