Dan Harmon returned to “Community” for Season 5, but the experience of being bumped from his own show for a season has changed him. It’s no secret that Harmon lost a lot of faith in the network television medium after his difficulties working on his beloved project, and he took that expectation of network executives along with him to Adult Swim.
There Harmon teamed with voice actor, writer and producer Justin Roiland to create the animated TV series “Rick and Morty.” Roiland voices both title characters, but that wasn’t always the case. The process of convincing Adult Swim senior executive vice president Mike Lazzo to make the show Roiland and Harmon wanted to create helped revitalize Harmon’s faith in the network TV process.
During an interview with Zap2it, Roiland explains that “Rick and Morty” was developed around him voicing both brilliant grandfather scientist character Rick and his young grandson Morty. But after he and Harmon wrote the script and recorded a radio play and animatic to send to Lazzo, the Adult Swim higher up said they had to recast the voices.
Harmon fought for Roiland to at least voice Rick, but Roiland was heartbroken he couldn’t be Morty as well. They looked into the likes of “Futurama’s” Billy West and “The Fairly Odd Parents'” Tara Strong to play Morty instead, but Lazzo passed on those options as well. He said he wanted to have a “Michael Cera-type” behind the character instead.
“I just said to him, very respectfully and humbly, I’m like, ‘We will find those people, but will you let me continue to try to win you over?'” Roiland recalls. “He’s like, ‘Yeah, go for it. Do whatever you want.'”
Harmon didn’t have as easy a time fighting for their original vision as Roiland did. He found himself entering straight into “liaison mode,” and says he kept wanting to tell Roiland to back off and just be happy they had a show to begin with.
“That was a crazy experience for me because it made me realize what I had already become in just a few short years of doing network,” Harmon says. “[I was] mitigating and compromising on all these things, talking to Justin, Justin pushing back. And I remember thinking and feeling like, ‘Eh, don’t push back that much.’ I gained so much respect for both Lazzo and Justin because Justin on one hand was like, ‘Yeah, but I really believe in this.’ I wouldn’t have because I would have been insecure.”
Ultimately Roiland got his way. Harmon sent him some scene ideas and he took them and ran with the version of Morty he thought Lazzo was looking for. Once he was finished, he sent the audio files to Lazzo in the hopes the Adult Swim exec would like what he heard.
And he did. Two days before Roiland and Harmon were poised to send other actors’ Morty auditions to Lazzo — ones Roiland is certain Lazzo would have approved of — the VP called Roiland and told him, “Alright, you can do the voice of Morty.”
“Justin was so sincere and so professional about his pursuit of what he truly believed. It wasn’t coming from a place of narcissism, it was coming from a place of objective vision, of how he wanted this final product to be,” Harmon explains. “Justin always knew that the show we finished now, always knew how it was going to look and feel, and it was just a matter of getting other people to understand that.”
Roiland adds, “I felt that if I wasn’t able to do both voices, we would lose a big aspect of what I feel like makes the show special, which is me being able to go in and just kind of improv stuff in the record and talk to myself.”
After his own bad experiences, Harmon admits he found himself shocked by the way Roiland and Lazzo approached the situation.
“How many network executives make a request like that, don’t end up getting their way, and are cool with it? The reason for his success and the reason why everyone always praises him is because his ego also doesn’t figure into it. In the bargain, while I was thinking politically … the two of them were actually creating a show together,” Harmon says.
So does that mean that Harmon’s faith in the network model has been completely restored? Not quite.
“As Darth Vader says, it’s too late for me, but what I definitely can do — and I always tell Justin, ‘This is your show. Anything you want; and I really mean that. I would never sell you out or even try to undercut you if there ever was a thing where push came to shove’ — but from that experience, what I did learn is I am not going to second-guess this guy ever again,” he says.
“Rick and Morty” premieres on Dec. 2 at 10:30 p.m. on Adult Swim. “Community” Season 5 premieres with a double episode on Jan. 2, 2014 at 8 p.m. on NBC.