It was the Comic-Con panel that almost didn't happen.
Here's the back story: Every year TV Guide Magazine is given two slots by the San Diego Comic-Con International to organize panels. One of those panels is always "TV Guide Magazine's Fan Favorites," featuring a lineup of TV stars that elicit audience screams. Side note: Panelists this year included Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones), Misha Collins (Supernatural), Jordan Gavaris (Orphan Black), Sam Heughan (Outlander), John Noble (Sleepy Hollow), Colin O’Donoghue (Once Upon a Time), Retta (Parks and Recreation) and Aisha Tyler (Archer), moderated by our own Damian Holbrook.
But the other panel rotates. Last year, we organized The X-Files 20th Anniversary Panel, which was one of the hot tickets of Comic-Con. This year, we first thought about going the anniversary route again, and I looked into organizing Lost reunion. But the show had already committed to a reunion during Paley Fest, and everyone agreed that another one at Comic-Con seemed like too much.
That's when we started pursuing my other plan: Doing something with Community. I had moderated Community at Comic-Con twice before (until Chris Hardwick stole my gig in 2013) and also moderated the Community panel at this year's Paley Fest. There's a comfort level now with between the cast/producers and me, so I came up with two different ideas, depending on whether or not the show was renewed by NBC for a sixth season.
I assumed NBC and Sony would go ahead and organize the traditional Community show panel at Comic-Con. If that were to still happen, and the cast would be in town anyway, my idea involved a second Community panel, inspired by Jason Reitman's "Live Read" series at Film Independent. It would feature the cast having fun with the script from a procedural drama. (I thought an episode of "CSI Miami" might be fun, with Joel McHale in the David Caruso role).
But... I also had a back-up plan in mind: Should NBC not renew Community for the aforementioned #sixseasonsandamovie, then we'd turn our panel into "TV Guide Magazine's Farewell to Community." The good news: Harmon was on board to do something with us either way. That was the initial greenlight we needed to pursue this path.
All signs pointed to a Community renewal. NBC needed a few comedies to return, it's a co-owner of the show and lead producer Sony Pictures TV is known for crafty dealmaking to get things picked up. But then the news came down right before the May upfronts: The show was dead. On May 9, we told Comic-Con we would produce the panel "TV Guide Magazine Presents: A Farewell to Community."
I ran into Joel McHale at an upfront party the following week and ran the idea of the panel by him. He said he was game, depending on his schedule. But he was clearly not happy with the cancellation, and had an alternative idea for the panel's title that I can't even print here.
Still, it wasn't over yet. Even before NBC canceled the show, we knew Sony wouldn't give up on the show that easily. The studio immediately began hunting for a new home (Hulu was the hot contender for a while, although Sony's own Crackle portal seemed like a possibility.) By mid-June, we were starting to get nervous. Without a sure sense of the show's fate, the Community stars were taking a wait-and-see approach to the panel.
We weren't sure what to believe, especially once news reports revealed that a Hulu deal fell through. It wasn't looking good, but to be safe, we changed the name of the panel in the event that Community got an 11th hour renewal: "Greendale Forever: TV Guide Magazine's Tribute to Community."
Still, with no word, it was clear the show's cast was making other summer plans, and it didn't involve Comic-Con. Joel McHale had a commitment and couldn't attend. Ditto most of the other cast members. I began to once again brainstorm other ideas. Maybe we'd get Harmon to partake in our Reitman-esque live read idea, but with various comedians? Should we call other networks, like Adult Swim, to see if there was anything they might do with us? It was getting hairy. Comic-Con needed a panel description, and we didn't know what to say. I came up with this generic write-up, which I figured could work even if it was just Dan and one or two other stars:
Greendale Forever: TV Guide Magazine's Tribute to Community -- Will "six seasons and a movie" come true? Has Greendale Community College been saved? What happens next to Jeff Winger and the study group? Moderated by TV Guide Magazine executive editor Michael Schneider, join Community creator Dan Harmon, members of the cast and producers as they recap last season (including Dan's heralded return to the show) and discuss what the future holds for this fan favorite comedy.
I was strangely optimistic that it was going to work out. Perhaps that's because the Sony folks (chiefly, panel hero Allison McManus) kept assuring us that things looked good for a renewal, and that we should keep our hope alive. Turns out that was a smart move. On June 30 -- the very last day Sony still had options that they could exercise on the cast -- a deal with Yahoo Screen gave the show its long-awaited sixth season. (Read my recap of how the deal went down here.)
From there, things kicked into high gear. Sony was completely on board, and was cool with TV Guide Magazine continuing to handle the panel since we'd been this far down the road already. Sony (particularly, Allison McManus) did a fantastic job springing into action for us and getting the word out to the stars. They did a lot of heavy lifting at this point. Allison immediately sent out a formal invite letter to the show's stars, within 24 hours of the pickup!
Yahoo was also supportive, and put together a clip touting the show's rebirth. Exec producer Chris McKenna and stars Jim Rash and Gillian Jacobs also signed up. (Others couldn't change prior commitments or filming schedules.) That was already a decent panel. But we needed one more big presence on the panel. We needed Joel.
Harmon stepped in and personally asked McHale if he could do the panel. That's where both Dan and Joel also became heroes of the Community panel. McHale moved around some things in order to come to San Diego for a whirlwind few hours and attend our panel. It was the best news ever. It made the panel.
When Allison emailed me with the great Joel news, there was only one way to respond:
COOL COOL COOL!
The drama continued almost all the way up to the panel, as Joel hit a ton of traffic on the way into San Diego, finally arriving at the Convention Center with few minutes to spare. Writer/actor Dino Stamatopoulos, who plays Star-Burns, was a no-show in the green room but somehow made it back stage. At 2 p.m. last Thursday, I kicked off the panel with a TV Guide Magazine sizzle reel, followed by the Yahoo video. And then I began by butchering Dino's last name (even though I had been practicing it just an hour before! Nerves).
Then we got going, and it was another fun Community panel. We talked about how the show will be available on Yahoo (once a week), whether to expect a different kind of show (no) and whether there will be new cast members (TBD). Harmon also revealed that the show will probably become available post-Christmas. Meanwhile, highlights from the crowd included two convention attendees dressed as Greendale Human Beings.
It was a big success. So that's it, another TV Guide Magazine Comic-Con in the history books! Thanks so much to Allison McManus and Marianne Romano at Sony; my colleague Rich Sands, who's the key brain behind our Comic-Con operations; Chris DiIorio and Alyssa Wilkins at PMK-BNC for doing a bunch of the hard work logistically; and of course, Dan Harmon, Chris McKenna, Joel McHale, Jim Rash, Gillian Jacobs and Dino Stamatopoulos.
Some pics from the day:
Chris and Dan at the TV Guide Magazine yacht.
My Ballroom 20 onstage pass.
Waiting for the panel to start backstage
The panel (Flickr pic by Jarett Wieselman).
Joel takes a pic.
Group shot after the panel.
And then here's a video of the entire panel:
And here are the key write-ups of the panel:
Variety (Laura Prudhom)
The Guardian (Emma Lee Moss)
Entertainment Weekly (Darren Franich)
Mashable (Sandra Gonzalez)
The Celebrity Cafe (Brendan Morrow)
IGN (Matt Fowler)
Give Me My Remote (Marisa Roffman)
IndieWire (Ben Travers)