Wednesday, September 2, 2009

NBC and Facebook Team Up For A Little "Community" Outreach...

Facebook started as a social networking website designed to make it easy for kids who were going off to college to stay in touch with their childhood friends. When you signed up, you had to use a valid .EDU address, and only those in your school's network could see your profile information unless you added them as a friend. As the years went on, and Facebook wanted to be real competition for MySpace, the rules bent, and those who had already graduated from college (and now those who are years away from attending) started to sign up. Earlier this summer, though, Facebook teamed up with the NBC marketing department to bring the site back to what it once was: a grassroots college networking site. Through exclusive invitations sent around via Facebook message, dozens of lucky fans of the new NBC and Joel McHale comedy Community got to attend a special screening of the show, followed by a cast Q&A at their local community college.

Last night-- after granting Facebook users an instantaneous (and free!) look at the Community pilot simply for "Becoming a Fan" of the show on the site-- NBC held one such screening at LA and Community's own Los Angeles City College. There the mood was completely casual, as everyone knew they were there to laugh. Panelist Dan Harmon (Writer/Executive Producer/Webisodes Host) and Chevy Chase ("Pierce") were especially "on" all night long, making fun of the Canadian accent and his motivations for writing the series (Harmon), as well as "reacting" by odd faces and equally not-suitable-for-public gestures while co-star Yvette Nicole Brown ("Shirley") answered fans' questions about shooting (Chase).

Brown spent much of the evening bonding with two audience members over the evolution of Akron's mascot "The Zips" (she is originally from Cleveland and graduated from said institution). Meanwhile, Gillian Jacobs ("Britta") spoke of her own educational upbringing at Julliard and what it means for her to be an actual working actress these days. Ken Jeong ("Senor Chang," who sadly was not in the pilot-- though Harmon joked he would be rotoscoping him in later) and Alison Brie ("Annie") read questions from the online fan community. Jeong was also called out for being a comedic genius. "Just wait until you see his stuff," Brown nodded eagerly. "When he'd shoot [a scene], they'd just keep the camera rolling for twenty minutes." Chase added that if he knew he and Jeong shared a scene, he knew he was in for a long night full of adlibbing and improv.

Joel McHale ("Jeff") received the largest burst of audience applause when the cast first stepped out on the stage, but by the end of the night every single castmember had won over the theater. McHale fielded questions about his "fancy" boots like a truly good sport: "I'm still in ROTC," he joked. Though later he added semi-seriously that he knows the guys who make said boots and can get anyone interested a "good deal" on a pair. He even managed to get in a dig at Ryan Seacrest when a fan asked if there would be an upcoming guest appearance by the fellow E! Channel host. Though Harmon hinted at some cool cameo "substitute teachers" (like John Michael Higgins!! as an accounting professor who models himself after Dead Poet's Society), the likelihood of Seacrest being among them is slim to nil.

None of the cast seemed too worried that NBC seems to be hanging all of its comedy hopes on this new show, however. The cast-- namely Jacobs and Brown-- all spoke of how there is always pressure to "perform" and do your best, regardless of whether the network is pulling out all of the stops for you or not paying attention at all. In Community's case, though, it is not merely the network who has their eye on them; it is thousands of fans who are already hooked just from seeing the pilot episode.

Community hits NBC on Thursday, September 17 at 9:30 pm and then moves into its usual 8 pm time slot the following week.

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