Ratings debate: Can NBC’s ‘Community’ will its way to a season 4?

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In the second edition of our look at bubble shows (read our look at “Fringe” here), we are focusing on another show that is beloved by many critics, has a diehard contingent of fans, but is yet still up for grabs when it comes to whether or not it will be back for another season — “Community.”

From the standpoint of personal preference, we’ve already made it fairly clear that we not only believe this show to be the best comedy on TV, but that it needs a fourth season in order to really complete the community college storyline. (As much as we hate to say it, it probably should end after that since we don’t know how the story would work following graduation — unless everyone miraculously fails, that is.)

Why it should go – You can blame everything from “The Big Bang Theory” to its young viewers opting to watch the show online, but there simply aren’t many people watching new “Community” episodes live for it to warrant another season by some measures. Although it returned to the air with a 2.2 rating in the 18-49 demographic (the primary measure used by networks), it failed to reach even 2.8 million viewers this past week while scoring a series-low 1.3 rating. In the span of the few weeks, it went from being the jewel on NBC’s comedy lineup to its lowest-rated show. (Granted, “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” were not airing new episodes upon its return last month.)

As much as some may not want to admit it, there is also a cloud hanging over the show courtesy of the Chevy Chase voicemail scandal. While any publicity is good publicity for some, it was damaging to this show, where everyone assumed that the cast and crew were a giant happy family most of the time. The ratings have not really recovered, and it’s hard to recruit new viewers to a show when their first reaction it is going to be Dan Harmon fighting with Chevy over anything and everything. Unless it scores some Emmy love, we don’t see the audience increasing much.

Why it should stay – While there are some legitimate reasons to send “Community” out the door (and it probably would be canceled already on another network), there are still are three enormous reasons to keep the show for another season:

1. Syndication – Sony is the studio behind “Community,” they obviously would love to sell the show to various affiliates for some easy money. In order for that to happen, the show needs to reach 88 episodes — and if it is renewed for a fourth season, that will very much happen. We don’t know whether a show with this many “in jokes” would really do that well in syndication, but we expect to see Sony offer NBC a sweet deal in order to keep “Community” around (similar to what Warner Bros. did with “Fringe”).

2. It’s NBC – What other staple comedies does the network really have at the moment? “30 Rock” is expected to end next year, “The Office” and its sinking ratings will likely do the same, and neither “Up All Night” nor “Whitney” are smash hits that are putting up numbers significant better than this show. “30 Rock” proved that any one of these shows could end up being swallowed alive by the “Big Bang” timeslot, so “Community” may just be the perfect program to include here for now.

3. Good will – At the end of the day, NBC is not going to make a decision to keep people happy. However, if they are debating between canceling “Community” or a show like “Whitney” with a less vocal fan base, they are probably not going to want the PR hit of getting people wearing felt goatees screaming at them at 30 Rock all summer. NBC proved with “Chuck” that it wants even some of its low-rated shows to have closure, and we will likely see the same sort of thing here.

What will happen – We’re not 100% confident that “Community” will return, but we think the odds are still around 90% so long as they can sort out the Chevy drama beforehand. Not only does it fare well with young men more so than any other comedy on the schedule, but it also generates some PR-friendly social media buzz. It my not be announced until the NBC upfront, but expect to see a full 22 episodes announced — even if it ends up not premiering until the spring so the network can try out some other shows.

Photo: NBC

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