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This story first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.
NBC’s Parks and Recreation has the same zippy, can-do attitude of Amy Poehler‘s zealous local politico Leslie Knope. The comedy about politics in a small Indiana town launched in 2009 with a modest six-episode midseason run and attracted a loyal audience that has kept the Emmy-nominated series alive for six seasons (despite its near-constant bubble status). On Jan. 9, Parks marks its 100th episode, a milestone that causes co-creator and showrunner Mike Schur to reflect on the early fears that kept him up at night, who might headline a Parks spinoff and his dream for a Hillary Clinton cameo in the series finale.
Did you ever think the series would survive to see 100 episodes?
It’s been continually surprising every year! When we got picked up for season six, we were like, “We’re going to make it to 100. Nobody get drunk and say anything terrible about NBC. If nobody insults [NBC Entertainment president] Bob Greenblatt, we’ll make it to 100 episodes.” (Laughs.)
What was your biggest fear in leaving The Office to take on Parks? That I’d be the person to screw up Amy Poehler’s career. That fear literally keeps me awake at night. I remember toward the end of season one feeling like I wanted to get to a place where none of the actors were worse off than they were before the show. If all the actors were at least neutral in their careers, then everything will be fine, and I’ll be able to sleep again.
What was it like co-writing the 100th episode with Amy?
From the moment that we knew her character, Leslie Knope, was going to be booted out of office, I had the idea to make the 100th episode her final day. Also, it’s not exaggerating to say that if Amy were just a writer on our staff, she’d be the best one. She wrote the first draft and we sent it back and forth to each other. The rewriting process in comedy writers’ rooms is pretty extensive, and a lot was rewritten, but there are huge chunks of the script that are just what came out of her brain in her first pass, which is a very impressive feat.
This season, we’ve seen Leslie trying desperately to push things through the city council before her time in office is up. Does that aspect of the narrative reflect what the show has faced in its ratings struggles?
Yes. It’s a version of “write what you know.” In TV, the show takes on the mood of the people who act in it and write for it. It’s certainly true that on some level, the “grit your teeth and put your head down and do your job” attitude that Leslie has in spades is something that the show has had as a whole. There are many times where we’ve written episodes that have taken on the feeling of what the process of making the show has been. In the second season, Amy had not gotten nominated for an award that we all thought she should?have been nominated for. Out of our frustration we wrote an episode called “Woman of the Year,” where Ron [Nick Offerman] is nominated for something that Leslie rightly deserves and learns a lesson about institutional gratification.
It’s been a slow build, and episode 13 is the gigantic, explosive farewell. It will have been set up for almost half a year. We didn’t want to have an episode 12 like, “Hey, I got a job offer. Let’s leave Pawnee,” and suddenly they disappear. We want to give them a properly dramatic and formal send-off.
The show consistently has been on the verge of cancellation. Have you approached every season finale as if it were your last??
At the beginning of every season, we imagine it’s our last year. We realized early on we can’t take anything for granted, which is why we accelerated everybody’s lives. That’s why Andy [Chris Pratt] and April [Aubrey Plaza] got married after dating for three weeks!
Have you thought about what a Parks spinoff might look like?
The funniest one we talk about — one that’s purely for our own internal laughing — is a spinoff of the Sapersteins family, starring Henry Winkler, Ben Schwartz and Jenny Slate. I’d totally watch a family comedy where Henry is the dad and Ben and Jenny are his idiotic children who have nothing to offer the world.
Do you know now how you want the series to end?
I want it to be surprising, but also inevitable. It’s a fine line to walk, but I have some ideas. There’s going to be an arc for Leslie in the second half of the year that points her in a certain direction in terms of her career. If we get to season seven, we’ll continue along that path. I always imagined the perfect ending to the series — and I hope it’s not for a while — would be a casual piece of B-roll where Leslie is walking through a building in Washington, D.C., and passes Hillary Clinton, and Hillary Clinton says, “Leslie.” Leslie says, “Secretary Clinton,” and keeps walking. That might still be five seasons away, but that’s the trajectory I would like Leslie to enjoy.
Parks and Recreation‘s 100th episode airs Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on NBC. Check out Schur’s five favorite episodes, below:
1. “Ben [Adam Scott] and Leslie’s engagement. It was Adam and Amy’s best acting — ever.”
2. “April and Andy’s wedding. It felt very real and organic.”
3. “Pawnee Rangers was a great Leslie-Ron episode. Their friendship has become a show centerpiece.”
4. “Li’l Sebastian’s funeral. Ron got his face blown off and Leslie’s affair with Ben began.”
5. “The 100th episode. The final minute is one of my favorite things ever. I will leave that as a teaser.”
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