Showrunners 2012: 'Parks and Recreation's' Mike Schur
What writer would he like to add to his writers' room? "It wouldn't work for me to add David Simon or Vince Gilligan because what's the point of having those guys if they're not creating their own material," he says.
From their obsessive rituals (Peppermint Patties! Oatmeal! Bruce Springsteen!) to the parts of their jobs they hate most (killing characters off, dealing with agents), TV's most influential writer-producers featured on The Hollywood Reporter's annual list of the Top 50 Showrunners come clean about the people, things and quirky habits that keep them -- and their shows -- alive.
Mike Schur, Parks and Recreation (NBC)
The show that inspired me to write:
Schur: Cheers was probably the first show that I was ever was religious about. But there was also Saturday Night Live and The Late Show With DavidLetterman. When I watched them at the time, I didn't fully understand that there were writers. I don't think that's a thing that occurs to most people but when I learned that there were writers who wrote those jokes and the sketches, that was a revelation to me. Those made me want to be like a comedy writer and then Cheers made me want to writelongform TV and not just sketches.
My big break:
Schur: My first TV job was SNL in 1998. Before that I had done little dribs and drabs. Technically my first ever professional writing experience was John Stewart hired me to pitch some ideas for a book he was writing, and he probably used one-fourth of one of the ideas that I pitched him, butvery kindly paid me actual American money, which was a miracle to me at thetime because it meant that I could stay in New York and pay my rent. I was 21, right out of college and then I got hired at SNL about six months later.
My TV mentor:
Schur: Lorne Michaels. He is probably arguably the greatest TV producer of all time and I still carry pieces of wisdom around that he gave me. There were other people at SNL: Steve Higgins who is now the announcer of the Jimmy Fallon Show. He was the producer of the show at the time and he was a big supporter and influence on me. In the sitcom world, it's Greg Daniels, who hired me on The Office. Everything that we do at Parks and Rec essentially is something I learned from him at some level.
My method for breaking through writers' block:
Schur: There are two kinds of writers' block that happen. One is individual writers' block where you're writing a script by yourself and you're sitting at home and just staring at a blank final draft document, and I listen to music sometimes. My wife, [J.J. Philbin] who writes for New Girl, taught me her method of writing, which I've adopted: she picks this song that she thinks kind of fits the mood of the scene that she's writing or the script that she's writing and she plays just that song on endless repeat through her headphones.
If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
Schur: Glen and Les Charles, who created Cheers. Most of the people that I'm thinking of are people who I would be terrible to add because they're showrunners with incredibly strong points of view and you can't just add someone like that and mix them into a staff. It wouldn't work for me to add David Simon or Vince Gilligan because what's the point of having those guys if they're not creating their own material. If David Foster Wallace were still alive, I would hire him as a consultant because he is my favorite writer of any kind. He had a very complicated relationship with television and it would be fun to watch him struggle with the grind of a TV season.
The show that I’m embarrassed to admit that I watch:
Schur: I don't believe in a guilty pleasure phenomenon. The one I get the most crap from my friends is Game of Thrones because it's nerdy. But I think it is also maybe the best drama on TV right now. It's certainly in the top 5. So, I'm anything but embarrassed to say that I watch it all the time, avidly. And I read all the books too. You can put that in, if anyone is worried whether or not I am a true nerd, I read all the books.
The three things I need to write:
Schur: I don't have a desk. I write by sitting on the couch or a chair and then I have a lap desk and I put my laptop on the desk, and this lap desk that use is really old and rundown and beat up and the cushiony part of the lap desk is like torn off three times since I duct taped together in a very jerry-rigged kind of way; that's a real crutch of mine. I can't write without that specific lap desk.
If I could scrub anything off of my résumé, it would be?
Schur: When I was in seventh grade, we had an assignment in our English class to write something humorous and I loved Mad Magazine. Not fully understanding that it was wrong to this, but kind of understanding that, I basically plagiarized this entire MadMagazine article. My teacher thought it was great and two days later she realized I stole it from Mad Magazine and I got in big trouble. That was very shameful and horrifying and I stillthink about it all the time. That's the thing I would erase, but maybe it was good; it was a good learning experience for me that I realized how bad it is to steal jokes form people.