Dan Harmon

Dan Harmon

Born in the suburbs of Milwaukee, WI, Dan Harmon was the child of working parents, whose absence was soothed by copious amounts of television. Quiet and observational in nature, he soon began to note unique elements in certain shows that set them apart from the rest of the primetime lineup; one of his earliest revelations, which came via a board game for the sitcom "Cheers" (NBC, 1982-1993), was that the most successful shows featured characters who were immediately relatable to their audience. Harmon found few opportunities to test his theories in high school, where he survived by becoming a class clown. After graduation, he decided to make comedy his career, and began performing at Milkwaukee-area comedy clubs. There, he met comic and illustrator Rob Schrab, who shared his pop culture obsessions. They became members of the improvisational group ComedySportz before forming a splinter group, The Dead Alewives, which recorded a comedy album, Take Down the Grand Master, in 1996. One of the album's sketches, which concerned a group of friends arguing over minutiae while playing the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game, later became an animated short that drew huge viewer numbers via the Internet in 2000. During this period, Harmon worked on a popular independent comic book series created by Schrab called Scud: The Disposable Assassin, which followed the misadventures of a robot hit man which decides to disobey its self-destruct orders and become a freelance mercenary. The series caught the attention of director Oliver Stone, who optioned the title for a film project. Harmon and Schrab traveled to Hollywood to work on the proposed script, only to discover that Stone did not plan to hire them as writers. Stranded in Los Angeles, the pair decided to work on new ideas, including a comedy-horror script called "Monster House," about a trio of young friends who investigate a local haunted house. Director Robert Zemeckis purchased the script, which generated industry interest in the pair. ABC eventually hired them to pitch series ideas, to which they responded with "Heat Vision and Jack," a deliberately absurd superhero program about a crime-fighting astronaut with super-intelligence and his partner, a talking motorcycle. The network immediately rejected the pitch, but found support among comedy fans, most notably Ben Stiller, who directed a pilot starring Jack Black and Owen Wilson for Fox. To Harmon's dismay, the star power attached to the script failed to secure a series deal. Making matters worse was an apparent indefinite hold on production of "Monster House."To stave off mounting depression, Harmon and Schrab began shooting movie parodies and comedy sketches in their apartment, primarily to keep up their spirits. They also began to make contact with other frustrated talents, and began an informal screening series of short films at their apartment. The series eventually blossomed into a monthly festival initially called The Super Midnight Movie Show, in which an audience would view a number of short projects and decide which would air on the series' Internet network, called Channel 101, and which would be "canceled." Among the pilots that gained national notoriety was "Yacht Rock," a fictionalized series about the lives of '70s easy-listening giants like Seals & Croft; "Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager," about a food market manager who resembled Darth Vader of "Star Wars" (1977) fame; and "House of Cosbys," a sitcom about a man with a collection of Bill Cosby clones that generated a cease and desists letter from the real Cosby. Many of the pilots featured name actors like Jason Lee, Sarah Silverman, Drew Carey and Jimmy Kimmel, while other served as the launching pad for future stars like The Lonely Island, which introduced Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer.In 2006, Harmon and Schrab were hired as writers for "The Sarah Silverman Program." However, he argued frequently with Silverman over the show's scripts, which resulted in his dismissal after only a few episodes. Schrab decided to remain on the show's writing staff, causing a rift between the former partners that lasted for the better part of a year. After seeing "Monster House" finally come to fruition as an animated feature that differed substantially from his original script, Harmon poured his frustration into "Acceptable TV" (VH1, 2007), a sketch comedy series inspired in part by Channel 101 that followed its democratic process of selecting content by allowing viewers to vote on and even upload their own material, which would then be considered for airing. The show was cancelled after only a few episodes.In 2009, Harmon's fortunes took a turn for the better with an Emmy Award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics for Hugh Jackman's opening number at "The 81st Annual Academy Awards" (ABC, 2009). He received a second nomination for Outstanding Writing for the same broadcast. That same year, his live-action sitcom "Community" premiered on NBC. Inspired by his own experiences at a community college, as well as his pop culture obsessions, the series starred Joel McHale as a disgraced lawyer who attempted to put his life on track by enrolling in a college peopled by eccentrics. Widely embraced by critics but seen by only a dedicated handful of viewers, the show netted several significant nominations, including Favorite New TV Comedy at the 36th People's Choice Awards and a Creative Arts Emmy Award for Individual Achievement in Animation for the stop-motion-animated episode "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas." Perennially low ratings forced the series into an extended hiatus during the 2011-12 NBC schedule, which was met with strong protest by the show's fans. It returned to the airwaves in March 2012. During this period, Harmon also made acting appearances in features and on TV, most notably in Judd Apatow's "Funny People" (2009) and as the voice of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the raunchy animated series "Mary Shelley's Frankenhole" (Adult Swim, 2012-). The adulation for "Community" was undercut in 2012 when a feud between Harmon and "Community" star Chevy Chase was made public. After Harmon insulted Chase over his behavior at a series wrap party attended by the show's cast, crew and Chase's family, the actor left a profanity-laden voicemail on Harmon's answering service that took him to task for the surprise lambasting. Harmon later played the voice mail for an audience at a comedy show, which resulted in a mixed response from the media. Harmon later apologized for his decision, and apparently settled the matter with Chase. But as the dust seemed to have settled, Harmon was suddenly replaced from the show he created with veteran showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port. After news broke through official channels, complete with the requisite P.R.-approved network statement, Harmon took to his blog to explain his side by telling fans that he was summarily fired and that no one informed him of the move, with him finding out as he was stepping off a plane. Though technically staying on as a consultant per his contract, he was officially out at the head of the popular sitcom. Though reasons were not given, Harmon had long been battling the network brass over inflated budgets and late scripts, though no doubt his conflagration with Chase proved to be the final straw. The news came within a week of NBC renewing "Community" for a fourth season with a 13-episode order. The show's fourth season was not particularly well-received by either critics or fans, however, and Harmon resumed his position as "Community" showrunner for its remaining seasons on NBC and Yahoo! Screen before the show ended in 2015. During his hiatus from "Community," Harmon focused on a live comedy showcase and associated podcast, both called "HarmonTown" (2011), and also co-created an old-fashioned paper-based role-playing game along the lines of the original Dungeons and Dragons, called "HarmonQuest." In 2013, Harmon and Justin Roiland created an animated series about a curmudgeonly space traveler and his naïve grandson called "Rick and Morty" (Adult Swim, 2013-). The series slowly developed a following possibly even more rabid than that of "Community." When McDonald's, in response to an ongoing running joke in the series, briefly brought back its long-retired Szechuan dipping sauce, fans of the show lined up for hours in restaurants, with some riots reported when the sauce's limited supplies disappeared quickly.In January 2018, after former "Community" staff writer Megan Ganz accused Harmon of sexual harassment during her tenure on the show, Harmon addressed the issue at length on social media and on the "HarmonTown" podcast, with a lengthy apology to Ganz, admitting that after he had developed a crush on her and she rejected his attention, he publicly mistreated her until she left the show.