Dan Harmon reveals exactly what happened that time Chevy Chase walked off the Community set
You might assume that, after all the soul-searching blog posts and revealing interviews, there would be very little to ask Dan Harmon at this point, besides how his new shows are going or maybe just something about the weather, so he doesn't have to feel all the damn time. And yet, Harmon participated in one of Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" sessions anyway, because he is an open (if well-thumbed) book, and yet he still managed to come up with a couple of things you may not have heard before.
For instance, he says his leaving Community—which you may have read about—was predicted in the season three finale scene where Abed enters his mini-Dreamatorium ("It symbolizes me leaving the show," Harmon says. "I didn't know for sure I was going to but I had a feeling I might have to"). And that despite his absence, some of his storylines may still be in play in the fourth season, such as the idea he had for The IT Crowd star Richard Ayoade—who starred alongside Joel McHale in the failed American remake of that show, and more relevantly directed the "Critical Film Studies" episode—to guest star as a friend Abed meets on the Inspector Spacetime forums, spurring jealousy in Troy. And in fact, that's exactly what seems to be happening, albeit with the recently cast Matt Lucas instead of Ayoade. (Not that Harmon will have any immediate reaction to that: "I'm going to wait a few episodes, maybe the whole season, and see how other people react," he says about whether he'll check out the show. "If people love it, then I'll be able to safely watch it with an open, friendly heart, because the whole point is whatever makes the audience happy.")
But perhaps most interesting and obligatory of all, Harmon also finally addressed with some specificity what happened the day that Chevy Chase walked off the set, leading to the "feud" that all but consumed the last weeks of Harmon's tenure:
He refused to do the "tag" for the "Digital Estate Planning" episode (the 8 bit video game episode). In the scripted tag, Abed comes to Pierce with the thumb drive he took, and says "Pierce, I've been able to adjust some of the code for your Dad's video game and I've made a version I think you might like better." He puts the thumb drive into a laptop in front of Pierce. We cut to the laptop screen, where we see Pierce's avatar on a front lawn with the giant floating head of Cornelius. Every time Pierce presses the space bar, his avatar throws a baseball to his father's head, which gives him a thousand points and a "great job, son!" Pierce presses the space bar a few times, pauses, then leans over and embraces Abed and we fade to black.
When Adam Countee pitched that tag, tears instantly rolled down my cheeks, and in point of fact, my eyes are getting watery describing it to you. It was the most important part of the episode and possibly one of the most important moments of the season. I was very upset to hear that it wasn't shot because someone didn't feel like shooting it, especially since it was literally the last day of shooting, which meant we'd never be able to pick it up. I regret nothing about how upset I got. My job was to care about my show.
The answer I heard from the people on set was that he didn't think it was funny. After he realized how upset I was about it, he said things in voicemails like "there was no script" (untrue) and "I have a weird relationship with the name Cornelius" (dumb, he had no dialogue in the tag). The real answer, I believe, is that he wanted to go home because he was tired. He probably didn't realize he was permanently damaging the episode by doing so because he often walked off set and then we would just pick up his shots later in the week. But this was the final shot of the season. The sets came down after he walked away. So this was the one time in three years that his personality caused unfixable damage to something I really held valuable.
So, that's sort of sad and infuriating and enlightening all at once. Anyway, finally, Harmon (who still offered plenty of praise for Chase, it must be said) also coughed up the shortlist of people he initially wanted for Pierce before Sony pushed for their choice, which included "Fred Willard, John Cleese, Patrick Stewart." We're guessing most of those guys would have been up for playing ball (and no, we're not making a Fred Willard masturbation joke, because frankly, this is neither the time nor place).