The last panel of NBC’s press tour day (and my last panel of this particular tour, though Fienberg will be here for FOX, FX and PBS) should be a good one: a farewell press conference for “Parks and Recreation,” featuring Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott, Aziz Ansari, Retta and Jim O’Heir, plus co-creator Mike Schur. (It’s a shame Nick Offerman and Aubrey Plaza won’t be here, but it feels like a miracle that Pratt has time, given how many different movies he’s starring in these days.)
I’ll be live-blogging the whole thing, as often as my fingers and the ballroom wi-fi will allow, so hit reload early and often. (All times Pacific.)
5:30 p.m.: Bob Greenblatt introduces the panel, calls it “one of the best shows that have ever been on television.” It’s easy to be magnanimous when the show’s on the way out the door, I suppose.
5:32 p.m.: Could “Parks and Rec” have survived if it launched today, or is broadcast TV too difficult to put on a sitcom like this? “I don’t think anyone could possibly answer that question,” says Schur. “The state of network television is in flux… It’s impossible to anticipate which shows would work in which eras.” He suggests you could ask the same question about “Seinfeld” or “Cheers.” He’s a baseball nerd who wonders if Babe Ruth could hit modern pitching, and drops a sabremetrics reference. They launched in 2009, “and we hung on by the skin of our teeth for a good long while there.” He says that all that matters is if a show can find an audience it speaks to. “I don’t think that scenario is different than in 2009.”
5:33 p.m.: “We’re doing a show you watch in the back of your eyelids while you walk down the street,” says Poehler, when asked if they might next do something for streaming.
5:35 p.m.: Will characters be said goodbye to individually over various episodes, or will everyone be together til the end. “Everyone is there at the end,” says Schur, who hasn’t finished editing the finale yet. “The last moments of the show are everyone in the same place at the same time.” Poehler says they say goodbye to various ancillary characters over the course of the season.
5:37 p.m.: Does Jim O’Heir get too protective of Jerry, or does he enjoy his suffering? “To be honest, I think some of the other characters have gotten more protective of Jerry than I have. Chris Pratt went, ‘I think this is too mean!’ But I said, ‘It’s awesome!’ Anytime they wanted to put shit on me, I welcomed it.”
5:39 p.m.: Schur says the writers didn’t really think about the finale until after they had already come up with the time jump, and notes how often previous season finales were constructed as potential series finales. What does he think about the Cones of Dunshire Kickstarter? “I think it’s great, and I’m going to donate to it,” he says. “Cones of Dunshire is very important to me.” He says the scene where Ben explained the game to Leslie was the most annoyed Poehler has ever been. “I hate Cones of Dunshire!” she agrees. Scott recalls that writer Dave King had a stack of alternate jokes and rules for the game, and they kept shooting all the different rules and scenarios, and Poehler just wanted to stop it.
5:43 p.m.: O’Heir and Retta are asked about the journey from minor background players to core castmembers. Retta’s manager told her, “‘It’s a glorified extra, so if you don’t want to do it…'” She knew she was good at chatting people up, and wanted to be on a set and learn. There were 10 castmembers in the beginning, and it was hard to learn about all 10 people in the early episodes, “but they worked their way down, and I got to be Donna. Totally worth it.” O’Heir auditioned to play Ron Swanson – “It seems crazy now,” he admits – and he heard similarly about the size of the Jerry role. He wanted to trust Schur and Greg Daniels, given what happened to the ancillary characters on “The Office.” He was thrilled when he got promoted to series regular in season 2.
5:44 p.m.: “There are certain things that are going to happen this season that are going to be a lot more enjoyable to people who have been close watchers of the series,” says Schur, but he wants to keep them in the margins. “The goal is always to do a good, funny half-hour of television that is relatable.” A mantra in the writers room was “It is possible that someone is watching this for the first time.” It became harder to write episodes that could stand on their own, but they always tried to build the stories as enjoyable stories for the hypothetical viewer who might catch an episode on a plane. “There are a couple of real nostalgia storylines,” he says, where a lot of Pawneeans come back at once, “but the goal is always to have a story stand on its own, regardless of whether you’ve seen the show before.”
5:45 p.m.: Retta says people who work in parks departments and local government “think they are fucking cool as shit” because of the show.
5:46 p.m.: Poehler likes that the show has lots of young fans, teenagers who watch the show with their parents. “There’s a family element to the watching of the show that’s been nice,” she says. She thinks viewers have grown to love and care about the characters.
5:48 p.m.: Most of the cast has stayed intact over the years, even as various actors’ stars have risen. (Pratt looks puzzled when he is referred to as “the biggest movie star in the world.”) Why did they all stick with the show? Retta: “Money. They were paying me too much for other things.” (Schur thought she said “Mike” and was disappointed to hear the real answer.) Pratt says he never once thought about leaving. “That would never happen. I would never fucking ever leave the show.” Aziz: “We’re all leaving now!” Pratt adds, “I’ve been doing this business for 15 years, and realizing the things that really matter about what you’re doing… is just the relationships you have while you’re doing them. For me, this show likely – I hope I can have the good fortune of finding another group of good people like this, but I don’t expect I will. I don’t care how much money someone would’ve offered me… I wouldn’t abandon ship… This team is awesome, and the process of making this show spoke to me and was so perfect to me.” He loved having the opportunity to make Poehler or Scott laugh.
5:53 p.m.: Favorite jokes? Pratt loved Tom reading his introduction to Ben in the premiere and the two of them sobbing. Aziz loved a scene with a big party at Tom’s Bistro, where Joan comes in and orders “A joan,” which is “gin with crushed aspirin on the rim.” On the set, Schur pitched that Perd would then request an empty glass. O’Heir loved another Joan joke, where she excuses herself to the bathroom, and it’s said, “She’s going to powder her vagina.”
5:56 p.m.: Pratt’s favorite of all of Andy’s incarnations was living in the Pit. He enjoyed Andy’s evolution from the season 1 dirtbag to now. “He was the kind of douchey guy who was the reason it starts, and he was going to disappear, but we were having so much fun, they were always finding reasons to bring in Andy.” He recalls the other actors often wondering what Andy was doing on the set in some days. Schur says they made Andy the shoeshine guy in season 2 to tell a “real Horatio Alger” story of someone pulling himself up. At one point, they thought the show would end with Andy as the mayor.
5:57 p.m.: Why is the show ending? Might there be a Congresswoman Knope spin-off. Schur says he and Poehler started talking about the end midway through season 6, and they quickly came to the same conclusion: “I feel like it’s one more year, and I feel like it’s a short year.” Poehler will really miss hearing what’s going to happen to Leslie in the next season. They scheduled a big meeting with NBC about it, not knowing if NBC even wanted them back, and the executives immediately agreed to the idea of a 13-episode final season. “It was a pure internally generated gut feeling of this feeling like the way to go,” he says. “Every day, especially these days as we’re editing the last three episodes, it’s causing me again to consider how lucky we’ve been on this whole journey. Few people get to be in our position to do what we want for as long as we want and end it on our own terms.”
6:00 p.m.: What jokes have had a longer lifespan than they expected. Poehler likes that “treat yo’self” has become part of the vernacular (“And should be, because everyone should treat themselves.”) Retta still searches that phrase on Twitter, “And if it’s been more than 8 minutes since somebody tweeted ‘tweet yo’self,’ I’d be surprised.” She has been getting a lot of free meals in the last two years. Schur loved Tom’s douchey names for foods. Aziz: “Whenever you do comedy, you’re signing up for people to yell random things at your fact that you’ve said. I did not think ‘chicky-chicky parm-parm’ would be yell-worthy.” O’Heir likes that “Dammit, Jerry” made the Urban Dictionary. Schur almost cut DJ Roomba out of the episode where it first appeared, and “that lasted for a while.” (Aziz was once asked if he improvised DJ Roomba, “And I go, ‘Well, it’s a thing that’s there.'”)
6:04 p.m.: Are all the actors available for “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” guest spots? Schur: “None of these people are available for anything.” He is amazed by “what a crazy lottery ticket this cast was.” Scott came into an existing show late into season 2, Schur says, “And now the idea of this show existing without him is mind-boggling to me.” He recalls how quickly Scott and Rob Lowe fit into the cast, and says that’s one of the reasons the show lasted so long. “The first time that Ben looks at Leslie with something butting up against the idea of romance is at the end of his first episode. He’s been on screen for a total of five minutes… and it was clear they were going to get married.” He had a longer, slower gameplan for Leslie and Ben, but they realized quickly that Leslie’s dating life was over. He sings the praises of recurring guest stars like Mo Collins, Jay Jackson, Jon Glaser, Paul Rudd, Jon Hamm. “Every single time we brought someone into the world of the show, it seemed to work.”
6:05 p.m.: Was there any pressure about sticking the landing, given how “How I Met Your Mother” ended? “There wasn’t any, honestly,” says Schur. He says he tried not to think of finales that were great or terrible. He calls “The Sopranos” finale “one of the great moments of cinema, or television,” and yet a lot of people think it stinks. He just wanted to do something he thought was good, “and let the chips fall where they may.”
6:07 p.m.: What advice do they have for the NBC comedies that will come after them? “I don’t think anybody needs our advice,” says Poehler. “You just hear these trends of things being hot… At the end of the day, a good show, talented people on a good show, a well-written show gets noticed, most of the time. If you put your head down and control what you can control, which is the work and the quality of the work, the rest of it is speculation and discussion… Television is just so interesting right now. There’s just so many great stories, and creative people working in television… There’s always room and demand for fresh new voices, and I think everyone will be looking for those… I’m always excited about what’s next. A lot of us on stage like to focus on the next and stay positive about what’s coming and not think our best days are behind.” Pratt suggests the people “don’t read fucking comments of what everyone thinks, because it doesn’t fucking matter. If you change your vision because of what jackass online thinks, you’re going to fucking lose your vision. So screw everybody who reads comments. Don’t read them! It’s just a crazy toilet bowl, and you can get flushed down for as long as you can waste time, but if you don’t read comments, you could be spending time polishing jokes.” Poehler, amused and indignant, thanks the critics for their own comments, and Pratt clarifies he was referring to “some dickhead in Ohio.” Aziz: “Did you just read some comments?” The whole rant is hilarious.
6:10 p.m.: Greenblatt notes that they have deals with Poehler and Schur, are working with Aziz, and would love to work with all of them again in the future, “and continue this incredible legacy. I think television history will show that this is one of the great comedies that’s ever been done.”
That’s all, folks. See ya next press tour…