Harvard-educated Mike Schur spent six and a half years as a writer for “Saturday Night Live” then worked on “The Office” with Greg Daniels before the two co-created “Parks and Recreation,” all three of which are available for viewing on Streampix. He also played Mose Schrute, the cousin of Rainn Wilson’s Dwight Schrute, on “The Office.” His newest project is the police comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” with former colleague Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher, which premieres on Fox, next Tuesday (9/17) at 8:30 p.m. (7:30 Central). The new season of “Parks and Rec” debuts Thursday night, Sept. 26 at 8 p.m.
Mose Schrute, who would have thought it? I love the Amish beard.
The first time I ever did that character, Greg Daniels insisted I grow a real beard. He said a fake one wouldn’t look real. So I spent four months growing this weird neck beard, which was terrible, then I put on a fake one, and you totally could’t tell the difference. Retroactively, I’m so annoyed at him for making me do that. I have a weird beard pattern—I mostly grow it under my chin line—which is partly why Mose Schrute happened. That character was not my doing. There was a call for one of Dwight’s cousins, and Greg was very fond of making the writers do humiliating things. He picked on me very early and demanded that I play Mose. It was fun to build out that world, to get a little peak into Dwight’s crazy background.
“Parks and Rec” is about to begin its sixth season, with the first four available on Streampix. How do you keep a show fresh after all that time?
It helps when you have a case of the 10 funniest human beings on earth—Amy Poehler, Aziz Ansari, Chris Pratt, Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones, Adam Scott and Rob Lowe. If you’re not writing good material for that cast of people, then you ought to quit show business. Our rule on the show is not to hold anything back. The second we come up with a good idea—a big move, a marriage, a pregnancy, someone switching jobs, Leslie running for office—we just do it and deal with the consequences later. Network TV sitcoms in general were built to be an endless proposition where you could just endlessly refill the same premise forever. Audiences these days are too savvy and have too many choices. If you stagnate and repeat yourself, people will get bored and head to the other 5,000 sitcoms, reality shows or dramas available. We felt the way to survive was to be surprising, and to move the pieces around the chess board as often as we could in the most interesting ways. That’s been in the DNA of the show from the very beginning.
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You started out as a writer on “SNL” after working on the Harvard Lampoon.
“SNL” is an amazing place. The people who go through as performers are wildly talented, and that’s obviously been proven over the last 40 years. Performers who are used to late-night comedy make great sitcom stars and writers. “SNL” is a very Darwinian place. You have to learn to be ruthless with your own material. It’s the toughest environment you can imagine… It’s live, in front of an audience, with a 40-year history of sketches.
What was your initial inspiration for “Parks and Rec”?
We thought of the show as a comedy version of “The West Wing.” Whereas, on “West Wing,” the stakes of an episode would be Russia or whether to invade Kazakhstan, here it would be building a park over a dirt pit. It was 2008 and the economy was falling apart, so it was becoming clear, for better or worse, or probably both, government would be playing a more active role in people’s lives, with the band and auto industry bailouts. There are all these global events, sure, but the way government influences most people’s lives is, they need a stop sign put up on a corner. So we took Anytown, U.S.A., and investigated the way people would interact with their government on that local level.
You’re now holding the fort on Thursday night on NBC without “The Office” and “30 Rock.”
They’ve brought in some big guns. There are new shows from Michael J. Fox (“The Michael J. Fox Show”), Sean Hayes (“Sean Saves the World”) and Mike O’Malley (“Welcome to the Family”). There’s no shortage of star power, but it is a little weird because our spiritual cousins were “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Community.” Ever since the early ‘80s, NBC has been the destination, Thursday 8-10, you were going to get four great comedies. I hope that tradition continues.
It’s already been announced that Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe will leave midway through the year.
After episode 13. We’re doing it in a way that, hopefully, will give them a proper send-off. The reasons that they leave are introduced early in the season, and we get to see it play out, how it affects everybody as the year goes on. Rashida, much like her father (Quincy Jones), has about a thousand irons in the fire at any one time, and she really wanted to get more into TV and movie writing and production, and who am I to say no? When Rob originally joined the cast, we thought we’d have him for eight episodes. That was the idea, but he had such a good time, and did so well, we encouraged him to stay. He’s a big star and always has people chasing him to do shows. It just sort of made creative sense for them to sail off into the sunset together.
What can we look forward to this year on “Parks and Rec”?
We have a fun episode toward the beginning, where we meet everyone’s evil doppelganger from Eagleton, which is the snooty neighboring town to Pawnee. Sam Elliott plays Ron Swanson’s mustached doppelganger; June Raphael is April’s doppelganger and one of the funniest human beings on earth, Billy Eichner, plays Donna’s. The fun of it is imagining there’s this whole other show going on about the Parks Department in this other town, like a parallel, bizarro universe. Kristin Bell will also guest-star on an early episode. The story line involves Leslie undergoing a recall vote, with a powerful consortium of people in the town looking to boot her out of office. When the season picks up, she’s fighting that. The hour-long premiere was shot half in London, which was super-fun, with a ton of guest stars, including Heidi Klum and Peter Sarafian, a very funny British comedian. It’s a huge, massive production with some very fun stuff.
What are some of your all-time favorite “Parks and Rec” episodes?
In the second season, there’s one called “Hunting Trip,” where Ron gets shot in the head, and it’s sort of a mystery as to who did it. It was an important episode for us early on in terms of establishing the dynamics and relationships between the characters. A personal favorite of mine is “Pawnee Rangers,” in season four, where Leslie’s girl-scout troop and Ron’s boy scouts go camping. And because Ron didn’t allow girls to join his group, Leslie formed her own and set out to prove hers is more fun. The other story which came out of that episode is “Treat Yourself Day,” where every year, Aziz and Retta’s characters take a day off to pamper themselves… they go to a spa, shop for fine leather goods, and this time, they take Adam Scott’s Ben along to cheer him up. It’s probably the most famous catch-phrase episode we’ve ever done.
What do you think about binge-watching, the ability to stream whole series one episode right after another?
It’s great. I watch a lot of TV that way. People are busy and they don’t have time to commit to appointment watching. You can hear from your friend that a show is really good and instantly watch it. This is the on-demand world we live in, and it’s great for consumers, but it’s also good for people on the content side, because there’s the chance that, at any given moment, someone out in the world is sampling your show, which wasn’t true even five or 10 years ago. You can always get new fans by busting through three seasons of a show in a weekend. It creates a real strain on the production process because you need every episode to be awesome. That’s why we work so hard and try to make every episode as surprising and exciting as possible. Because we feel, it might be the one that someone decides to sample.
And your newest show, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” premieres on Fox next Tuesday.
It’s a half hour comedy set in a Brooklyn precinct. Andy [Samberg] plays Jake Peralta, who’s a very good detective, but doesn’t really take things all that seriously. He’s sort of a Hawkeye Pierce character, while Andre [Braugher] is his boss, a by-the-book police captain, who is just now getting command of his first precinct. He was a gay cop in the ‘80s, and the NYPD wasn’t ready for that, so they put him in a public affairs unit. Now, after 25 years, he’s finally a captain, and his biggest problem is his best detective is a goofball. Those two just really have a great dynamic. I created it with Dan Goor, my number two guy on “Parks and Rec,” because we felt there hasn’t been a cop sitcom since “Barney Miller,” more than 30 years ago.
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