Last week, Dan Harmon — who created “Community,” before he was fired from “Community” — gave a keynote speech to the XOXO Festival on the Death of Television. The speech was at times amusing, at times somber, but it was thoroughly enlightening and entertaining. It was also half an hour long, and even those who love Dan Harmon might have a time limit to what you’re willing to ignore at work, in your cubicles, in the service of listening to Harmon’s speech.
If you have time, listen to it all (the embed is below). If not, here are the major points, and I’ll just start about by saying that the crux of the speech was about “connectors,” the things that connect people. Money was the original connector. Then drawings came along. Then television began connecting people, and now the Internet is killing television because the Internet is the world’s primary people connector now. But like television, the Internet can be killed by money.
I think the take home from the speech essentially is: Have fun with the Internet. Stop trying to turn the Internet into a profitable enterprise because as soon as the Internet is swallowed up by corporate conglomerates, then the Internet will stop working as a great connector.
“You shouldn’t take the Internet to seriously because the Internet is not people. People are more important than anything. People is more important than everything, even grammar … Remember, no matter how much that technology allows you to connect to people, you should never start to worship the connection more than the people it connects you with.”
Television peaked in the 80s, and then came the day in “September 2001, when in my opinion, everything really changed, and the way we perceive television changed, because of a tragedy called the premiere of NBC’s ‘Inside Schwartz.’ It was that day when we realized that television was broken.”
“It’s a dying organism, television, it’s showing symptoms of fading, and some of those symptoms result in euphoria, like Breaking Bad, but most of you are watching it on a laptop.”
“When you take a people connector (like the Internet) too seriously, it stops connecting people. The more powerful the connector, the more power it has to divide us.”
Essentially, the original people connector — money — is the problem with television. Money corrupts, and the reason why television is dying is because all the money is still in television, at least until the Internet figures out how to make money.
People in television don’t trust “creatives” because they don’t want “poor people” in charge of deciding what is aired. There’s a middle layer of bureaucracy between the conglomerates and the creatives, and that layer of people knows nothing about television, except for a select few — like John Landgraft at FX — who provide freedom but little money, which results in “better content” than “casting a wide net, shoving money at things, and mistrusting everybody by putting layers of threshold guardians between things.” But, if FX gets more successful, more money will be involved, and it will ruin FX.
Multicamera sitcoms — as much as we all hate them and continue to hate them — work because the sound of laughter connects us.
Harmon distilled Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey model down to an eight step process, which is what basically resulted in the story model for “Community.”
Harmon was fired “for money.” His contract was up. The people he worked with, their contracts were up. They didnt want to promote “Community” or extend it because it would’ve cost more money. “It was all about money, and had nothing to do with anything else … Money will be the death of everything good in your life, I guarantee it.”
“You don’t want to monetize the Internet. You’re having fun right now because it can’t be monetized. You’re getting away with murder on the Internet. You’re doing wonderful Rodenberry-ish thing on the Internet because it has eschewed money and all the crappy people are back on TV wasting everyone’s time while Rome burns to the ground.”