Even though Parks and Recreation EP Mike Schur received an immediate response from cast members and writers about the idea to come together for a special fundraising at-home episode for the long-running NBC series, don’t expect a limited run series a la Will & Grace in the immediate future.
“Never say never, but I felt like this was a moment in time and a cause we could rally behind. Parks and Rec had a specific subject to discuss and specific point to make,” said Schur.
“When it ended (in 2014) Amy (Poehler) and I talked and we felt like we made our point. We made our argument and got it. I don’t see the point in revamping the show just to do it; it was a true joy to make the show when we did it.”
The half-hour scripted special, airing this Thursday, April 30 at 8:30 pm ET/PT to benefit Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund, comes at a timely moment, hence the reason why it made sense for Schur to get the team back together. In the episode, Pawnee’s most dedicated civil servant, Leslie Knope (Poehler), is determined to stay connected to her friends in a time of social distancing.
“Leslie Knope believed government could be a force of good. The show was forged in the economic recession of 2008, and at national, state and local levels we’re obviously in another one of those moments. Government is where we’re turning: people need food and mortgages paid and the government in these moments is where people turn to in times of need.”
Schur said that from the time of inception to finishing cut, the reunion special took about three weeks to put together. Pearlena Igbokwe, President of Universal Television, first reached out to him about the idea. Schur discussed with his wife and realized that the Parks and Rec love-in shouldn’t be a table read, but an original episode, especially for all the big talent that’s returning, i.e. Poehler, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Jim O’Heir, and Retta. Schur asked Parks and Rec episodic helmer Morgan Sackett to return to direct, and also reached out to about a half dozen writers from the original show who jumped in. Within three days, they had a script. Camera rigs and iPhones were sent around to cast members who were essentially “their own cameramen” said Schur on a phoner today with the press. The episode was shot in four days with the graphics team for Schur’s The Good Place providing VFX so the episode didn’t come off like a bunch of actors at home in front of their computers.
For the Parks and Rec die-hards, Schur did consider how the reunion would fit in with the show’s timeline. Even though the series last aired in 2014, it took place in 2017 with the finale jumping around to 2065. Of course, the series takes place now and takes into account that Jerry (Jim O’Heir) was left as mayor, with Ben (Adam Scott) a Congressman, Leslie working for the Dept. of the Interior and April (Aubrey Plaza) all in DC.
Schur said in the show’s cold opening, “The first face you see on camera will not be one of the 10 main cast members, and that sets the tone for the show.”
In addition to the core dramatis personae, Schur promised that some of the fave side characters will show up as well.
In regard to Rashida Jones’ Ann Perkins and whether she’s a nurse on the front lines. “We debated that,” says Schur, and making light of trying to find what is least humorous of this particular thing (COVID19).” Ultimately Schur and team decided that Ann would be working in outpatient care. “Her job isn’t the same job as the people who are in the middle of this nightmare,” said the EP.
Asked whether this new Zoom means of shooting TV series, like SNL, is the future of sitcoms, Schur exclaimed, “This isn’t the way TV is supposed to be made.”
“TV is a team sport from the beginning to the end, with groups of people functioning in holistic ways and collaborating and being in the same room at the same time. I don’t think there’s any way this is a sustainable method for making TV. It was fun to get the crew and everyone back together. I took screengrabs of the virtual table, which was a lot of fun and hard work but it’s not any kind of model for going forward.”
Here is a promo for the special: