18 Facts About Parks and Recreation

Chris Haston/NBC
Chris Haston/NBC

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.

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License to Bird: Meet the Real James Bond

American ornithologist James Bond, circa 1974.
American ornithologist James Bond, circa 1974.

On January 4, 1900, a child was born in Philadelphia. His name was Bond. James Bond. He would not grow up to be a globe-trotting, license-to-kill-carrying playboy spy like the other James Bond. Instead, he became an ornithologist, and lived a fairly quiet, normal life—until someone borrowed his name.  

Bond lived in New Hampshire and England while growing up, and developed an accent that a colleague described [PDF] as an “amalgam of New England, British, and upper-class Philadelphian.” After graduating from Cambridge, Bond returned to the U.S. to work as a banker, but his childhood interests in science and natural history spurred him to quit soon after and join an expedition to the Amazon to collect biological specimens for Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences.

After that, and with no formal training in the field, he started working as an ornithologist at the Academy, and was “among the last of a traditional museum breed, the independently wealthy, nonsalaried curator, who lacked advanced university degrees.” Working at the museum, Bond became an authority on the bird species of the Caribbean, and his 1936 book, Birds of the West Indies, was considered the definitive guide to the region’s birds at the time. 

Despite his many scientific accomplishments—which included dozens of papers about Caribbean and New England birds, more books and field guides, numerous medals and awards and other researchers using the term “Bond’s Line” to refer to the boundary that separates Caribbean fauna by their origin—that book would be what catapulted Bond, or at least his name, to international fame.

In 1961, Bond was reading a London newspaper’s review of the latest edition of his book and found eyebrow-raising references to handguns, kinky sex, and other elements of a life that sounded very unlike his. He and his wife Mary quickly learned that another James Bond was the hero of a series of novels by Ian Fleming, which were popular in the UK but just gaining notice in the U.S. Mary wrote to Fleming to jokingly chastise him for stealing her husband’s name for his “rascal” character. 

Fleming replied to explain himself: He was a birdwatcher and when he was living in Jamaica beginning work on his first spy novel, Birds of the West Indies was one of his bird “bibles.” He wanted his main character to have an ordinary, unassuming name, and when he was trying to drum one up, he remembered the author of the book he turned to so often. “It struck me that this name, brief, unromantic and yet very masculine, was just what I needed and so James Bond II was born,” Fleming wrote to Mary. (Fleming later called “James Bond” the “dullest name I’ve ever heard.”)

Fleming told Mary that he understood if they were angry at the theft of Bond’s name, and suggested a trade. “In return I can only offer your James Bond unlimited use of the name Ian Fleming for any purpose he may think fit,” he wrote. “Perhaps one day he will discover some particularly horrible species of bird which he would like to christen in an insulting fashion.” 

He also invited the Bonds to his home in Jamaica, which they took him up on a few years later. During the Bonds’ visit, Fleming gave James a copy of his latest novel, You Only Live Twice, inscribed with the message “To the real James Bond from the thief of his identity.”

For the next few decades, until his death at the age of 89, Bond’s famous namesake caused the ornithologist a few minor annoyances. Once, he was supposedly stopped at the airport because officials thought his passport was a fake, and the occasional bank teller would likewise think the same of his checks and refuse to cash them.

Young women would often prank call the Bond house late at night asking to speak to 007, to which Mary would reply: “Yes, James is here. But this is Pussy Galore and he's busy now."

Beyond Queen Elizabeth: 10 Fantastic Shows to Stream After The Crown

Olivia Colman stars in season 3 of The Crown.
Olivia Colman stars in season 3 of The Crown.
Sophie Mutevelian / Netflix

So you’ve already torn through the latest season of The Crown, which arrived on Netflix in mid-November. You’ve watched and evaluated the performances from the new cast, including Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip, and Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II. You’ve done your Google searches on the events depicted in season 3, from the Cambridge Five to the Aberfan disaster. You’ve played back every scene featuring a corgi. What are you going to do now?

If you’re looking for something else that’s historical, royal, or just vaguely British, give one of these shows a try. They’re all available on a major streaming service (Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime) and they all feature the same whispered bombshells and meaningful glances that make The Crown such a quietly devastating—and highly addicting—drama.

1. Victoria

Like The Crown, Victoria opens with a young queen ascending the throne after a death in the family. Only in this case, the queen is 18-year-old Alexandrina Victoria, who would rule Great Britain and Ireland for an astonishing 63 years. This costume drama hasn’t even covered a third of that reign, but it’s packed plenty of royal scandal, real-world politics, and dramatic gowns into its three seasons. There’s no official word on when fans can expect the next batch of episodes, but writer Daisy Goodwin has promised “an absolute humdinger” of a fourth season.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

2. The Tudors

Henry VIII famously had a problem with commitment. He married six women, more than one of whom he had executed, making his life prime material for a soapy drama. Showtime delivered just that with The Tudors, which aired its final episode in 2010. The show covered each of Henry’s marriages and various international affairs in between, casting now famous British actors in some of their earliest roles. Henry Cavill appears in all four seasons as the king’s brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, and Natalie Dormer (aka Margaery Tyrell) dominates the first two seasons as Henry’s doomed second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. Outlander

Take all of the historical intrigue of The Crown, add in some time travel and a lot more sex scenes, and you have Outlander. Based on Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling book series, this Starz original centers on Claire Randall, a nurse living in post-WWII Britain who is sent back in time to 1740s Scotland. Her travels don’t end there. Over the course of the show, Claire schmoozes with the French royal court in Paris and gets shipwrecked off the coast of the American colonies. She also falls in love with a Highlander named Jamie, even as she attempts to reunite with her husband Frank in the present day.

Where to watch it: Netflix

4. Call The Midwife

Drawing on the diaries of a midwife who worked in the East End of London in the 1950s, this BBC show follows young women in medical training as they travel in and out of the homes of expectant Brits. By focusing on a working class neighborhood, Call the Midwife paints a picture of the London outside Queen Elizabeth’s palace walls, exploring in particular the stories of mothers in a post-baby boom, pre-contraceptive pill world.

Where to watch it: Netflix

5. Upstairs Downstairs

The first Upstairs, Downstairs aired in the 1970s—and when it ended, the tony Bellamy family had just been devastated by the stock market crash of 1929. The reboot (note the lack of comma in the title) picks up in 1936, with one of the original series' housekeepers serving a new family. Just like the original, it shows the very different lives of the “upstairs” aristocrats and their “downstairs” domestic staff, while nodding at current events that would’ve affected them both. A special treat for fans of The Crown: Claire Foy playing the frequently misbehaved Lady Persephone Towyn.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

6. Versailles

Ever wondered what it was like to party in the Hall of Mirrors? Versailles takes you inside the grand French palace of the same name, fictionalizing the lives of Louis XIV (the “Sun King”) and his court in the mid-1600s. Versailles isn’t quite as critically adored as The Crown and its cohorts—many reviewers have written it off as a slighter historical series—but it’s got all the requisite melodrama and the jaw-dropping sets we’ve come to expect from these costume epics.

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. Poldark

When war breaks out between the Brits and American colonists, Ross Poldark leaves his hometown of Cornwall to fight for King George III. After eight years of battles, the redcoats lose, sending Poldark back across the ocean, where he finds that everything has changed: His father is dead, his estate is in ruins, and the love of his life is engaged to his cousin. This is where Poldark, the BBC adaptation of Winston Graham’s eponymous novels, picks up. While Ross Poldark is a fictional character, the show incorporates lots of real history, from the aftermath of the Revolutionary War to the subsequent revolution in France. Amazon Prime has the first four seasons, but you’ll have to head over to PBS Masterpiece for the fifth and final season, which just wrapped its run a few weeks ago.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

8. The Borgias

Rodrigo, Cesare, and Lucrezia Borgia were extremely influential nobles in 15th and 16th century Italy. In 1492, Rodrigo claimed the papacy, and with it, control of the Roman Catholic Church. That basically meant he and his children ruled the country: as long as Rodrigo was Pope Alexander VI, the Borgias could get anything they wanted. Showtime dramatized their power plays, betrayals, and rumored incest over three seasons of The Borgias, with Jeremy Irons in the lead role as Rodrigo.

Where to watch it: Netflix

9. Downton Abbey

If you missed out on the Downton Abbey craze in 2010, now is the perfect time to catch up. The entire series—which concerns the uppercrust Crawley family and their many servants—is available on Amazon Prime, and the movie, which premiered earlier this fall, is still playing in select theaters (and is quickly making its way to on demand). Though the story is primarily set in the 1910s and 1920s, Maggie Smith’s withering insults are timeless.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

10. Coronation Street

If you want to understand the royals, you have to watch their favorite shows—and Coronation Street has long been rumored to be Queen Elizabeth’s preferred soap. (Prince Charles is also a fan; he appeared on the show’s live 2000 special.) Airing on ITV since 1960, Coronation Street follows several working-class families in the fictional town of Weatherfield.

Where to watch it: Hulu

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