Dan Harmon Says ‘Rick and Morty’ Fans Have Accepted the New Voices: ‘We’re Past It. It Worked, We Transitioned to a New Era’

The next time you see Dan Harmon on Instagram doing something other than writing the “Community” movie, please don’t yell at him to get back to work. It’s happening, Harmon promises, but there are so many moving parts that there has never been a precise timeline.

“When you see me making fart videos on the Internet, don’t worry that it means I’ve given up making the movie,” Harmon tells Variety. “It’s not how time or the industry work. If you see me doing it something other than typing, it’s not because I have stopped typing. It’s because when I get on Instagram, I don’t want to make videos about typing.”

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Harmon’s update is that he’s doing a final pass on the script — but that’s also not the reason cameras haven’t rolled yet.

“I’m going to use the time that we have to do a final pass on this thing that hopefully makes everybody real excited and happy,” he says. “In the meantime, can you call them delays when I mean, did we have a shoot day? The engine is still moving.”

And, he stresses, there’s no one person, or reason, that it’s taking time for the project — set to eventually premiere on Peacock — from coming immediately.

“I saw where Donald Glover said he’s hearing from fans that they think he’s the reason the movie’s not happening sooner,” Harmon says. “I immediately wanted to get on my Instagram and say, ‘Stop yelling at Donald! Do you want to scare this guy off?’ He wants to do the movie, stop haranguing him! He’s not the reason, no single human being could be the reason for delays. The frustrating thing is that our engine moves so slowly and so easily gets derailed and stuck. The timescale is so different for us than for the fans. The fans have 900 times more anxiety per minute to feel than than this machine that ultimately gives them their movie.”

Harmon also spoke to Variety about Season 7 of “Rick and Morty” (which concluded in December), and the adjustment that came following the exit of co-creator Justin Roiland, who was fired by Adult Swim after being charged with domestic violence. After an intensive search to replace Roiland as the voices of the two title characters, Ian Cardoni was hired to take over as the voice of Rick, while Harry Belden became the new Morty.

In a recent conversation, Harmon addressed the fan reaction to the voice changes this season, as well as what happens next as Adult Swim’s mega 70-episode order of “Rick and Morty” draws to a close.

This season of “Rick and Morty” featured more standalone episodes, and didn’t end with a cliffhanger. Would you describe this season as a reset?

I think a reset is a good way of looking at it. We had so much behind the scenes drama that I think we didn’t need a lot of irony and challenge on the screen narratively. I think the experiment became, can we accomplish the show moving forward? Can the fans not lose their favorite show, not be distracted by any of the turbulence? There was also another important reason to reset, which is we’re anticipating doing a lot more of these. This was always designed to be a show that could last thousands of episodes. And you can’t last thousands of episodes if you’re simply going to tell a serialized story about how your protagonist stops being the protagonist. I’ve always been obsessively focused on maintaining modularity, so that the more popular your show gets, the more accessible it is to a hopefully increasing freeway of traffic.

How did you end up with “Fear No Mort” as the season finale?

Obviously, there was probably at some point the possibility of saving our big mythology episode with Rick Prime [Episode 5, “Unmortricken”] for the finale. But it was more a matter of when that episode was pitched, with  younger writers saying, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed throughout all of this readjustment behind the scenes, but we haven’t thrown the loyal fan this promised red meat in a while.” It was very easy for me to lose track of when’s the last time we serviced the one-armed man of it all. That’s why that very tremendous episode ended up smack in the middle of the season. As far as the “fear hole” being a big finale, at the price of extreme disruption of our process, but I think that wiser people than me always knew that this would make a good finale this episode.

Let’s talk a bit more about the behind the scenes drama. The new voices coming in were kept secret up until premiere. What can you now say about that process?

I tried to keep that process at arm’s length. I used the excuse that I was too close to the creative trauma to be a reasonable collaborator on a planet-wide search for this ghoulish task. It was something that needed to be done, that a more actualized adult could jump into and not feel anxiety about. It’s a situation you’re not often in, you’re auditioning replacements for a very big friend and partner. But that turned out to be a beneficial part of the process. Because [executive producers] Scott Marder and Steve Levy, [head of production] Monica Mitchell and our very tight knit family that gets everything done on the production, they circled their wagons and worked with different casting agencies. They wanted to make sure that they left no stone unturned. As long as you can say you did the best you can in the face of it, because maybe it’s an impossible task.

It was nice that I wasn’t involved in the foundational stages of it because what ended up happening is when they got into the homestretch, they were so mentally saturated, and their ears were so inside the process at that point that they needed fresh ears. It’s good that my ears were the freshest, because my ears were also the ones that had listened to the real deal for 10 years. They would occasionally let me know, “Oh, you keep picking the same guy for Rick.” It ended with the kind of unanimous, across-the-board, checking-every-box criteria being met. And with everybody being able to say we definitely did the best we could, we spared no effort on this. The religion that we adhered to the entire time was we have to do our best to make it possible for the fans to not skip a beat.

This is not about me. This is not about cultural wars. And this isn’t about my reputation. It’s not about my friendships. This has nothing to do with me, except for the fact that I’m uniquely qualified to contribute to this process. What this has to do with is, a living breathing character — two of them — and millions of people who don’t want this show disrupted. Which is a noble and worthwhile and very healthy goal. I think we accomplished that. And I’m very proud and grateful that’s how it panned out.

Does it feel like we’ve moved past that moment now? That the fans have accepted the change and things have moved on?

That’s my perception. That the goal was accomplished or those that wanted it accomplished, that they’re like, “I can’t tell the difference. The characters are the characters, let’s move on.” As far as I can tell, we’re past it. It worked, we transitioned to a new era and if the show sucks from here forward, it’s for the usual reasons any show can suck. Not because of these dramatic events.

Where do we stand now in terms of Adult Swim’s mega 70-episode order of “Rick and Morty”? How many to go?

We’re in the homestretch. We’re always one to two seasons ahead of what’s happening on screen in the writers’ room. Roughly it’s around ten episodes left to write before we will be done with the 70. So, my job right now is to be working on the final 10 of that order. As for the question of what has everybody seen, where are they at? I think that puts them at 20 left.

What happens after that? Is another episodic order in the offing? When do you start worrying about the future of the show?

Plenty of time to figure it out. With something this satisfying for this many people, conversations like that  happen all the time. And I would anticipate  an announcement one way or the other about the future at some point in the future.

That’s vague enough!

I don’t want to get in trouble! But there will probably be news to come.

How are you dividing your time right now? You also have Fox’s “Krapopolis” and Netflix’s “The Undervale” under your banner.

I’m really dividing it between “Community” and “Rick and Morty.” I think it’s definitely OK to say that Matt Role is manning the helm on “The Undervale.” It’s that’s definitely his baby and the executive producer title has never been more accurate. I’m very proud of that show and helped on the pilot and wanted that thing to succeed but precisely so that Matt could do his thing which he is doing very well. “Krapopolis,” Alex Rubens is the Bill Prady to that “Big Bang.” And maybe I’m dating myself and Bill with that reference.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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