How Dan Harmon Kept From Becoming Chevy Chase
This may come as a shock to anyone who’s never read a behind-the-scenes account on the production of SNL, Community, or just about any great TV comedy, but making good television is stressful. And by that I mean it’s absurdly, hair-grayingly, lifespan-shorteningly stressful. You’re constantly running up against deadlines and budget constraints while 50-100 crew members work grueling 16 hour days for weeks straight as everyone desperately tries to squeeze out every last dollar of production value in order to make something watchable.
It’s no surprise, then, that so many artists who find massive success on television are… shall we say, prickly? There’s a special kind of brain sickness that allows certain people to thrive in these taxing environments, and sometimes that can include a mean streak, one which earns an artist a reputation for anger, abuse, and general pigheadedness. Heaven forbid you find yourself in a room with two such people, which is exactly where the cast and crew of Community found themselves some ten years ago when the tension between Dan Harmon and Chevy Chase boiled over into a full-on feud.
Dan Harmon and Chevy Chase both have a certain degree of notoriety for being “hard to work with”, but their individual responses to the kinds of conflicts that earned them their reputations differ wildly. Dan Harmon has made an effort to make amends with the aggrieved parties, even if that person is Chevy Chase. Harmon, though passionate to the point of obsessive, has shown an ability to self-reflect and apologize for his misdeeds in a way that Chevy Chase never has and, likely, never will.
It’s not worth rehashing the entirety of Chevy Chase’s history of being awful since it’s already been well-documented on this site and others. Suffice it to say, ever since Chevy began his career on the original cast of Saturday Night Live (then named just Saturday Night), he’s been making it a point to show everyone what an egotistical jerk he can be.
Chevy Chase’s last steady gig was his time playing Pierce Hawthorne on Community, where he clung to his last few moments of superstardom with bitter avarice. Said Donald Glover on Chevy’s demeanor during shooting, “I just saw Chevy as fighting time—an artist has to be okay with his reign being over…I can’t help him if he’s thrashing in the water.”
Which brings us to the other side of the coin, Dan Harmon. The Community and Rick and Morty showrunner has his own history of difficult behavior stretching back to his early career – after co-creating and producing the short film festival Channel 101 throughout the early aughts, his first big gig running a TV show was on The Sarah Silverman Program in 2007 when he served as co-creator and head writer.
He didn’t even make it to filming. His friend, co-conspirator, and most importantly, his boss Sarah Silverman fired him after extended conflict during writing. Dan said about the firing, "a couple episodes into the writing process I started lipping off to Sarah too much and we – I tend to work very hard and I – I get emotional. Emotional’s not the right word either, I get obsessive. I want to make everything perfect and I have a delusion that I’m the one who has to make that happen. And when you’re working on the Lucille Ball show with Lucille Ball, that’s a pretty unprofessional attitude to take.”
It wouldn’t take Dan too long to rebound. Just two years later in 2009, his pilot Community was picked up by NBC and he finally found himself in the position to be the head honcho as the sole creator and showrunner of a beloved sitcom.
That’s got to make Dan Harmon happy and agreeable, right? Of course not. The level of control Harmon had on Community exacerbated his obsessive behavior, and he clashed with his writers, his producers, and, yes, his actors. One actor in particular. His name is also a town in Maryland.
Chevy Chase had a tendency to disrupt filming and walk off the set if he didn’t absolutely love the scene, his lines, the costumes, the way the PA looked at him when they delivered his coffee – basically, he behaved like Pierce did during that episode where Greendale shoots a commercial and he refused to leave the trailer that he rented for himself.
When Dan Harmon was unceremoniously booted from his beloved brainchild at the conclusion of its third season, the exit was marred with acrimony on both sides as he railed against his bosses at Sony Pictures Television on his Tumblr. But he saved his pettiest act of revenge for his pettiest actor. At the season 3 wrap party, Chevy had brought his wife and daughter to celebrate the moment with him. A soon-to-be fired Dan Harmon got up onstage and delivered an expletive-ridden rant against Chevy, culminating in him starting a chant among the partygoers of “F— you Chevy!”
An understandably angry Chevy Chase left Harmon a furious voicemail after the incident, which Harmon immediately leaked at his monthly show in Los Angeles. Predictably, the story and the voicemail blew up after Dan so carelessly decided to air his dirty laundry in front of hundreds of people. After months of articles and angry tweets directed towards both Dan and Chevy, Dan posted a lengthy apology on his Tumblr calling the decision to release the voicemail “horrible, childish, self-obsessed, unaware, naïve and unprofessional.”
Unfortunately, Dan Harmon’s feud with Chevy Chase and his clash with the studio still don’t top the list of his worst moments working on Community. There was a very talented writer on the show named Megan Ganz who would later go on to become a writer and executive producer for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and co-created the series Mythic Quest with Rob McElhenney. During her time at Community, she experienced abuse at the hands of Harmon which so completely crossed the line that, years later, he would find himself embroiled in a #MeToo controversy.
While Megan Ganz was writing for Community, Dan Harmon, her boss, made romantic advances towards her which she rejected. Instead of accepting the “no” and moving on, Dan started behaving very differently around Ganz. Harmon began single Ganz out with criticism that turned into full on verbal abuse in retribution for the rejection. Harmon said of this behavior towards Ganz, “The entire time, I was the one writing her paychecks and in control of whether she stayed or went, and whether she felt good about herself or not, and said horrible things, just treated her cruelly.”
Six years would pass before any of this became public knowledge. During the emergence of the #MeToo movement, Harmon made allusions towards his past with a female colleague when he crossed the line and behaved inappropriately. In a very public exchange on twitter, Ganz identified herself as the recipient of that abuse, after which Harmon reached out to Ganz and the two of them rehashed the entire ugly saga moment by moment.
Megan Ganz described Harmon’s atonement as a “master class in how to apologize”, telling the New York Times, “I think of Dan as a work in progress. That’s how I think of myself, too. It’s dangerous to think of yourself as a hero and someone else as a villain. It gets in the way of empathy… After I listened to his apology, I sent Dan a text to thank him and forgive him without reservation… People should see the good that can happen when you aren’t afraid to accept responsibility for your mistakes. He gave me relief, and I hope I was able to give him some in return.”
This is the crux of Dan Harmon’s case for not being a complete a–hole. And this is exactly what we desperately wish to see from Chevy Chase – a genuine attempt at atonement and growth. Neither Harmon nor Chase can change what’s in their past, but Dan Harmon has done the incredibly difficult work of addressing his own shortcomings and making amends with the casualties of his cantankerous behavior. As Ganz said, he’s a work in progress.
Chevy Chase on the other hand? He’s just a piece of work. In his own words, “I am who I am.”
Top Image: Wikimedia Commons / Gage Skidmore Sony Pictures Television
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