Nellie Andreeva

EXCLUSIVE: Pierce Hawthorne is dropping out of Greendale Community College. After a tumultuous three-and-a-half-year relationship, Chevy Chase and the producers of NBC‘s cult comedy Community are parting ways by mutual agreement. Chase’s departure from the show is effective immediately. The bulk of Community‘s 13-episode fourth-season order have been filmed. Chase won’t appear in the one or two episodes that have not been shot yet.

The news of Chase’s exit from the Sony TV-produced Community hardly comes as a surprise. His return to the comedy series for Season 4 was somewhat surprising as he hinted multiple times last spring that he might leave. He has been vocal about his displeasure with the Community gig, telling The Huffington Post UK in an interview this fall, “It was a big mistake! I just sort of hung around because I have three daughters and a wife, and I figured out I might as well make some bread, every week, so I can take care of them in the way they want … The hours are hideous, and it’s still a sitcom on television, which is probably the lowest form of television.”

Then there was Chase’s public feud with show’s creator/former showrunner Dan Harmon last year, which escalated into a profanity-laced message Chase left on Harmon’s voice mail. (Harmon left the series after the end of last season.) There also have been on-set outbursts that have become a distraction for the rest of the cast and crew. They included a tirade last month, in which Chase used the N-word. The rant was reportedly prompted by lines of dialogue he found offensive. According to people close to the actor, Chase had been increasingly frustrated and uncomfortable with the direction of his character, Pierce, who is a bigot, and had felt that Pierce had run his course.

Chase’s departure likely won’t have as big of an impact on Community as Harmon’s exit because Pierce is a supporting character in an ensemble led by Joel McHale that has a number of standouts. The show recently got a February 7 Season 4 premiere date and is set to return to its regular Thursday 8 PM time slot. With a February start, Community is unlikely to go beyond the 13 ordered episodes this season. Chase will be in most of them, so his departure will be felt if the series gets a fifth season renewal.

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