Will Colleges Give NBC's 'Community' Good Marks? The comedy world has eagerly awaited the arrival of Community, a new NBC sitcom about a band of wacky misfits who attend a community college. And community colleges have been getting ready too, hoping this show will not add to the image problems they face.
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Will Colleges Give NBC's 'Community' Good Marks?

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Will Colleges Give NBC's 'Community' Good Marks?

Will Colleges Give NBC's 'Community' Good Marks?

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Madeleine Brand.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And Im Robert Siegel.

The imaginary Greendale Community College is the setting for a new sitcom this season. NPRs education correspondent Larry Abramson reports that real community college students and staff hope that nobody will laugh too much.

LARRY ABRAMSON: Okay, true story. A comedy writer walks into this community college. Hes hoping to save his relationship with his girlfriend by taking a class with her. He finds himself sitting next to a fascinating cast of characters.

Mr.�DAN HARMON (Writer, Community): A teenage pregnant girl whos studying biology. On the other side of me, there's, you know, like a Vietnam vet. There is any number of reasons you might be at this place which, of course, is TV dynamite.

ABRAMSON: Writer Dan Harmon has turned that dynamite into Community, the tale of life at a fictitious two-year college.

(Soundbite of television program, Community)

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Are you familiar with the adage: cheaters never prosper?

Mr.�JOEL McHALE (Actor): (As Jeff Winger) No, and if I wanted to learn something, I wouldnt have come to community college.

(Soundbite of music)

ABRAMSON: That last voice belongs to Joel McHale, who plays a fast-talking lawyer sent to the purgatory of Greendale Community College because his fake law degree was unmasked. Don't ask how he expects to get a law degree at a two-year college. Remember, this is network TV. Writer Dan Harmon says these people share the feeling that they are better than this second-chance school.

Mr.�HARMON: Many of them are ungrateful to be there, consider themselves being there as the result of some kind of broken path. But they're all lucky to be there and to find each other, and this is a good, healthy place for them to be.

ABRAMSON: You could call community college as a goldmine for irreverent jokes and smart-as-a-whip dialogue, or you could call it an easy attack on students who already suffer their share of cruel jokes.

(Soundbite of television program, Community)

Mr.�McHALE: (As Winger) Thats what I do. I make things up, and I got paid a lot of money to do it before I came to this school-shaped toilet. I was a lawyer.

Ms.�NORMA KENT (American Association of Community Colleges): They have to be funny, and that was their attempt at it. I didn't think it worked so well.

ABRAMSON: Thats Norma Kent of the American Association of Community Colleges. The group has been girding its loins, preparing for a lot of snarky humor at the expense of two-year students.

Ms.�KENT: But we're using it as a teachable moment, and we think that it's an opportunity to say a lot of good things about community colleges and their students regardless of what the show portrays.

ABRAMSON: I sat down to watch the first show at Montgomery College, a well-respected community school in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. Three students, all in their second year, giggled but did not guffaw through the pilot. But the show's deepest digs threw them off. Business student Ksenia Prokunina

Ms.�KSENIA PROKUNINA (Student, Montgomery College): I heard that a lot of people call a community college a high school with an ashtray.

ABRAMSON: But these students are used to a sitcom world, where nothing is sacred. So Prokunina says she's not offended.

Ms.�PROKUNINA: I think humor is a good thing. And I think as long as you don't take it too seriously, it might actually be a good thing for a community college, that they make a show about it.

ABRAMSON: The characters in Community face the same existential dilemma that community colleges themselves face. They have to rise above their own low self-esteem.

(Soundbite of television program, Community)

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) The tools you acquire to survive out there will not help you here in Greendale. What you have, my friend, is a second chance at an honest life.

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) Why are people trying to teach me things at a school that has an express-tuition aisle?

ABRAMSON: Writer Dan Harmon says the school amounts to a kind of test these people have to pass.

Mr.�HARMON: The campus is a character. The community college itself is a character. Its like, what do you do when you're not handed everything on a silver platter? The answer is absolutely different for every character.

ABRAMSON: Harmons expectations for this sitcom are actually pretty grand. He wants to get laughs and teach meaningful life lessons. Community college students and advocates are mostly hoping to avoid another slap in the face.

Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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