Parks and Recreation is a show that’s come and gone on NBC, but it’s still fascinating to consider what could have been different about the comedy still beloved by fans years after it’s aired. For instance, did you know that it could have originally aired as a lead-out of the Super Bowl? But according to showrunner Mike Schur, that would have come at a considerable price.
Schur appeared as a guest on Rob Lowe’s podcast, and the show’s creator and one of its biggest stars discussed just how different things could have played out if they had made some different decisions during its first season. And as it turns out, they had a big decision to make right away when it came to how the show itself would premiere.
As Schur explains on Literally! With Rob Lowe, the show was originally slated to debut after The Office served as lead-out to Super Bowl SXIII in 2009. But keeping the schedule required to fulfill that obligation may have meant not casting an important part of the show: Leslie Knope herself.
“Steve Carell was the most important part of how The Office worked, they just built it around a generational talent,” Schur said, describing the thought process behind creating the show. “And I was like ’the person to do it around is Poehler. There’s just no one better.’”
The plan for Schur’s new show was simple: they had been given a 13-episode first season order and a big spot, but the person they wanted to make their Steve Carrell was simply not going to be able to make it work.
“It was going to be the Super Bowl, The Office and Parks and Rec was going to launch to whatever, 28 million viewers,” Schur said. “But Pohler was pregnant and she was due to give birth literally the week we would have started shooting the pilot.”
Getting that kind of order, and platform, is a dream for any showrunner. And that kind of instant audience is a game-changer for something new. But Poehler seemed, at least to Schur, important enough to give all that up for.
“We kept just having this feeling of like ‘Who else though? Who else can do this? We don’t know anybody else. We could look, but I don’t think we’re going to beat Amy Poehler,” Schur said. “So Greg and I made, at the time, what seemed like an insane decision.”
That decision was to ask NBC to delay its debut three months, and cut the first season from 13 episodes to six. But that gave Poehler enough time to have her child, keep her spot on the show and make Leslie Knope a reality.
“We just kept feeling that debuting after the Super Bowl is a short-term fix,” Schur said. “Getting Amy Poehler on the show is the long-term solution.”
The episode of The Office that debuted after the Super Bowl, “Stress Relief,” was the most-watched in show history. So Parks would have gotten an incredible debut if they carried out the original plan for 13 episodes. But, as we know by now, it was absolutely the right call and the biggest move Schur could have possibly made. Knope was the next Michael Scott, and the show remains beloved long after it left NBC.
Schur also talked extensively about the realities of creating entertainment in the COVID-19 era, and there are some sobering thoughts about what difficult decisions have to be made regarding staff, safety and budgets amid a pandemic. But as Schur and Greg Daniels have shown in the past, they certainly have the ability to think in the long term and watch it pay off.