Dan Harmon faced reporters at the TCA summer press tour on Wednesday (July 24), ostensibly for his new Adult Swim show “Rick and Morty.” But that did not end up being the sole topic of discussion.
The assembled critics and reporters also wanted to talk about “Community” and his return to the show after being fired a year ago. The press conference broke down to about half discussion of “Rick and Morty” — about a boy’s sci-fi adventures with his mad-scientist grandfather — and equal parts about Harmon’s return to “Community” (including comparisons of the two networks) and Harmon talking about Harmon. Some highlights:
On the notes he gets from Adult Swim vs. those at NBC:
“[Adult Swim creative director] Mike Lazzo is a bona fide, actual genius, especially in the world of network executives. He has the autonomy and the humility and the mental power to actually take a script, recognize it as what it is, which is a document, words on paper, read it and then tell you what his reaction to it was as an individual as he read it.
“Those are his notes. He says, ‘On page 17 as I was reading this document, I lost the story right here. Maybe that’s because I was driving to work as I was reading it, or I was eating a sandwich. Maybe I don’t have the right sense of humor.’ He never says, ‘I don’t think people are going to like this.’ He never branches out into the business of speculating about this biomass for which we are creating this opiate. He never goes, ‘People are going to respond this way when this happens.’ He also never confuses the script for the finished product. He give script notes on a script, he gives editorial notes on the animatic and then he gives final notes. …
“And on the NBC side it’s even better.”
On the broader culture of NBC vs. AS:
“At Adult Swim, we get to do whatever we want. My job as part of the studio that’s producing ‘Rick and Morty’ is to supposedly protect [co-creator] Justin [Roiland] from the big bad suits, which don’t exist at Adult Swim. So my job as a producer and writer on ‘Rick and Morty’ is to help Justin jar up his insanity. I’m actually the guy who’s the agent of compromise, if anything. … Justin’s ideas are insane, and I try to infuse them with … character and story and stuff like that.
“Over at ‘Community,’ it’s not actually that much different. I pitched ‘Community’ because I wanted to do a mainstream network sitcom, the way someone might want to write a sonnet or a haiku. It was my chosen medium. … You get very few [standards and practices] notes when working at ‘Community’ — it’s a big, giant, complicated machine when you have a giant studio like Sony and a giant network like NBC in a marriage. … But in a general sense, you see a bunch of crazy stuff on screen on ‘Community’ because in general, relative to other networks and studios, they were incredibly permissive. I think NBC knew it was in the business of, like, critical darlings, and was always encouraging me early on, go crazy. And Sony has always been in the business of syndication. They want this show to succeed.”
On whether his creativity and volatility are intertwined:
“I don’t politic. I lay all my bets on what I can contribute. I suffer no illusions that I’m generating stuff by myself. I also surround myself with loyalists and people that I would die for. I would rather die than make bad stuff for people, because I’m a terrible dishwasher and a terrible lover and a terrible pet owner, and this is my only recourse to go to bed at night feeling like I did anything of merit. …
“Are you asking me if I can be talented and not get into trouble? I don’t want to try. I think thoughts in my head, and they bounce around in my skull, and if they keep bouncing around in my skull they get worse and worse. When they come out of my mouth, they make people happy. And when they’re taken out of context and put in a headline, they can get somebody a couple clicks on their Bacardi ad. That’s a perfectly fine price to pay. The most important thing is when I go to bed at night, I don’t have this thing eating away at me. I say what is in my head. I am on honest ground, and that is worth so much and I think it does make my job as a writer easier and makes it possible to give people stuff that they [like].”
“Rick and Morty,” incidentally, is set to premiere in December on Adult Swim.