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Dan Harmon: I'm Writing Community "As If It's Going to Last for 20 Seasons"

Will it be different on Yahoo?

Liz Raftery

Greendale Community College will re-open its doors on St. Patrick's Day.

After being canceled by NBC, Community will make its Season 6 debut on Yahoo Screen with two new episodes on March 17, the cast and creators revealed at the Television Critics Association winter previews on Tuesday. After that, one new episode will premiere each Tuesday.

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"We are a phoenix," star Gillian Jacobs told critics Tuesday. "We had cheated death so many times [that] it felt like the worst had happened [when] we finally got canceled by NBC."

Chevy Chase claims he's returning to Community

Transitioning to the new medium has felt seamless, said Jacobs, who noted that "it sort of felt like we were an online show for a while." But even on a different platform, the question that has long-plagued Community still remains: Will this 13-episode run be the show's final season? Not if series creator Dan Harmon has anything to say about it.

"I'm definitely not writing it as if it's the end," he said. "Only when people stop watching would I ever stop wanting to make the product. ... In my mind, I have to continue to write the show as if it's going to last for 20 seasons."

Describing Season 6 as a "very grounded season," Harmon says the story lines will explore the core characters' backstories and worlds outside of Greendale. ("We're shooting outside for the first time in years," noted star Joel McHale.)

However, Harmon expressed bemused skepticism at Chevy Chase's claims that he will be returning to Community this season. "His character died," he said. "I think he was talking about Season 4."

Winter TV Preview: Get hot scoop on returning shows

The show has recruited Keith David and Paget Brewster ("She was hilarious on Criminal Minds," Harmon joked) as new series regulars, to fill the void left by departing stars Jonathan Banks and Yvette Nicole Brown. Harmon says he wanted the newcomers to feel "like classic Community characters."

Brewster's character, Francesca "Frankie" Dart, is a consultant who's been hired to fix a slew of problems at Greendale. "She's a problem-solver," Harmon says. "She doesn't like things that don't make sense. She doesn't abide nonsense." David's character, a computer programmer, "wasted a lot of time on a virtual reality technology in the '90s, sacrificed a lot of his personal life for his career, and now he's starting over."

There's "absolutely" an opportunity for Shirley (Brown) to return, either later this season or in subsequent installments - and her departure will be fully explained in Episode 1, Harmon promises. Writers are also trying to find opportunities to bring Banks and John Oliver back for guest spots, although they're busy with Better Call Saul and Last Week Tonight, respectively.

Additionally, the transition to online distribution has also allowed the show to have more freedom in terms of the writing, according to Harmon, though fans shouldn't expect to see profanity- and nudity-laden episodes. "There's a tiny bit more maybe British-ness to the comedy," he said. "It's a loosening of the corset. ... There's stuff we can do that we couldn't have done on TV. It would be very easy to completely corrupt the tone of the show [but] I definitely don't want to make the mistake of making the show unrecognizable."

Winter TV Preview: Add new shows to your Watchlist

The move to Yahoo has also been a literal one, with Community now shooting at CBS' Radford Studios in Studio City, where the show films in a basement. "After years of it figuratively being the case, we are now literally under Parks and Rec," Harmon quipped.

Even in the golden age of binge-watching, Harmon said he never considered releasing all the new episodes at once. "[One episode a week] feels to me like the right way to do it," he said. "Maybe old school is the best school."

Harmon hasn't decided whether the episodes will hold to the traditional network length of 22 minutes, or whether they will be a bit longer for Yahoo. "Maybe they can be a little chubby, like me," he said, "with just a little extra." Also unclear is whether the episodes will have traditional commercial breaks - though Harmon says he prefers writing in the three-act format of half-hour comedies.

With NBC's surviving comedies also struggling (to put it kindly), Harmon says it's a relief to no longer have to pay attention to ratings. "That was the worst part," he noted. "In a world where a 0.8 could mean the best day of your life and a 0.7 meant no donuts, it was such an odd, weird religion to live under.

"It'll be weird when we get canceled by the Internet and just become a roving band of street performers," he said.

Community's sixth season premieres on Yahoo Screen on Tuesday, March 17. Watch a teaser below: