'Parks and Recreation' EP on Cast Departures: It's a 'Natural' Evolution

Parks and Recreation Jones Lowe - H 2013

Parks and Recreation Jones Lowe - H 2013

Parks and Recreation executive producers Dan Goor and Mike Schur said Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones' upcoming departure from the NBC comedy was a natural evolution of story and had nothing to do with budgetary constraints.

"The decision wasn’t like we’re swapping out those two characters for two other characters at all. It was just a sort of natural," Schur told reporters Thursday at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour, where they were there to promote Fox's Andy Samberg comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Jones and Lowe play on-again, off-again couple Ann Perkins and Chris Trager on Parks. The fourth season ended with Ann looking to Chris to help her have children, with the likelihood of the onscreen couple reuniting in the upcoming fifth season.

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"They were trying to have a baby, and we thought we should do that this year, and they’ve just been going in that direction," Schur said.

"At the end of last year, we had a big, 'What's the future looking forward?' [discussion]. The first thing we talked about was Ann and Chris, and specifically: Now that they’re on this train where she’s decided that she wants to have a baby and that he should be the father, we want them to have a baby, so that’ll be the plan," he said. "Once they were together and had a baby, the more we talked about it, the more it felt like, 'Maybe this is the way they get moved off into the next phase of their lives on the show.' We talked about different scenarios of like, we could do it at the end of the year or we could do it in the middle of the year, and for whatever reason, it just sort of seemed like the natural thing to do."

"We had the idea, creatively, to move in that direction, and it totally dovetailed and aligned with what the two actors envisioned for themselves and their careers," Schur said. "It’s a big, happy, neutral hugfest celebration. Everyone is happy."

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Schur said Jones was on board with the early exit plan, and noted the actress-writer-producer -- who recently inked a two-year development deal with Warner Bros. Television -- is really focusing more on writing. "The real headline is that everyone is happy. There’s no controversy involved here," Schur insisted, nothing both Jones and Lowe could come back.

Lowe and Jones will exit NBC's lone returning fall comedy after the 13 installment of its 24-episode fifth season. In a statement Wednesday after news leaked of the onscreen couple's departure, Schur said the duo will get a "great Pawnee send-off" this season.

Schur noted that while NBC has always come to the series to cut costs, trimming the show's cast was never part of the equation.

"Every network comes to you and says, 'Cut costs' -- all the time. It’s every show, especially now that we’re going to season six. They’re always saying, 'Do this cheaper,' no matter what. They did it with our show on season one, so that’s a reality of the network television game. They’re always telling you to do impossible things with less and less money. But it wasn’t like, 'Uh-oh, we have to hack away our cast,'" he added.  

The showrunner noted that the seeds of both Lowe's and Jones' exit will be addressed early in the show's fifth season.

"It’s a long, fun, celebratory send-off, and it happens in the first episode after the premiere," he said. "It’s going to be a long crescendo, and Leslie [Amy Poehler] will go through a series of complicated highs and lows about what’s happening. It’s sort of the main arc -- for obvious reasons -- that plays out over the first half of the year."

While it's not clear just how the duo will exit the series, one thing is off the table: Chris and Ann will not be moving to Pawnee's neighboring rival, Eagleton.

Parks and Rec will air a one-hour, London-set premiere Sept. 26 as a kickoff to back-to-back episodes of NBC's new Thursday hope The Michael J. Fox ShowHenry Winkler and Kristen Bell -- along with familiar faces Ben Schwartz and Lucy Lawless -- will be among the faces coming to Parks and Rec in the new season.

Jones, meanwhile, took to Twitter on Thursday afternoon to send a note to fans of the series. "It's true. I'm leaving Pawnee next year. Such a bittersweet time for me... I love my P&R family so deeply. #LeslieAndAnnForever #ParksandRec," she wrote.

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit