Since 2009, Parks and Recreation has taught us that there are many different first names you can call a very clumsy co-worker, even more ways to tell your best friend she is beautiful, and that sometimes you should take a day off and treat yourself. Read on to find out more about the show set in a town whose residents still use AltaVista.
1. THE SHOW WAS INITIALLY CONCEIVED AS A SPIN-OFF OF THE OFFICE.
NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman asked Greg Daniels, the man in charge of the American version of The Office, for a spin-off of the popular comedy. Along with Office writer Michael Schur, the two considered some concepts, including one where a broken copy machine from Scranton would break down in an episode of The Office and then end up in Pawnee, making the office equipment the spun-off character. Despite the originality of that idea, Daniels and Schur decided to create a show of their own, while using The Office’s mockumentary format and one of the show’s actors, Rashida Jones.
2. THE SHOW WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED PUBLIC SERVICE.
Public Service was seriously considered as the name of the show, which got its start as The Untitled Amy Poehler Sitcom. A little over two months before its series premiere, NBC announced in a Super Bowl commercial that they went with the title Parks and Recreation. Silverman said the title was changed because the network and/or the show’s producers didn’t want to “make fun of public service.”
3. APRIL LUDGATE WAS WRITTEN JUST FOR AUBREY PLAZA.
Casting director Allison Jones informed Schur, who became Parks’ showrunner, that she had just met “the weirdest girl," and that a meeting between Plaza and Schur had to happen. At the sit-down, Plaza made Schur "really uncomfortable for like an hour," and he decided to employ her. Aziz Ansari and Rashida Jones did not make Schur uneasy, but they were also cast before they or the writers knew who they would be playing.
4. RON SWANSON WAS LOOSELY BASED ON A REAL LIFE GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL.
While Daniels and Schur were doing research, the two brought up the potential humor in Leslie Knope’s boss being anti-government to a libertarian official in Burbank, California. She said she could relate because she didn’t “really believe in the mission” of her government job herself. Schur said that the unidentified government official was aware of the irony.
5. RON SWANSON’S BOBBY KNIGHT POSTER WAS TAKEN DOWN FOR LEGAL REASONS.
A large poster of the legendary former college basketball coach was visible in Ron’s office throughout the six-episode first season, with Swanson speaking glowingly of the outspoken coach in the end of the pilot episode. Due to what has only been described as "legal reasons," the poster was removed, replaced for the remainder of the series with a picture of a dark-haired woman eating breakfast food, a result of the show’s production team going through an image library’s results of typing in other things Ron Swanson would like.
6. CHRIS PRATT WAS CAST BECAUSE OF HIS WORK ON THE O.C.
Pratt played an activist named Winchester "Ché" Cook on The O.C., a primetime teen drama that Michael Schur’s wife, J.J. Philbin, wrote 12 episodes for. Philbin—Regis and Joy Philbin’s daughter—recommended Pratt for the role of Andy Dwyer to her husband, and the future movie star ended up ad-libbing Schur’s favorite improvised line of the entire series.
7. MOUSE RAT WAS MEANT TO SOUND LIKE HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH.
On the episode “Rock Show,” Andy claims that his band Mouse Rat née Scarecrow Boat sounds like “Matchbox 20 meets The Fray,” but their “aren’t that great, but they’ve got a hook to it” sound was actually influenced by one artist, who was left conspicuously absent from Ben Wyatt’s nineties-filled mix tape. Chris Pratt said that the writers of the songs were “aiming for something that sounds something like Hootie and The Blowfish mixed with…well, any other band that sounds like Hootie and The Blowfish.”
8. THE PIT WAS INITIALLY NOT GOING TO BECOME A PARK UNTIL THE SERIES FINALE.
When Schur talked to urban planners in Claremont, California while doing research, he discovered that it took the Claremont government 18 years to break ground on a new park. That fact encouraged Schur and Daniels to have Leslie’s pledge in the series premiere to turn the pit into a park not become a reality until the final episode. Because some viewers believed that the project was the only thing the show was about, the pit was filled in the middle of season two, and the writers came up with different long-term storylines to fill the creative hole.
9. THE SHOW RECEIVED BAD REVIEWS IN ITS FIRST SEASON.
Parks and Recreation had a bit of a rocky creative beginning, and was unfavorably compared to The Office before becoming a consistent critical darling once season two appeared. Some initial reviews from critics who would later change their minds were notably unkind, like the Chicago Tribune’s review which said it was worse than the universally panned Friends spin-off Joey.
10. LESLIE KNOPE WAS RE-CALIBRATED TO BE LESS "DITZY."
One important change between seasons one and two was Leslie Knope herself. After hearing that some viewers found Amy Poehler’s character to be “unintelligent” and “ditzy,” Leslie was made to seem smarter, and the recipient of more support from her co-workers.
11. MARK BRENDANAWICZ WAS ALWAYS MEANT TO LEAVE THE SHOW (HONEST).
The fictional city planner was based on an actual government city planner Schur and Daniels came across who kept going back and forth between working a government job and working for the private sector, always becoming disillusioned no matter his setting. The initial understanding between the writers and independent movie actor/writer/director Paul Schneider was for Mark Brendanawicz to repeatedly leave and return, but the successful additions of the Ben Wyatt and Chris Traeger characters that coincided with Mark leaving Pawnee at the end of season two, plus Schneider’s busy movie schedule, helped make his departure a permanent one. Schneider was interviewed last year and, seemingly without any hard feelings, said he was never asked to return, nor has any interest in doing so.
12. ROB LOWE WAS INITIALLY ONLY SUPPOSED TO APPEAR FOR A FEW EPISODES.
The original plan was for Lowe’s Chris Traeger to appear for a few episodes as the Indiana state auditor sent down to Pawnee to help with their financial situation, but the character worked well enough for Traeger to stick around for three and a half more seasons as the town’s acting city manager.
13. NBC GOT AWAY WITH SPOILING APRIL AND ANDY’S WEDDING SURPRISE.
The network ran an ad imploring viewers to check out April and Andy’s wedding registry online after “Ron & Tammy: Part Two,” an episode that was primarily about the volatile Ron and Tammy relationship. The commercial was actually supposed to air after the episode “Andy and April’s Fancy Party,” two months later. For damage control, the official explanation was that NBC messed up and an oblivious employee mixed up the two couples, and the excuse worked. Once April and Andy’s surprise wedding was broadcast, Schur acknowledged the “gentle lie” and hoped the fans were “cool with it."
14. THERE IS AN OFFICIAL BOOK ABOUT PAWNEE.
Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America is a 256-page book published in 2011 in concert with the season four episode “Born & Raised," where Leslie Knope tries to get the book featured in Joan Callamezzo’s Book Club. The credited author is Knope and it goes over the history of the fictional town, and includes blurbs from some of the characters, including Chris Traeger, who characteristically writes that Leslie’s book is "Literally the greatest endeavor of human creativity in the history of mankind."
15. THERE WAS AN EXTRA LINE NOT AIRED WITH LESLIE KNOPE AND JOE BIDEN.
Senators Barbara Boxer and John McCain, former senator Olympia Snowe, ex-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and First Lady Michelle Obama have all cameoed on Parks, but Joe Biden’s appearance was the payoff of a series-long joke that Leslie Knope had a massive crush on the vice president. The scene aired soon after his 2012 re-election, but an “addendum” was shot just in case Obama and Biden had lost, or were in the middle of a “weird Florida disaster tie.”
16. LESLIE KNOPE WON, LOST, AND MAYBE EVEN TIED HER CITY COUNCIL ELECTION.
The overarching story of season four was Leslie’s campaign to win a seat on the Pawnee city council. In the season finale, “Win, Lose, or Draw,” she defeated Bobby Newport on a recount. But in reality, three different endings were shot to avoid spoilers, and for the producers to buy more time to make a big creative decision on how they wanted the election to turn out.
17. ONE EPISODE IS FILLED WITH INFINITE JEST REFERENCES.
Michael Schur is such a huge fan of author David Foster Wallace and his magnum opus Infinite Jest that he owns the film rights to it, and jammed a bunch of references to the novel in the season five episode “Partridge.”
18. AMY POEHLER WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FINAL SEASON’S TIME JUMP.
Retta, who plays Donna Meagle, revealed that Amy Poehler influenced the decision. Poehler expressed a desire to not work with infants on the show, because she had her fill of babies raising her two children in real life.