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October 09, 2012 at 01:13 PM EDT

PORT: There were initial conversations like, “Here’s an opportunity. Are we going to switch it up? Are we going to broaden it?” And I think even from their perspective, they’re like, ‘Making the move, let’s not alienate anyone.” They were even wise enough to be like, “The show has gotten to where it is and continues to live and breathe because this group of people is so supportive.” These 13 episodes exist because the fans are so passionate.

GUARASCIO: Even given that, when we pitched our first batch of episodes, they just couldn’t help themselves to some degree: “Yeah, this is great…. It seems a little bit like more of the odd thing we used to do.” And one of the great things that Dan did over three years was tunnel through the mountain to establish the ground rule of: “On this show, we’re going to set up the rules of what we’re going do,” and he’s really good at not listening to people when he knew what he wanted to do. So that made it easier for us to be like, “Hey, we know you may not be digging this vibe yet, but this is really the way to do this.” And they said, “Okay, okay, if you feel strongly about it,” and I think it’s borne out well. They’ve actually said as much: “You were right. Glad you pushed through in doing these first episodes this way.”

Which elements of Community are you most interested in preserving? On the flip side, what did you feel needed to be downplayed or drawn out more?

GUARASCIO: I really can’t say that there’s anything we felt like: “A little less of that, a little more of that.” Because there’s an actual evolution of the show from season to season, it felt very organic to us that in the fourth year — which for some of the characters is their senior year — there will be a natural inclination for these characters to be thinking about change in their own lives, to be looking at their personal relationships with each other. That was a chance for us to grow those things a little bit. There’s a little more relationship stuff in season 1 and the beginning of season 2 that was good to go back to — so, not so much a new stamp as addressing some of those stories. And the show’s always done a good job of having this meta approach to itself and being aware of itself. There’s a big change going on in the show in that Dan is not here and we are, and it came together as an approach for the season of change. And not being afraid of it, because a lot of TV shows have looked at people in college and been like, “We have to make absolutely sure they’re here for the next eight years and they’re never gonna go anywhere.”

PORT: In terms of putting our own stamp on it, we were not involved in the first three years. So very much being fans of the show, we made the decision to check our egos at the door and be like, “Look, we are going to rely heavily on the people that are returning here,” so the voices that have been here before are heard loud and clear, and they are a part of everything. We definitely have listened as much as we’ve spoken during this process.

What else can fans expect from you guys this season that will feel different?

GUARASCIO: It comes back to that change being reflected in each character’s individual growth. The show has sort of danced around the notion of Jeff’s relationship with his father, who abandoned him when he was young, so we decided this year, “Let’s really face that head on.” [It] doesn’t just mean that single episode of making that decision and how that interaction will go down, but what does mean for Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) after that? When there’s this thing that’s been in your brain for so long and defined a lot of who you are, you’re going to be a slightly different person after you’ve faced that demon. And there’s a ripple effect to that. If Britta (Gillian Jacobs) has looked at Jeff as a guy who always has all these walls around him, the defining characteristic, and maybe that was a turnoff — well, when some of those walls start to come down, what does that mean to their relationship? And it’s in the same season when she and Troy are exploring things because at the same time, he’s coming into his own as a man even while he holds onto this great childlike enthusiasm in his relationship with Abed (Danny Pudi).

PORT: There’s a lot of talk of shippers on this show. Personally before I came into this, I was definitely a Britta and Jeff shipper. We’ll see Britta return a little bit to her strong feminist roots. It’s not just about the psychology. They’re small steps because ultimately Greendale has to be involved in the whole thing. Even though they’re going to have episodes outside of it, the school is as much a character as anything else.

GUARASCIO: Part of change is also coming to terms with what you can control and what you can’t. So in different ways, all of the characters are exploring that…. Annie (Alison Brie) is at a crossroads in her life… It started with Abed last year to some degree, and that character’s helping bring us into season 4, where everyone is going through the same thing. Is this show ending or is this a 13-episode order on the way to hopefully more episodes in the 5th season? We don’t know. There is something that’s out of our control, and something about that speaks to what we see the characters going through.

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Joel McHale and Alison Brie star in this comedy about a college study group—which has received second life on Yahoo.
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