How They Made Parks and Recreation

How They Made Parks and Recreation


The people who work in local government;
there’s two versions of them. There’s the people who are doing it because there’s
nothing else to do or because they fell backwards into it or whatever and then
there are people who like it any government of any level or true
believers who care very deeply about the town the place that they’re representing
and so we were like all right we’re gonna show one of those people and a
bunch of the other people who don’t care that much and then we’re gonna follow
her path through the through life and so that was the from the very beginning
that was the pitch. So I worked on the office the American Office
with Greg Daniels for the first four seasons and then he asked me if I wanted
to develop a show with him and I’m not an idiot so I said yes. so we started kicking around
ideas and the one that was very sticky very early in the
process was to basically say okay The Office was about a fictionalized private
sector and so what if we do fictionalized public sector and at the
time I was binging The West Wing which I had never seen before and I just
fell in love with it and the way we Greg and I actually ended up pitching the
show is a comedy version of The West Wing and the thing that we said in the
pitch was if the stakes of the West Wing are Russia and China are facing off in
Kazakhstan the stakes of this show will be the boys soccer team the girls soccer
team both booked the same soccer field and this is about the people who have to
deal with those kinds of problems and that’s the way we pitched it was comedy
West Wing if we take the drama of the West Wing and turn into the comedy of
like a small semi incompetent town that’ll be where our show lips idea
really came from it was 2008 and the world was falling apart and the
financial crisis was happening and we weren’t sure how but he was clear to us
that government was gonna be a very important part of people’s lives and so
we had the idea of saying like well there’s all this kind of big picture
sort of theorizing about what the government is and what it should do and
what the role of government is in people’s lives but we thought the way a
way to do that in a manageable way was to say what if we just focused on a
small town yeah and have a person who’s just this is where the rubber meets the
road this is like the decisions that these people make aren’t
what are the what’s interest rate thing is gonna blah blah blah you can watch
the nudes and you can read all the stuff about the world and you know that it’s
happening and it can concern you but ultimately when you wake up in the
morning your life is unaffected by those decisions at a tangible way most people
if they have a problem with the government they got a parking ticket and
want to contest it we wanted Leslie Knope to be like person who’s really
smart really capable and just totally unsupported from the inside and was
gonna fail because she didn’t know anything she wasn’t like a cutthroat
evil manipulator right and what ended up happening is everyone rolled their eyes
at her and we were a little bit influenced by the office too and people
rolling their eyes at Michael Scott and then what happened is she came off as
being like a bimbo or something that word was actually used which was so
horrifying because we pitched the show to NBC as like this is a show but a
strong-willed capable feminist sort of forward-thinking woman and her best
friend who she makes in the pilot which who is another woman who has like a
community project she wants done and to hear the word bimbo applied to that
character was it was awful it was truly awful so we changed the system of the
way we represented mostly people reacting to her instead of rolling their
eyes they were just like she’s better than we are at this thing so whatever
she says we’ll just do this they might have their own agendas Tom Haverford add
his own agenda all the time but he also was like quick to admit that Leslie was
really smart and good at her job and he would do whatever she wanted to do so
doing that helped the show a tremendous amount but it also meant that we have no
internal conflict because everybody everybody just liked Leslie and Leslie
and Ron fought sometimes but they were fundamentally decent to each other and
so we had no internal conflict and was like well now the point of this is like
this isn’t us versus them it’s not a a versus B versus C versus D in terms of
conflict it’s us versus that loss is the parks department and them is gonna be
some other people and those people could be the citizens who were an obnoxious it
could be the library which for some reason everybody hated it could be
whoever and so we we got our conflict through outside invading hordes right
every show at some levels it’s us against the world
so you can’t do anything without conflict but you also the confident have
to be two people just like like ripping on each other
that I’ve never liked as a method of comedy delivery system stop poop we
would get to do these things on the show called fun runs and the fun run would be
once you’ve done the scene you know the way it’s scripted yeah and even the way
it’s scripted you always did it the way it was scripted verbatim but you could
always add a little bit to it but then the fun run you could legitimately do
anything you wanted and I mean anything sometimes our fun runs were gone for two
minutes yeah and most of it didn’t make it into
the show but stopped pooping was on a fun run and I remembered Nick Offerman
was at the monitor and he was like okay anybody who can be on national
television looking at himself in the beer and saying stop pooping is welcome
here the funniest line ever spoken on our show was improvised by Chris Pratt
which have been Lesley has the flu and she’s being led out and he’s just at the
computer he’s filling in Ron says and he says Lesley I typed your symptoms into
this thing up here and it says you could have network connectivity project fishing relaxes me it’s like yoga except
I still get to kill something there’s an old adage that which I don’t I don’t
think it’s really true but there’s the adages that when people want a dad they
vote Republican when they want a mom they vote Democrat and like Republicans
are kind of like Stern and tough and you know personal responsibility and war and
stuff like that and Democrats are like you know people poor
people should have food you know some example at the beginning I kind of like
main conception of the of the show was that there would be a dad and a mom in
the office who but the idea was like a loving dad a stern but loving dad and a
and a very loving mom there’s a way in which in very broad strokes Republicans
and Democrats in this country simply don’t talk to each other they don’t try
to fix problems there’s the the sort of cynicism of government has I think in my
opinion is worse than it’s ever been and we just wanted to say like alright one
guy can have one set of extremely fervent beliefs that run completely
counter to the beliefs of his coworker and they can still just get along and
respect each other and admire each other and find things in common and they can
sit down and have a glass of whiskey together at the end of a long night that
was kind of a design of this was they couldn’t be more opposite but they like
each other fundamentally and they care for each other those scenes very early
on became the kind of like need of the real like filet of the show or something
and we thought it was going to be a kind of background thing and it very quickly
just became the kind of center of the show and when Leslie is spiraling off on
some crazy journey Ron is the one who very just puts his hand on her lower
back and sits her down and tries to set her straight and when he’s being a grump
and a grouch and barking about America and bald eagles and stuff she’s the one
who says like yay here these are your friends I can treat people nicer you
know so those are my favorite scenes too right I think our Leslie Ronson’s guys
love it when you can show them you’re better than they are at something they
love this gentleman here when I met with him to talk about him coming on the show
he he had just been part of a group of people who had bought into the Miramax
libraries and I said how does that how does it happen like how do you become a
person who the biz but the kind of person who can buy Miramax and he what
he said he said I’ll tell you the story I was literally on a yacht in
when I when I wrapped the show Mike gave me it’s such a great gift and I have it
framed in my office and it’s your notes that Mike wrote after that first meeting
with me and I always wondered how much of Chris was me and how much of Chris
was Mike and in your your notes it’s it’s it’s mostly Alma said it it says he says literally okay I once
worked with a guy for three years and never learned his name best friend I
ever had we still never talk sometimes premise is entirely secondary in my
opinion the premise is the thing that supports the relationships not
vice-versa so there is a problem with gigantic premise shows and I was very
cognizant of this before the good place which is the first time I’ve ever worked
on or certainly created a show that had a gigantic premise at its core premise
is burn off man like the you know you if you design a show around the idea what
happens often I think is it makes for an amazing pilot because the pilot is a
movie it has an incredible high premise and you get a great cliffhanger and
whatever and then the premise just burns off and you’re left with not a lot of
stuff because you have made a room for like small intimate character dynamics
that are the things that are slow burning logs that keep the flame going
for a long time so I think the character relationships are primary and the
premise is entirely secondary and you know look friends has no premise right
friends have literally doesn’t have a premise it’s there is an instigation of
the show which is Rachel runs away from the altar but the premises some
attractive people live in New York which is that’s about it and the same is true
of Seinfeld like the premise of science although some people live in New York so
it’s hard to train your brain not to think about the show from the beginning
of its premise it’s very–it’s because it feels slippery it’s like how do you
then what do you start with right if you don’t start with like okay this is about
a school or this is about a bunch of people who work at a navy base or
whatever it’s hard to come up with an idea what do you think I don’t have an idea
the same things that are very frustrating about network are the things
that make it good for comedy and those things are basically obstacles if you
migrate to streaming you’re doing so in part because of the removal of obstacles
right there’s no commercials and you can swear and you can show nudity and the
episodes can be anywhere from 21 minutes and 30 seconds long – in some cases 45
minutes long you can you can fine tune them until the end of the earth and then
when it’s only when they’re absolutely in the perfect possible the form that
you actually show them to people right creatively I think that’s most of the
pros right I would argue that those are all in some ways cons for comedy if you
tell a comedy writer that her episode can be anywhere from 21 minutes and 30
seconds long to 45 min a song that comedy writer is probably going to be
closer to 45 minutes long because she has hated editing and cutting jokes that
she likes and honing and honing and honing and honing her whole career and
then she gets to a place where they go you don’t have to do that anymore and
she goes no thank God I’ll just I’ll leave in all the stuff I like and then
I’ll be fine and the truth is is that it’s probably a better episode of TV if
it’s 23:45 than if it’s 2815 because comedy needs pace and it needs intensity
and it needs Drive and it needs all of those things and the removal of the time
obstacle leads to puffy pudgy fat unpleasantly bloated comedy the first
rule of like vaudeville era comedies leave them wanting more
and the problem is streaming is people don’t often leave him one more they
leave them bloated and overfed I would also argue that the removal of
commercials which I no one likes commercials everybody hates commercials
commercials stink but they force you in your brain to write in acts you have to
write act breaks you have to write in a sort of like a sine-wave sort of
crescendoing and then a kind of a climax and then you go back to the beginning
and you build up the act again and you you get to a big breaking point again
and give us the episodes rhythm and it gives
them shape and it forces me to like cut everything except the very very best
stuff to tell the best story and the funniest jokes and we’re constantly
leaving stuff on the cutting room floor that we genuinely like and I think
that’s good I kind of think that network TV unintentionally saves me for my worst
instincts I would say love love fades away but things things are forever
comedy was if you were like sincere in your writing or your acting it was like
you’re not it’s uncool and the being uncool is like the number one fear of a
lot of comedy writers but I think and I don’t want to like give two I don’t want
to like locate too much of this on the west wing but like no one did sincerity
like the west wing like in TV at the time and I just sort of always felt like
and so did Greg and so did everybody who worked in the show like and it by the
way this came from the office too on the office Greg Daniels his whole thing was
like we’re gonna take 90 seconds or two minutes an episode and say like there
don’t have to be jokes here this is about these are purporting to be real
people we’re purporting to be documenting their real actions and
emotions and stuff and so the reality is like there’s gonna be chunks of time
where we just say like these are just people talking to each other and that’s
okay Parks and Rec did that faithfully until
the very end like the almost the entire finales it is like sound level yeah I
love me a calzone you Samuel you

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