Can Paintball-Scale Spectacle Save 'Community' From 'The Big Bang Theory'?
by Gary Susman, posted Aug 16th 2010 6:03PM
If you loved the brilliant 'Modern Warfare' paintball-battle episode of 'Community' (and who didn't?), then prepare yourself for similar over-the-top spectacle and merciless pop-culture riffing throughout season 2, which begins Sept. 23. Because 'Community' may have to pull out all the stops to save itself from the steamroller that is 'The Big Bang Theory.'
'Community' proved a modest hit last year, but this fall, it'll be facing off against one of TV's most popular comedies when CBS, in an unprecedented assault on NBC's age-old Thursday comedy supremacy, moves 'Big Bang' to Thursdays at 8PM. 'Big Bang' averages 14 million viewers each week, 'Community' 5 million.
In an extensive recent interview with New York magazine's Vulture blog, 'Community' creator Dan Harmon details many of the weapons he plans to deploy this season, hoping they'll detonate against his new opponent with paintball-like force.
Harmon says there will be stunt casting, starting with the suddenly ubiquitous Betty White guest-starring in the season premiere as an anthropology professor, which Harmon says he plans to make a recurring role. There'll be holiday extravaganzas, like a possible stop-motion episode for Christmas and a gory-but-hilarious episode for Halloween that Harmon calls "the equivalent of paintball." There'll be more of the show's trademark movie parodies, including one of 'Apollo 13' in episode four. And there may even be another paintball war.
Will such tactics be enough to stave off 'Big Bang'? That show has its own stunt-casting guest spots planned, including the return of Mayim Bialik as Sheldon's Sheldon-esque love interest, the likely return of nemesis Wil Wheaton, and a cameo by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak as himself.
There's also the question of how much of 'Big Bang's' loyal following will follow it when it vacates the Monday slot it's held for its first three years, alongside such CBS comedy hits as 'Two and a Half Men' and 'How I Met Your Mother.' Might some of the audience not want to make that hyperspace leap?
NBC exec Jeff Gaspin said last month that he thought that there was room for both comedies since they cater to different audiences, a notion TV Squad's Joel Keller found dubious, since both shows display smart, pop-culture-obsessed geek appeal. If they are both fighting for the same viewers, smart money would favor the more established show with the higher Nielsen ratings, even if it is moving to an unfamiliar night.
Certainly, the move is a sign that NBC's rivals no longer see its Thursday comedy bloc as an impenetrable fortress. (CBS is also launching new comedy '$#*! My Dad Says' at 8:30, riding the coattails of 'Big Bang.') "The performance of [NBC's] comedies is not something that deterred us," CBS scheduling chief Kelly Kahl said in May. "People like those shows, but they're not setting the world on fire ratings-wise."
For his part, Harmon has spent much of the last three months discussing his mixture of dread and motivation at facing a show he likens to the Terminator. Talking to Vulture, he finally sounds more fired up than frightened. "You've got to love CBS for saying, 'Let's make Thursday nights about comedy again.' I agree. Let's do it," Harmon says. He adds, "I don't want to stay stagnant and do 1 out of 25 episodes that pushes that envelope. I want to do 20, 30 percent more."
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