Community

"We're feeling pretty confident," executive producer Russ Krasnoff said Saturday at the PaleyFest panel for Community about a possible fourth-season renewal for the NBC comedy. "Look, it's because of the people who love our show and the fact that they were so upset when it went away... [Also,] the people at NBC love the show."

Love doesn't necessarily translate to airtime, however. The cult-favorite sitcom went on an indefinite hiatus in early December, a move that did not bode well for the show's future. Only last month did NBC announce that Community would return on Thursday, March 15 at 8/7c to continue its third season.

With so many shows on the bubble, can smart comedies survive?

When moderator Alan Sepinwall of HitFix.com asked star Gillian Jacobs how she liked having her character Britta become synonymous for being the worst at everything, she joked, "It's so great because I feel that sort of hit right before the show got pulled. So NBC 'Britta'd' it. We gave our fans such a great verb to describe the action -- because that's what verbs do."

The cast also acknowledged the power of the fan campaigns on Twitter and through flash mobs and petitions to bring back the show. "It's kind of magical to us that we're back," said Yvette Nicole Brown, who plays Shirley. Joel McHale, who plays study group leader Jeff, added, "It was kind of like the moment when the Space Shuttle reenters the atmosphere and they go radio-silent for that point... and then you come out and you're still there and Houston says, 'Are you there?' Yeah we are."

As an early treat for fans, a three-part animated webisode series, Abed's Master Key, will debut on Hulu on March 7, a week before Community returns. "They wanted quick, punchy little things for the Internet to sort of get ready for March 15 and also to tell people we haven't been just sitting around," cast member Danny Pudi, who plays Abed, told TVGuide.com. "We've been eagerly waiting to get back on the air. Abed's Master Key is an exploration of the Dean and Abed's relationship."

Jim Rash, a recent Oscar winner for co-writing the screenplay for The Descendants, plays Dean Pelton, who finds himself in need of some extra help around Greendale Community College. "He makes Abed his assistant and gives him the master key," Rash said. "No one else responded to the dean's email looking for an assistant. It was just Abed."

Watch the teaser trailer for Abed's Master Key:

Check out some Season 3 scoop and other highlights from Community's PaleyFest panel:

Season 3 Scoop

More death. "I think it's got the highest body count in any sitcom season that I can think of," said series creator Dan Harmon. "I think we've had three or four people die so far and there's more to come."

More themed episodes and tributes. "We've mentioned before there's a Law & Order episode -- old school Law & Order  -- and I saw the final cut of it and it's great," said Harmon. "There's also an episode that will either the best or worst thing that's ever happened on television... where Annie and Abed basically spend the entire episode in the Dreamatorium. And there's one where [the study group] plays a video game together. So it's a video game episode."

More Inspector Spacetime. Community's March 15 return includes additional references to the Doctor Who spoof, which will continue to pop up throughout the end of the season. "It's a runner," said Harmon. "It's an Itchy and Scratchy type of thing."

More Dean Pelton fashions. "He wears a blindfold [in the finale]," McHale said. "It's the funniest thing that has ever happened in the history of the world." Rash also told TVGuide.com, "In the promo the other night, I think you saw the dean in a locomotive outfit. He's a sexy train conductor. There's little bit of that and there's definitely some skin coming up."

Exclusive: Giancarlo Esposito talks about his Community guest shot

Highlights From the Panel

Everybody "Chang tongue" tonight. The cast described how Ken Jeong, who plays ineffectual security guard Senor Chang, often made them crack up. "It really involves what we call Chang tongue," said Alison Brie, who plays Annie. "It's basically Ken, eyes half-mast, mouth open and a flaccid tongue a little bit out of the mouth."

A long-lost Lost reference. When a fan asked Pudi what Abed's age is, he answered, "I've always thought of him as the Richard Alpert of Community," naming the ageless inhabitant on Lost played by Nestor Carbonell. After a more oblique reference to Schrodinger's box, Harmon finally clarified, "My instinct says he's probably a year or two older than Troy and Annie,  who are now 21, 22."

Everybody loves Gillian. At one point, a fan asked Jacobs to reenact Britta's pizza dance, and after removing her mic, she obliged. Later, Jeong revealed that she had sent a very heartfelt message to her co-stars on Thanksgiving Day. Unfortunately, every single cast member "made fun of me," she said. "They're the siblings I never wanted."

Another Oscar speech. Rash was welcomed to the stage with a standing ovation, and later, as he was describing how surreal it was to have won an Academy Award, a stagehand brought out the statuette in question. "I'll just put it here next to the water," Rash said, placing the Oscar on a box by some bottles.

Community returns with the episode "Urban Matrimony and Sandwich Arts" on Thursday at 8/7c on NBC.

Are you psyched for Community's return? Which is your favorite character?