LOS ANGELES -- Nothing's certain in network television, but things have been especially uncertain on the set of "Community," the quirky college sitcom that's been a cult favorite, but never a mainstream hit.
"Near cancellation," actress Gillian Jacobs said before a PaleyFest tribute to the series Tuesday night. "On the schedule, off the schedule. Tell us one night. We never air on that night. We lose a creator of our show. Reduced episodes. Everything that can happen has happened to us."
Cast member Chevy Chase left the series without even finishing up the current season, months after the show creator Dan Harmon was fired by "Community" distributor Sony Pictures Television. (Chase bolted with two episodes unfinished -- and according to cast members, doesn't appear at all in one of them.)
"It's always tough to lose people," said actress Alison Brie. "It's very strange and weird. So I can only imagine that coming back for a fifth season without Chevy would also be weird. But, luckily, it didn't affect us too much this season."
"Community" returned as a midseason replacement in February -- for the first time without any involvement from creator Harmon.
"I think, as far as season four as a whole, I think the heart is still there," said actress Yvette Nicole Brown. "There's a lot of really great adventures to come. You guys haven't seen the best that this season has to offer yet, so I'm excited for you to see it."
This week's episode, airing Thursday, marks star Joel McHale's character, Jeff, meeting up with his long-lost father, played by actor James Brolin. Perhaps Brolin's real-life wife Barbra Streisand could play Jeff's mom?
"I don't think we could afford Babs," McHale replied. "I would love it. It was interesting listening to Jim say, 'My wife ...' (And McHale would say) `Yeah, your wife is Barbra Streisand!' And he was just getting ready to go on tour with her. So, yeah, that would be pretty extraordinary. And what if Justin Bieber were my brother, and the cast of 'Twilight' were my cousins. Explosion!"
As usual, the future of "Community" is in question. Brie said a fifth season is by no means a given. The series' latest episodes have been clobbered in the ratings by its powerhouse competition, "The Big Bang Theory."
As for a possible series finale?
"If I had a super-wish list, it would be the biggest paintball (fight)," answered actor Jim Rash -- "like the world needs to be saved and only 'Community' can do it. That would be a good way to end."