On a scorching August day in Studio City,
Jim O'Heir, who plays clumsy Jerry, has his nose in the pages of
The luxury of newfound security? Or the familiarity with tuning out the noise?
The sweet and singular workplace comedy about low-level government employees is proof that little shows are not to be underestimated. The comedy adored by critics and second-screen junkies has been on the bubble season after season; time slot changes and shortened seasons added to its battle wounds. But for a network with few smash hits and more than a few duds, "Parks and Recreation" represents the breed of admired shows that manage to trudge on, giving pleasure and profit amid ratings topsy-turviness (along with cohorts such as "Parenthood" and
The show's new promotion prompts Poehler to dish up some spontaneous headline options for her baby: "Last show standing"? "And then there was one"? "Parks and determination"?
As the TV world assembles to pay homage to its big players on Emmy Sunday (once again, Poehler is a nominee) and the platoon of new fall shows step up to await their fates, the little show that could is heading into its sixth season. Premiering with a one-hour episode Sept. 26, it finds itself at a challenging juncture: actors are leaving for other pastures, its producers are busy with new gigs, and there's that matter of being the last of a dying breed on a network shifting its comedic brand of comedy.
"A lot is changing," says co-creator and executive producer Michael Schur. "It's a weird bizarro world. It feels like the end of some kind of special era. It's sad, but it's not necessarily a bad thing."
After a precarious start, the show once thought of as little more than a knockoff of
But that era is slowly making way for comedies with broad appeal in the network's bid to draw a larger audience on Thursday nights, some fraction of the glory it had for decades when it ruled the night with sitcoms such as "The Cosby Show," "Cheers,"
"We always get stuck in semantics," says Jennifer Salke, NBC's president of entertainment. "We said we want 'broad,' and what we meant was we want the reach of something like
"Parks and Recreation's" newfound time slot also presents other duties: It will serve as the challenger to CBS heavyweight
"A lot of people like to drink Budweiser," says
The quirky comedy, from Greg Daniels and Schur, was originally conceived as a spinoff of "The Office." But with Poehler onboard, the pair saw an opportunity to carve a new path, inspired by the local politics of
Nothing would be boring in this small town. Where some comedies might tread lightly in embracing change, "Parks and Recreation" cuddles with it, unafraid of life-transforming events. Characters pairing up as couples. New characters coming in. And Poehler's Leslie isn't doomed to a lifetime of inertia. The fourth season saw Leslie become a member of the city council (a step up!) and, last season, she got married.
It's been a practice born out of necessity. "Because we have always been a bubble show, our philosophy has always been to go for it — it's the TV equivalent of live every day like it's your last," says Schur, citing cable groundbreaker
Critics seemed to be charmed by it all. James Poniewozick of Time magazine ranked it the No. 1 TV series of 2012. "In an election year, there is ample reason to feel
Already contending with the temporary absence of
"Storytelling-wise it was sort of a perfect storm of a lot of things coming to a head," says Lowe, who was originally tapped to do eight episodes. His deal was up, and Jones was looking to focus on other projects. "This show did something really special for me. I mean, the amount of people who come up to me on the street and say 'Pooping my pants' or point to me and say 'Ann Perkins' is insane."
Their departure, centered on their decision to conceive a baby, is a slow-burn story line this season — the episode The Times sat in on saw Leslie struggling with the news by making abandonment jabs aimed at Ann. "Ann and Leslie are handling it all as well as Rashida and Amy are handling it," Jones says. "Leslie is in denial, she's angry. She's in the stages of grief. I like that the writers are letting the audience and the actors go through this together."
Its crossroads don't stop there. The show is no longer a spring chicken. This season it will celebrate its 100th episode. It's a sensitive time when a series typically shows its age. The numbers have demonstrated that little by little, season after season. The series, a favorite among young viewers attracted to the meta comedy style, drew just a 1.2 rating among the 18-34 demographic last season, according to Nielsen.
It's maturing pains make it all the more trying that Schur and fellow "Parks" executive producer Dan Goor have a new comedy out this fall — "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" on another network (Fox).
Focus hasn't slipped, the producers assure. Goor is more heavily involved with the day-to-day running of "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." Schur splits his time between the two. It helps that both shows are just a golf cart ride away from each other on the Radford lot.
"They've set up such a crazy factory here that if Mike is spending a lot of time away, I haven't noticed," says Ansari.
Plus Poehler is always there. Rather than chase after a movie career post-
Poehler received her fourth Emmy nomination in the lead actress in a comedy series category for "Parks and Recreation," with no win under her belt. This year she's up against
She'll write that speech before she'll comment on how her "little weird child" is now the last one standing on Thursday nights. She instead bears in mind the journey of getting here.
"I remember that anxiety of being at the bottom of show mountain," she recalls, sitting near the craft service table. "When we just had two or three episodes down, I was going crazy. I could hear the knives sharpening and everyone ready to give a very quick opinion of a show — recaps and Twitter have made it terrifying to be out there. But that's part of the demented reason we're all in this business. We like to sweat."
Maybe some recreation is finally in order.