EMMYS Q&A: 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' Co-Creator Michael Schur On Comedic Cops

Awardsline logo_use this oneMichael Schur knows how to make comedy work when TV viewership is splintered by the internet and delayed DVR viewing. For him, nabbing a large audience isn’t a sprint so much as a marathon, and that philosophy has translated into a cult following for each of the series he’s helped create: The Office, Parks and Recreation and now the Andy Samberg-starrer Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Schur and his former Harvard buddy Daniel Goor set out with Brooklyn to reboot the cop comedy, drawing inspiration from such benchmarks as Barney Miller and Police Squad! They also have maximized laughs by mimicking the handheld shooting style of cop dramas. The show has won over critics and earned Golden Globes for comedy series and lead actor for Samberg.

Michael Schur Brooklyn Nine-Nine co-creatorAwardsline: How did Brooklyn Nine-Nine get off the ground?
Michael Schur: I was under a deal at NBCUniversal, and Dan Goor was the number two guy on Parks and Recreation since the beginning. There hadn’t been many comedies set in a police precinct since Barney Miller. It’s hard to find areas in the comedy landscape that haven’t been troughed. After pitching to Universal, we sold the show to Fox. When Andy Samberg came aboard after Saturday Night Live, all the big stumbling blocks you can run into with developing a show went away.

Andy Samberg, Fred Armisen Brooklyn Nine-NineAwardsline: How did the show test?
Schur: The show tested like every pilot. Testing is a silly process. There are a lot of problems: It’s very unscientific, especially since they test in North Hollywood. It’s as though the crowd in North Hollywood represents everyone in America. While that might have been true several years ago, you have to go out of state to find people who aren’t biased. There can be a 12 Angry Men effect where one person has a strong opinion and has sway over the entire group. Everyone liked Andy Samberg, Fred Armisen’s cameo and Stephanie Beatriz. But if testing is going to give any accurate reading of a show, they should show four episodes. You get feedback like, “The side characters are under-developed.” Of course! They are only onscreen for 18 seconds. It’s a catch-22: You can’t make four episodes unless it tests well.

Brooklyn Nine-NineAwardsline: The show has been ratings-challenged throughout the season. Does this concern you?
Schur: Fox has been on board from the beginning. Everyone on the studio side likes the show. We wish it was being seen by mass audiences. We think the show is good and that it’s moving in the right direction and creatively it’s in a good place. Not an easy conversation to have in 2014. If this was 35 years ago, we’d pull a guest-starring stunt and put Mary Tyler Moore on, but that stuff doesn’t work anymore. The last time in recent TV history was How I Met Your Mother with Britney Spears. Even the Super Bowl isn’t known to have a lasting effect. This year it was us and New Girl. Shows are known to quadruple their ratings after the Super Bowl and then go back to where they were before. The network isn’t stupid. They know the number of people truly watching the show isn’t available until a month after (an episode) airs. You look at Brooklyn’s same day average and it’s 4.5 million and Live +30 is over 8 million. That’s a lot of people. The network is incredibly sympathetic, and they’re frustrated just like producers. They’re looking to monetize that number, and the problem with advertisers is that they only monetize Live +3. Everyone is fully aware of the insanity of these numbers and until there’s a new standard, it’s like reporting the score for a basketball game six minutes into the game.

matt walsh brooklyn nineAwardsline: You mentioned that guest-star stunts no longer work to spike ratings, but the show has had a number of notable guest stars.
Schur: On Parks and Recreation we have this casting rule that we call the Poehler Doctrine. In season three, there was a guest character that called for a handsome, hunky police officer who Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler) was going to date. Amy suggested Louis C.K., and I said, “He doesn’t match the profile.” Her response was, “Who cares? He’s hilarious.” I agreed, and from that point forward, even on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, our M.O. is to cast the funniest people for the part.

mark evan jacksonWhen we needed a man to play the classics professor husband of Captain Holt (Andre Braugher), we looked to Marc Evan Jackson. He had a recurring role on Parks and Recreation. We originally auditioned him for Joe Lo Truglio’s role, but he didn’t fit that character description. When we needed Mark to play Holt’s husband, there was no need to chase our tail and find a bigger star. With any guest star, it’s not to goose the ratings; rather, it’s about making the show as good as possible. If you can make a great show every week, that will determine if you survive. In the world we live in, every episode is a great sales tool. You don’t know when someone will find an episode, i.e., in an airport on Hulu. Someone once asked Joe DiMaggio why he played so hard every day. His answer was, “Because you never know when there’s someone in the crowd who hasn’t seen me play.” That’s how I feel about TV: You don’t know when one person will see your show for the first time.

  1. For all the griping about C+3, creatives don’t seem to understand that they’re not magically entitled to buckets of cash just because people like their show. The money isn’t coming out of thin air, it’s being paid, by advertisers. The advertisers pay for the period of time that they think it makes sense to pay for; if their analysis suggests that the people who watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine 26 days after it airs skip the commercials and don’t remember the brands they see, then why should they pay? Advertising isn’t patronage for the arts, advertising is paying for the people seeing the ads. In addition, if advertising isn’t working anymore across the board, it doesn’t make sense to pay. I do see that some advertisers are willing to look at L+7 numbers, which is of course their prerogative, but my point is that it is their prerogative.

    Also, while the 4.6 million to 8.0 million jump is big, there are really only two possibilities. Either every show gets a big jump (and thus the jump is irrelevant, because the fact that the show is relatively ratings challenged doesn’t change) or some shows get bigger jumps than others, in which case there’s still going to be a show at the bottom of the pile, and that show will be asking “Hey, why aren’t we getting more money for live and C+3 viewers instead of laggards? We’re appointment viewing”. They’d be right.

    Creatives spend a lot of time griping about how their ratings are measured, when what they should really be doing is griping about the ad-supported model. The way to reform that is to move to either a subscription model (so shows that people are most willing to pay for stick around) or to sell your show a-la carte. No one wants to do that, because that’s a scary world, where you live or die only by your own program and not with any external help.

    Another model would be to work to build support for state subsidy of cultural works (whether it be through a direct tax like the UK TV Tax, or through federal funding like the CBC in Canada). Of course this has drawbacks too, but it does enable a model of programming where broadcasters have a mandate to do something other than renew the most watched stuff and cancel critical darlings that few people watch.

    It just seems to me that with the broadcast television advertising model, advertisers have the right to decide to buy ads or not, and to use the metrics they want to use to measure efficacy of their advertising. Complaining about how advertisers measure their efficacy because it’s orthogonal to how your viewers watch is missing the point. C’est la vie, either work within the system or work to change it.

  2. The show isn’t as involving as Barney Miller mostly because I don’t believe any of these people are actual cops. On Barney Miller I did. And it’s not as funny as Police Squad because it’s trying to be more realistic. Sledge Hammer had character comedy mixed in with the crazy and that worked too. This show isn’t a bigger ratings hit because it seems to be straddling some middle ground too much if that makes sense.

  3. The show came in the Mindy Era when comedy stinks so let’s not get carried away and the ratings reflect So few people like it
    Golden globe golden globe you shout ..Well look at the New Boring Girl Sean Hayes Michael j fox
    Competition ..and goor is a complete putz

  4. Both this and the Mindy Project try more to be clever than funny. They’ll never be hits.

    1. Luckily, the tide is turning against these kinds of “comedies.” Greg Daniels can’t get work. Mindy Kaling is about to be cancelled. And Schur does a happy dance every time he pulls a 1.0.

      1. It’s heartening to see the rejection of this entire post Apatow “alt” comedy world that simply isn’t very funny, just smug and self-satisfied. THE MINDY PROJECT is flaccid and MARON is a public access version of LOUIE which also isn’t that funny. Seth MacFarlane was deservedly knocked down yet another peg as an on camera performer last weekend. These unappealing comic personas aim to please their peers, not the public. They don’t know how to make people laugh or anything the average person considers a foible. BROOKLYN NINE NINE would have been already cancelled in another climate but instead this limp, overpopulated talk fest is being mistaken for “quality”. How could the laugh out loud POLICE SQUAD be referenced in conjunction with this flaccid excuse for a sitcom? That show had many failings, but definitely was funny. These silver spoon types exude a sense of privilege when talking about their lousy ratings. How about that this interview wasn’t funny, just pompous!

  5. Michael Schur did not create The Office. And he knows nothing about “nabbing a large audience”. Both Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn 99 are low-rated shows.

  6. Wow. I really love Parks and Rec and so do my college age kids.
    I also am enjoying Brooklyn Nine Nine very much. It is fun and silly and lighthearted. Which Parks is too. Neither show is mean spirited. Which is such a breathe of fresh air. I am sorry so many commentors feel the need to throw some serious hate out here.

  7. In the pantheon of cop comedies this one is pretty lackluster. It’s not that funny and the lead character is annoying. I can see why it’s not catching on.

  8. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is my favorite thing Schur has done in a while but I still can’t get over how good season 2 of Parks & Recreation was.

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