Talking <i>Community</i> With Alison Brie, Gillian Jacobs &amp; Yvette Nicole Brown

When NBC suddenly decided last fall to postpone the season premiere of Community from Oct. 19 to some then-unspecified date, the cast of the beleaguered comedy did the only thing they could: They put together a promo assuring disappointed fans that Oct. 19 isn’t just a date, but rather “a state of mind” and “a feeling within us all.”

“So, yeah, while we may not know when we’re gonna air exactly on the calendar,” Danny Pudi’s Abed says in the video, “rest assured when we do, it’ll be Oct. 19.” By Community logic, that makes today … Oct. 19.

“It was this one’s idea!” Alison Brie laughed, pointing to co-star Gillian Jacobs during a break from shooting the season finale.

“Gillian is like the mastermind when it comes to ways to getting our name out there,” Yvette Nicole Brown, who plays Shirley, told the group of journalists. We all have ideas, but Gillian’s like, ‘We’re going to do this!’ and we’re like, ‘OK!’”

“It’s hard for us when our schedule is pushed, but we know it’s equally hard for the fans, they’re right there with us about it,” added Brie, who portrays Annie. “As much as people don’t always address it in a straightforward manner with us, Gillian felt it was important to get something out.”

Beyond the new premiere date, the show was also beset by the firing of showrunner and creator Dan Harmon. Although this will mark the first season without Harmon, the three actors said they didn’t notice any major difference on set.

“For us on set it’s exactly the same as it’s always been,” Brie said. “Also, Tristram Shapeero has directed every other episode this season, and he directed a lot of episodes in Season 3 and Season 4, and [‘Contemporary American Poultry’] in Season 1, so for us he’s a very familiar presence.”

“A lot of our writers are still here,” Brown added. “We don’t have interaction with the writers and the producers unless the writers come on their episode.”

Although a fifth-season renewal is uncertain at this point, the co-stars attributed Community’s staying power to its loyal, if small, fan base.

“Thank God that we do [have the fans], because this is a show that quite literally would not be around if the fans were not so loud and always standing in defense of the show,” Brie said.

Speaking to the cult following that’s sprung up around Community, Jacobs said, “I think it is because our show still somehow is under the radar four years in. They feel like it’s their show and they take an active ownership in it. I think they’ve seen enough shows that they’ve loved come and go that they don’t want to let it happen to our show, so they’re very organized, which I’m always shocked by.”

“And it is their show. I feel like from the very beginning Dan Harmon would put a lot of things in the script that came from fan feedback on Twitter and other encounters with fans. Even still we’re like, ‘Let’s put in this Easter egg!,’ which is also to entertain ourselves on set!” Brie laughed.

Brown, who also appeared on the Nickelodeon kids show Drake and Josh, admitted that while she had a following among young viewers, it was nothing compared to the dedication of Community’s fans.

“I’ve never had the experience where there’s people drawing us and writing songs and creating costumes! Me and Gillian met a girl who made Alison’s Dreamatorium outfit, the Geneva outfit, which was just in better condition and more well made, it was beautiful,” Brown said, adding with a laugh, “We were like her fan after that!”

Speaking about their characters at the beginning of the season, one of the biggest events looming over the study group is the prospect of graduation.

“In the premiere episode, we see Annie trying to be loosey-goosey again, like she’s going to play senioritis this year,” Brie revealed. “It’s similar to Abed, the whole group this season is struggling with the thought of Jeff graduating. It’s our fourth year and he wants to graduate early like he always has.”

“Anybody could graduate, it’s a wildcard. Maybe Shirley graduates, you just don’t know!” Brown joked as Brie and Jacobs laughed.

While Shirley still has the sandwich shop, Brie explained that Annie turns over a new leaf as she discovers criminal forensics.

“I thought it was speech-and-debate forensics when I read the script!” Jacobs admitted.

As for Britta: “I continue therapizing, just undeterred in her attempts to inflict her therapy skills on the group. People aren’t willing participants in the therapy, she’s forcing it on them, so more of that!” Jacobs laughed.

Brown also triumphantly announced there would be a Troy and Shirley episode, something she had been lobbying for over the past three seasons.

“Let me tell you something: Dreams do come true, people,” Brown joked. “If you say them enough, if you wear them down enough! Donald [Glover] and I have worked together four or five times already this season. ... We had a full episode where we’re the A and B story!”

The season also features a glut of holiday episodes, albeit months out of order because of the late premiere date.

“We found out the new airdate, the Feb. 7 airdate, mid-shooting the Christmas episode. So we tried to work in a line that was like, ‘Yes, this is great -- or it could also work for Valentine’s Day or whenever people might see it!’” Brie laughed.

“It’s very Community, though, somehow,” Jacobs said. “We’re having a Halloween episode in March, it’s very Community.”

As the actors prepared to return to the set, they confessed they’re often surprised by what finally makes it into the episodes. Laughing, Brie admitted she’s always excited to see the episodes mainly as she and Pudi try to work in-jokes and high-fives into the final cut.

“By our fourth year now, and maybe me and Danny more than others, we goof off quite a bit and try to get weird things on the show,” she said. “We’d go, ‘OK, none of our fives have made it in, now we have to be a little more diligent on working one in.’ First season it didn’t make it in into the last episode, but it made it!”

Community premieres tonight at 8 ET/PT on NBC.

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