Parks and Recreation is one of a few sitcoms that have achieved a sort of immortality in recent years as their fans can go back and revisit them and new fans can binge-watch them on streaming services. The story of Leslie Knope and her trusty Pawnee Parks Department team has resonated with millions of people across the world.
The series began as a pale imitation of The Office, but seven seasons and fourteen Emmy nominations later, it was well-defined, critically acclaimed, and hugely popular. Parks and Rec made stars out of Amy Poehler, Aziz Ansari, Chris Pratt, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, and so many of its other great cast members. It attracted such big-name guest stars as Paul Rudd, Henry Winkler, Jon Hamm, and even Bill Murray – as well as real-life politicians. Fans fell in love with the quirky characters who got into some ridiculous situations, and did even more ridiculous things to get themselves out of it.
As with any great TV show, there are a ton of little details behind the scenes of Parks and Rec – whether it’s in the casting or the writing or the acting or the set design – that all work together to make the show as truly fantastic as it is.
So, without further ado, here are 20 Little Details Only True Fans Know About Parks And Recreation.
20 Andy was never supposed to be a main character
Plenty of times in TV history, a character who was meant for a small role becomes so incredibly popular with the fans that the writers have to change their plans and give them bigger roles. Jesse Pinkman was supposed to be killed off early in the run of Breaking Bad. Ed Helms was only signed on to play Andy Bernard in ten episodes. It’s important for TV producers to listen to fans in these cases.
It happened in Parks and Rec, too. Andy Dwyer was just supposed to be Ann’s lazy boyfriend who only stuck around for the first season and then left the show, but Chris Pratt was so funny and likable that he was promoted to series regular and ended up being a main character until the very end of the series’ run.
19 For every episode, two and a half days’ worth of footage was shot
For every 22-minute episode of Parks and Rec, the crew shot approximately 60 hours of footage, which is exactly two and a half days. Bloopers, improvisation, and scenes that were written but would later need to be cut are to blame for the absurd amount of footage. Even Larry David’s HBO sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is entirely improvised from a vague story outline, only shoots about 10 hours of footage per episode.
But this is how Parks and Rec episodes manage to end up air-tight, so it’s worth it. If you can only achieve a rapid gag rate where all the jokes land by shooting 163 times the amount of stuff you need, then so be it.
18 Aubrey Plaza based April Ludgate on her sister
Aubrey Plaza’s dark interests and droll, uninterested line delivery in the role of April Ludgate was heavily inspired by her younger sister, Natalie, who also plays April’s younger sister on the show. Plaza was cast when a casting director named Allison Jones told series co-creator Michael Schur, “I just met the weirdest girl I’ve ever met in my life. You have to meet her and put her on your show.”
At that point, there was no character in the pilot script that suited Plaza’s unique comedic persona. So, they created a whole new character for her. They did a similar thing with Jim O’Heir, who also didn’t suit any of the characters in the pilot as written. The producers created Jerry just to get O’Heir on the show.
17 Comedy was more important than the look of the show
The makeup stylists were told to ignore minor issues and the lighting was never perfect, because the producers wanted to give the actors maximum time in front of the camera to improvise and find the comedic heart of every scene. According to the producers, this decision was made to swap “Hollywood magic for maximal comedy,” and of course, it paid off in spades.
Greg Daniels and Michael Schur did the same thing with their other workplace mockumentary series, The Office. According to Jenna Fischer, “Our shows are a hundred percent scripted. They put everything down on paper. But we get to play around a little bit, too. Steve [Carell] and Rainn [Wilson] are brilliant improvisers.”
16 The actors and writers felt bad being mean to Jerry
The cast members and writing staff of Parks and Rec always felt so terrible saying and writing mean things about Jerry and directing them at Jim O’Heir, the actor who played him, because he is apparently the sweetest guy ever in real life.
It seems the actors and writers felt as bad for Jerry as we do watching his scenes. It’s easy to see why they make fun of him, with his clumsiness and general ineptitude, but it’s also easy to sympathize with him. The writers felt so bad for him, in fact, that they gave Jerry the perfect home life: a big house, three prosperous daughters, and a beautiful wife played by Christie Brinkley.
15 The theme song came from a contest
Some TV shows use existing songs as their opening theme – for example, The Sopranos’ use of “Woke Up This Morning” by Alabama 3 – while others go for new compositions. Danny Elfman wrote his Simpsons theme on the drive home from his initial meeting with Matt Groening and it has paid for his health insurance for the past thirty years. Parks and Recreation’s theme song was written by some contest winners.
Apparently, back in 2008, music licensing firm BMI sent out a mass email to all of its composers, giving them five days to submit a potential theme song for the new mockumentary sitcom from the makers of The Office. The winner was offered a prize of $7,500. The upbeat, catchy tune we got in the end was composed by Gaby Moreno and Vincent Jones.
14 Nick Offerman just happened to play saxophone
One of the most surprising revelations about any character in Parks and Rec was the reveal that Ron Swanson plays smooth jazz under the name Duke Silver at a bar in Eagleton. Ron’s secret double life continued for the rest of the series, and it wasn’t until he played alongside Andy and the other musicians at the Unity concert that everyone else found out about his alter ego.
But when the writers came up with the subplot of Ron Swanson’s secret double life as a saxophonist named Duke Silver, they had no idea that the actor who plays him, Nick Offerman, could already play the saxophone. Is that a coincidence or what?
13 It began life as an Office spin-off
Throughout the nine-season run of Greg Daniels’ other NBC mockumentary, The Office, a bunch of spin-offs were developed and never came to fruition: a Jim and Pam family sitcom, a show set on Dwight’s beet farm, a Darryl-focused series, a show about a different branch of Dunder Mifflin etc.
In its earliest form, Parks and Rec was developed as a spin-off from The Office, hence the casting of Rashida Jones. It was going to be a unique spin-off in that the only character who transferred from one show to the next would be a copier. Shortly after Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari were cast, however, it became pretty clear that this would be a beast of its own.
12 Chris Pratt was given free rein with the physical comedy
The writers of Parks and Rec eventually became so confident in Chris Pratt’s talent for physical comedy that they stopped giving him specific things to do and simply wrote, “Andy does something physical,” into the scripts. They didn’t need to come up with anything, because they knew Pratt would come up with something crazier than they ever could in the moment.
The writers of Seinfeld did a similar thing with Kramer, where the plot didn’t have to be funny, because they knew Michael Richards would make it funny – like the episode where Kramer becomes a ball boy. Everything worked out for Pratt, of course, who is now a bona fide movie star with roles in some of the biggest franchises in Hollywood right now.
11 Octavia Spencer auditioned to play Donna
Two years before her Oscar-winning big break in The Help, Octavia Spencer was up for the role of Donna Meagle in Parks and Rec. The role of Donna, of course, went to Retta, who was a perfect fit for the only Pawnee Parks Department employee more obsessed with social media than Tom Haverford.
Retta played the muse of Pearl Jam who once accidentally donated money to the Ku Klux Klan with so much comedic gusto that Donna was made a series regular starting with season 3. While, at first glance, Octavia Spencer might seem like a bigger star than Retta, what a lot of people don’t know about the latter is that she is also a trained opera singer and niece of the President of Liberia.
10 It’s one of many shows we have King of the Hill to thank for
Parks and Rec is one of the many modern TV comedies whose creators and writers got their start on Mike Judge’s Texas-set animated family sitcom King of the Hill. The impressive list also includes Bob’s Burgers, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Silicon Valley, Modern Family, The Good Place, American Dad!, and Rick and Morty.
The glue that holds all these shows together is that they are smartly written, progressive, and very funny, which aptly describes King of the Hill, the show that brought all those writers towards one another in the first place. King of the Hill is the root of all TV comedy and its writers’ room seems to have kicked off the future of all comedy.
9 Andy and April’s romance wasn’t planned
Andy Dwyer and April Ludgate in Parks and Rec have one of the greatest relationships in the history of television. They’ve joined the ranks of Monica and Chandler, Marshall and Lily, and Jim and Pam on the #RelationshipGoals scale.
But while Andy and April are one of the cutest couples in sitcom history, their romantic story arc was never planned by the writers. However, during the “Hunting Trip” episode, they were the only two characters left in the office, which forced them into a B-plot together. Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza’s chemistry in the episode was so incredible that afterward, a romantic storyline was simply a no-brainer.
8 A lot of government employees share Ron Swanson’s anti-government stance
A lot of viewers find it odd at first that Ron Swanson has such strongly anti-government beliefs and yet he works for the government. Would someone so aggressively anti-government work for the government? It might not seem plausible. However, the character was actually based on a bunch of government employees that the writers met while they were developing the show who have similarly anti-government beliefs.
They recall one city planner telling them, “I don’t believe in the mission of my job.” If the best comedy speaks truth, then after hearing the disparaging things all these government employees had to say about the tenets of government, the writers figured a character like Ron Swanson just had to be unleashed into the world.
7 The show accurately predicted the Cubs’ World Series victory
Parks and Rec’s seventh season was shot in 2014 and aired in 2015, but it was set in 2017. The show made some wild future predictions that didn’t come true – such as the Shailene Woodley/Morgan Freeman celebrity feud – and it was sort of the joke that they were guessing the most unlikely things to happen within two or three years. But they did get one thing right: the Chicago Cubs winning the 2016 World Series.
When Tom visits Lucy in Chicago, she says Chicagoans have been much nicer since the Cubs won the World Series. At the time, that throwaway line did fit in with the wildly unlikely predictions, since the Cubs hadn’t won a Series in over a hundred years and it was almost a running joke in baseball that they never would. However, lo and behold, one year later, the Cubs triumphantly won.
6 Nick Offerman improvised when Ron fell on the grass
One of the funniest moments in Parks and Rec history appears in the episode “Freddy Spaghetti,” the season 2 finale. Ron is tasked with making sure Ben and Chris don’t find out about the children’s concert that Leslie is putting on without their permission, but they figure it out.
So, Ron drives down to the park and comes running down onto the grass, yelling, “They’re coming! They’re coming!” and slips over. He then immediately stands back up and acts like nothing happened, but the rest of the cast seem concerned for him. This is because it wasn’t in the script. Nick Offerman improvised the fall – no one knew he was going to do it but him.
5 There were no characters during the audition process
Rather than create characters and then cast actors to play them, the producers of Parks and Rec did things a little differently. They decided to audition actors, choose the ones they thought were funny or unique, and then build characters around them.
This is why Ron Swanson is a woodworker, much like Nick Offerman, or why the character of Andy plays into Chris Pratt’s talent for physical comedy. It’s also why Tom Haverford shares so much of his backstory with Aziz Ansari, like his childhood in South Carolina. It’s a unique way to make a TV show, but clearly, it works if Parks and Rec did it. Maybe more TV producers should be working like this.
4 Chris Pratt improvised Andy’s retelling of Road House from one line of stage direction
The episode in which Andy stalls Leslie’s benefactors by giving them a drawn-out retelling of the Patrick Swayze movie Road House didn’t have a script for any of that scene. It simply said, “Andy talks about Road House.” Chris Pratt improvised the entire thing – including smashing the TV.
Later on in the episode, Andy retells the whole of the fourth Rambo movie, too. This was probably written in after his improvised Road House monologue became the funniest part of that episode, and one of the funniest parts of the series altogether. So, they decided to give him another action movie to do it with. This could become a spin-off series of its own: Chris Pratt retelling action movies.
3 Ron Swanson was almost played by someone else
Nick Offerman could not be more perfect for the role of Ron Swanson – he has the look, the attitude, the deadpan delivery, everything that makes Ron great. But as impossible as it is to visualize anyone besides Nick Offerman in the role of Ron Swanson, Offerman initially auditioned to play Mark Brendanawicz. The casting directors deemed him “not handsome enough” to play Mark, which is mean, but hey, it did lead to Offerman playing Ron.
With Offerman interested in the separate role of Mark, the part of Ron almost went to similarly mustachioed Reno 911! star Thomas Lennon. Just imagine the dark, twisted Twilight Zone-esque parallel universe in which Nick Offerman plays Mark Brendanawicz and Thomas Lennon plays Ron Swanson.
2 There’s a surprising reason for season 7’s time jump
One of the most surprising plot developments in Parks and Rec was the big time jump at the end of season 6 that led into a season 7 set in the near future. Time jumps can be used to terrific effect in telling a large-scale story in television: Fargo, Lost, Sons of Anarchy. Parks and Rec is no different.
But the reason for the time jump is even more surprising. It wasn’t a story decision. It was simply because Amy Poehler had just raised her own babies and she didn’t want to spend any more time with babies. So, the time jump was simply there to make Leslie and Ben’s kids jump from babies to toddlers.
1 Some of the cast members took mementos after the series ended
It’s not unusual for cast members of a TV show to take home mementos from the set to remind them of their time working on the series. Aaron Paul took home Heisenberg’s pork pie hat when Breaking Bad ended. Josh Radnor took the blue French horn from the set of How I Met Your Mother. Plus, in one strange case, Norman Reedus kept a bag of Andrew Lincoln’s beard trimmings after Rick Grimes finally got to shave on The Walking Dead.
When Parks and Rec ended, Nick Offerman took the framed picture of a brunette woman holding breakfast food from Ron’s office, while Amy Poehler nabbed the seal of Pawnee from behind Leslie’s desk.
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