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.

tv

When Mississippi Once Banned Sesame Street

Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images
Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images

Since it began airing in the fall of 1969, Sesame Street has become an indelible part of millions of children's formative years. Using a cast of colorful characters like Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch, along with a curriculum vetted by Sesame Workshop's child psychologists and other experts, the series is able to impart life lessons and illustrate educational tools that a viewer can use throughout their adolescence. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone—even Oscar—who would take issue with the show’s approach or its mission statement.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in early 1970, when a board of educational consultants in Mississippi gathered, polled one another, and decided that Sesame Street was too controversial for television.

The series had only been on the air for a few months when the newly formed Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (also known as the State Commission for Educational Television) held a regularly scheduled meeting in January 1970. The board had been created by the state legislature with appointees named by Governor John Bell Williams to evaluate shows that were set to air on the state’s Educational Television, or ETV, station. The five-member panel consisted of educators and private citizens, including a teacher and a principal, and was headed up by James McKay, a banker in Jackson, Mississippi.

McKay’s presence was notable for the fact that his father-in-law, Allen Thompson, had just retired after spending 20 years as mayor of Jackson. Highly resistant to integration in the city during his tenure in office, Thompson was also the founder of Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS, an activist group that promoted what they dubbed “freedom of choice” in public schools—a thinly veiled reference to segregation. Mississippi, long the most incendiary state in the nation when it came to civil rights, was still struggling with the racial tension of the 1960s. Systemic racism was an issue.

Entering this climate was Sesame Street, the show pioneered by Joan Ganz Cooney, a former journalist and television producer who became the executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. On the series, the human cast was integrated, with black performers Matt Robinson and Loretta Long as Gordon and Susan, respectively, appearing alongside white actors Jada Rowland and Bob McGrath. The children of Sesame Street were also ethnically diverse.

Zoe (L) and Cookie Monster (R) are pictured in New York City in November 2009
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

This appeared to be too much for the Authority, which discussed how lawmakers with control over ETV’s budget—which had just been set at $5,367,441—might find the mixed-race assembly offensive. The panel's participants were all white.

The board pushed the discussion aside until April 17, 1970, when they took an informal poll and decided, by a margin of three votes against two, to prohibit ETV from airing Sesame Street—a show that came free of charge to all public television stations. (The decision affected mainly viewers in and around Jackson, as the station had not yet expanded across the state and was not expected to do so until the fall of 1970.)

The members who were outvoted were plainly unhappy with the outcome and leaked the decision to The New York Times, which published a notice of the prohibition days later along with a quote from one of the board members.

“Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children,” the person, who did not wish to be named, said. “Mainly the commission members felt that Mississippi was not yet ready for it.”

The reaction to such a transparent concession to racism was swift and predictably negative, both in and out of Mississippi. Board members who spoke with press, usually anonymously, claimed the decision was a simple “postponing” of the show, not an outright ban. The fear, they said, was that legislators who viewed ETV as having progressive values might shut down the project before it had a chance to get off the ground. It was still possible for opponents to suffocate it before it became part of the fabric of the state’s television offerings.

The concern was not entirely without merit. State representative Tullius Brady of Brookhaven said that ETV exerted “a subtle influence” on the minds of children and that the Ford Foundation, which funded educational programming, could use its influence for “evil purposes.” Other lawmakers had previously argued against shows that promoted integration.

Grover is pictured at AOL Studios in New York City in May 2015
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images

Regardless of how the decision was justified, many took issue with it. In an anonymous editorial for the Delta Democrat-Times, a critic wrote:

“But Mississippi’s ETV commission won’t be showing it for the time being because of one fatal defect, as measured by Mississippi’s political leadership. Sesame Street is integrated. Some of its leading cast members are black, including the man who does much of the overt ‘teaching.’ The neighborhood of the ‘street’ is a mixed one. And all that, of course, goes against the Mississippi grain.”

Joan Ganz Cooney called the decision a “tragedy” for young people.

Fortunately, it was a tragedy with a short shelf life. The following month, the board reconvened and reversed its own informal poll result, approving of Sesame Street and agreeing that ETV could air it as soon as they received tapes of the program. Thanks to feeds from Memphis, New Orleans, and Alabama, Sesame Street could already be seen in parts of Mississippi. And thanks to the deluge of negative responses, it seemed pointless to try to placate politicians who still favored segregation.

In the fall of 1970, the Sesame Street cast appeared in person in Jackson and was met by representatives from the board, which helped to sponsor the live performance, though it’s not clear any apology was forthcoming.

Sesame Street would go on to win numerous awards and accolades over the proceeding 50 years, though it would not be the only children’s show to experience censorship on public television. In May 2019, ETV networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air an episode of the PBS animated series Arthur in which a rat and aardvark are depicted as a same-sex couple getting married.

Attention Movie Geeks: Cinephile Is the Card Game You Need Right Now

Cinephile/Amazon
Cinephile/Amazon

If you’ve got decades worth of movie trivia up in your head but nowhere to show it off, Cinephile: A Card Game just may be your perfect outlet. Created by writer, art director, and movie expert Cory Everett, with illustrations by Steve Isaacs, this game aims to test the mettle of any film aficionado with five different play types that are designed for different skill and difficulty levels.

For players looking for a more casual experience, Cinephile offers a game variety called Filmography, where you simply have to name more movies that a given actor has appeared in than your opponent. For those who really want to test their knowledge of the silver screen, there’s the most challenging game type, Six Degrees, which plays like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the player who finds the fewest number of degrees between two actors getting the win.

When you choose actors for Six Degrees, you’ll do so using the beautifully illustrated cards that come with the game, featuring Hollywood A-listers past and present in some of their most memorable roles. You’ve got no-brainers like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990) alongside cult favorites like Bill Murray from 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Jeff Goldblum in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Of course, being a game designed for the true film buff, you’ll also get some deeper cuts like Helen Mirren from 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Sean Connery in 1974's Zardoz. There are 150 cards in all, with expansion packs on the way.

Cinephile is a labor of love for Everett and Isaacs, who originally got this project off the ground via Kickstarter, where they raised more than $20,000. Now it’s being published on a wider scale by Clarkson Potter, a Penguin Random House group. You can get your copy from Amazon now for $20.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER