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College Daze

October 1, 2009 By:
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Blackboard jingle? Clockwise, from left, front, Yvette Nicole Brown, Danny Pudi, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie and Chevy Chase join (back) Ken Jeong, Donald Glover and Joel McHale in a motley study group in "Community." Photo by Mitchell Haaseth/NBC

"Community" collage -- geeks and freaks, winners and losers, love and lust amid the bored scores and turned-down doofuses who make up the unstudly study group of "Community," NBC's new twist on education whose mascot may be ...

Barack Obama?

Barack as booster?

Talk about "Community" organizers: "Jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience," the president said in announcing the American Graduation Initiative, a decade-long, multibillion dollar project for community colleges.

"We will not fill those jobs, or keep those jobs on our shores, without the training offered by community college."

Does the man have a Nielsen box at the Oval Office?

Dan Harmon found some peace and harmony -- and maybe a ca-ching or two -- in the chief executive's words of wisdom. After all, he's producer of "Community," and if the White House likes community colleges, maybe all American houses will like his "Community" college, too.

Who better than the president to dispel a myth that all two-year colleges subscribe to the same theme song from "Dumb and Dumber."

Oooh, that smarts. But it takes a smart-ass -- and wise-enough man -- to know that a two-year college education can turn into a long-running TV series.

Too good to be true? Get your grades -- and confidence -- up, Dan Harmon. "I'm from Wisconsin," says the Jewish cheesehead, "so whenever things are going this well, I can start anticipating the other shoe dropping."

But unlike other network shows, this one doesn't resemble droppings; there's some wit to be found in the "Community" "kids," which includes a lawyer who has to return to school once it's discovered that his degree is from Columbia.

The country, not the Ivy League.

Twenty-thousand leagues from the "C" -- or an "A," if this low-rent lawyer can cheat his way to the top.

Raising the bar for must-study TV?

Harmon's already done that on cable, as co-creator of "The Sarah Silverman Show," where Comedy Central has reaped ratings rewards and acclaim.

But comedy has always been central to Harmon's efforts, harking back to his early efforts where his "pursuit of minimal work for maximum reward" had him segueing from stand-up to improv to skits and, ultimately, to screenplays.

Still, he and writing partner Rob Schrab -- another Milwaukee brewer of back-slapping laughs -- were always out looking. But it was their outre work that got them attention.

Both collaborated on the subversive Channel 101, described as "an untelevised nonprofit audience-controlled network for undiscovered filmmakers," in which they channeled their talents.

"101" as a primer for unplugged TV? It's enough to give Harmon heartburn, which he mentions in his bio. Is it all worth repeating?

"I'm just keeping it down with Prilosec," he says.

Anyone wanting to get at the heart of what makes Harmon tick has only to check his blog, where his friends and neighbors have a role that Mr. Rogers never suspected goes on in his neighborhood.

And there is that obsession, it seems, with actor Saul Rubinek, the star of "Warehouse 13" who seems to pop up in almost every blog beat.

"Yes," says the producer, "I am a little obsessed with Saul Rubinek. I've sort of had my eye on him ever since [he was in] 'The Pelican Brief.' "

Could he make a guest-starring stint on "Community"? "I would love to see Saul Rubinek being a college community professor. I find him fascinating."

Fascinating -- as much as Harmon's own experience inspired his NBC effort: "I went in my early 30s," he says of community college. "I was in a study group with a bunch of strangers to whom I actually took a natural affinity, in spite of my desire to keep them at arm's length."

And in the show Chevy Chase portrays an older student returning to school.

Fall-down funny?

"Chevy actually makes up quite a bit of things; [he] tends to come up with lines that you can actually end scenes with sometimes." (The lines form Thursday nights, where "Community" has already connected with audiences.)

How will Harmon ultimately know he has made the grade to graduate to a second season? Well, he wouldn't mind adding the "Freshman 15" -- if that meant that 15 million viewers to help him throw his weight around.

Golden boy seeking gold star?

"I wanted to do a show," he explains, "that my mom would kind of be into."

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