Parks and Recreation focuses on Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), the deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department in the fictional Indiana town of Pawnee. Local nurse Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) demands that a construction pit in the abandoned lot beside her house be filled in after her boyfriend, Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt), fell in and broke his legs. Leslie promises to turn the pit into a park, despite resistance from the parks director Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), an anti-government libertarian. City planner Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider) – for whom Leslie harbors romantic feelings – pragmatically insists the project is unrealistic due to government red tape, but nevertheless secretly convinces Ron to approve the project. Leslie and her staff, including the sarcastic underachieving materialist Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) and the uninterested summer intern April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), try encouraging community interest in the pit project, but meet resistance. Later, Ann becomes furious to learn Andy has faked the severity of his injuries so Ann would pamper him. Meanwhile, a drunken and lonely Mark takes Leslie to the pit and kisses her, but she rejects his advances, not wishing to move forward while Mark is drunk. An embarrassed Mark accidentally falls into the pit and injures himself.
Ann breaks up with Andy and begins dating Mark, with Leslie's approval. It is revealed that Tom's marriage to pediatric surgeon Wendy (Jama Williamson) is actually a green card marriage, which, to his disappointment, eventually ends in divorce. The pit is eventually filled in, after which Ron is visited by his horrible ex-wife Tammy Two (Megan Mullally), a librarian who unsuccessfully tries seducing him into turning the filled-in lot into a library branch. April becomes attracted to Andy, but he remains fixated on Ann. Just as Mark plans to propose to Ann, she reveals she no longer has feelings for him. They break up, and Mark leaves his city hall career for a private sector job. Meanwhile, a crippling budget deficit leads state auditors Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) and Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) to shut down the Pawnee government temporarily, much to Leslie's horror and Ron's delight. Meanwhile, Andy develops feelings for April, but she fears he is still hung up on Ann. Ann later kisses Andy due to conflicting emotions from her break-up with Mark, prompting April to reject Andy angrily. The season ends with Tom's shocked discovery that Ron is now dating his ex-wife, Wendy.
Leslie decides to bring back the defunct Pawnee harvest festival, the success or failure of which will determine the financial future of the department. While working on the festival, Leslie and Ben begin to develop feelings for each other. After weeks of planning, the festival becomes a tremendous success through Leslie's efforts. Ann and Chris briefly date, but they break up after he returns to his old job in Indianapolis. Later, Chris returns to become Pawnee's acting city manager, and Ben also takes a job in Pawnee. Jealous over Ron dating Wendy, Tom briefly dates Tammy Two to get even, but the two eventually reconcile. Andy wins April back and they start dating. Only a few weeks later, they marry in a surprise ceremony. Leslie and Ben begin dating, but keep it secret due to Chris's policy against workplace romances. Leslie is approached about possibly running for elected office, a lifelong dream of hers, but when asked about potential scandals in her life she neglects to mention her relationship with Ben. Tom quits his city hall job to form an entertainment company with his friend, Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz). The season ends with a horrified Ron learning that his first ex-wife, "Tammy One" also named Tammy, has come to see him.
With Ben's encouragement, Leslie decides to run for City Council, and ends their relationship. Leslie hires Andy as her assistant. Patricia Clarkson appears as Ron's first ex-wife, "Tammy One", who uses her power as an IRS employee to trick Ron into thinking he's being audited and temporarily takes complete control over his life. Tom and Jean-Ralphio's company, Entertainment 720, quickly blows through massive amounts of promotional funding while performing little actual work; the company goes out of business and Tom returns to his old job. Chris starts dating Millicent Gergich, the daughter of Garry Gergich. After struggling to move on both personally and professionally, Ben and Leslie get back together, and Ben sacrifices his job to save Leslie from losing hers. The scandal leads her political advisors to abandon Leslie's campaign, and the Parks Department volunteers to become her new campaign staff. Ben agrees to be Leslie's campaign manager. Leslie's ex-boyfriend Dave (Louis C.K.) reappears and unsuccessfully attempts to win Leslie back. Leslie's campaign faces a myriad of setbacks against her main opponent, Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd), and his famous campaign manager Jennifer Barkley (Kathryn Hahn). Ann and Tom begin an extremely rocky romantic relationship. April takes on more responsibility in the department, shouldering much of Leslie's usual work. Towards the end of the season, Millicent breaks up with Chris when she no longer has feelings for him. In the season finale, Jennifer offers Ben a job in Washington, which he reluctantly accepts, and after the race is initially called for Newport, Leslie wins the position in a recount.
Ben flourishes in his new job on a congressional campaign in Washington DC, as does April whom he brought along as an intern. Leslie and Andy visit Ben and April, and Leslie begins to feel self-conscious about her small town job. Leslie begins working as a City Councillor, but finds opposition in her fellow councilmen, particularly Councilman Jeremy Jamm (Jon Glaser), an immature orthodontist who becomes her arch-enemy. Andy begins training to become a cop with help from Chris. Tom tries to find a new business idea. Ron meets Diane (Lucy Lawless), a woman who needs help fixing a pothole, and begins dating her despite being intimidated by her two young daughters. Jennifer offers Ben a job on another campaign in Florida, much to Leslie's displeasure, but Ben turns it down and returns to Pawnee, surprising Leslie by proposing to her. She happily says yes. Ben's divorced parents come to their engagement party and argue the whole time. April proposes turning Lot 48 into a dog park, which bothers Leslie, but they compromise. Tom starts a business renting high end clothing to teenagers. Ben wants to bring in an architect from neighboring Eagleton (an ultra-affluent town involved in a longstanding rivalry with Pawnee) to help with the park, now called the Pawnee Commons, which is hard for Leslie to accept. Ann decides she's ready to be a single mom and begins searching for sperm donors. Leslie and Ben plan a fundraising event for the Pawnee Commons, and decide to have an impromptu wedding that night. When Jamm ruins the ceremony, Ron knocks him out with a single punch, and the wedding recommences in City Hall. Andy finds out he failed the cop test. Ann, seeing Chris console Andy in a fatherly way, decides she would like to have her baby with him. Leslie continues pushing forward with much resistance from Jamm. Ben gets a job with Sweetums, heading their charity foundation, and hires Andy as an assistant. In "Ron and Diane", Millicent reveals she got engaged, to Chris' disappointment. Jerry retires from the Parks Department but comes back to work a few hours per week. A mystery person rips off Tom's business idea and offers to buy his business off of him. Angry locals, led by Jamm, call for Leslie to be recalled from office. Andy goes on a hunt to find out who is pregnant, and it is revealed to be Diane.
On May 9, 2013, NBC renewed Parks and Recreation for a sixth season. The season debuted on September 26, 2013 with an hour-long episode set in London. It was announced in July 2013 that Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones would leave the show during the fall broadcast program season. Diane announces she's pregnant as the season begins. Ron proposes to her, she accepts, and they get married. It is also revealed that Ann is pregnant with Chris' child. Andy takes a temporary job in London. The town of Eagleton goes into bankruptcy and is absorbed by Pawnee, an effort spearheaded by Leslie after she sees no other way to save the town. As the governments merge, several Eagleton staffers briefly join the Pawnee parks department, with only Craig (Billy Eichner) remaining long-term. Leslie loses the recall vote and returns to the parks department full-time, but remains devoted to assuring the merger is successful. Tom sells Rent-A-Swag in a cash settlement. Ben is fired from Sweetum's and comes back to work at the local accounting firm, but quits promptly (again) after Chris tells him that he has been voted in as the next City Manager. April buys Ron's cabin in the woods. It is later revealed that Chris and Ann are having a boy. Leslie starts breaking ground on Pawnee Commons. Ann and Chris leave town for Michigan. Beginning with "Anniversaries," Jim O'Heir and Retta get a spot in the opening theme, replacing Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe. As a way to garner public support for the unpopular merger of Pawnee and Eagleton, the parks department begins work on the Pawnee/Eagleton Unity Concert. In "The Wall", it is revealed that Ron and Diane have had their baby, John Swanson, without informing anyone in the office. Afterward, Ron single-handedly renovates the third floor of City Hall. In "Galentine's Day", Ann and Chris have their baby, Oliver Perkins-Traeger. In "Flu Season 2" Leslie reveals that she is pregnant. Leslie and Ben also find out that they are having triplets. In the finale, Tom's Bistro opens to a terrible start with the investor pulling out, but becomes a hotspot when it plays host to the after party for the highly successful Unity Concert. Leslie takes the job as Regional Director for the National Park Service in Chicago, immediately submitting a proposal to bring the job to Pawnee. The finale ends three years in the future, where Leslie has had her triplets and is competently running the Midwest Regional office of the National Park Service from the third floor of Pawnee City Hall.
NBC confirmed that the show was renewed for a seventh season on March 19, 2014. On May 11, 2014, NBC confirmed that season seven (comprising 13 episodes) would be its last. Although the program had always aired in NBC's Thursday night block, the final episodes were moved to Tuesdays, NBC's new comedy night, to compete with CBS's and ABC's dramas. The seventh season began airing on January 13, 2015 and concluded on February 24, 2015. Season seven continues where the season six finale left off, meaning the whole season takes place in the "future", in year 2017, as well as includes flash forwards. All the major characters, besides Craig (who gets married), have left the Parks Department, and Ron and Leslie are shown to be enemies due to an unexplained "Morningstar Incident". Ben convinces a booming technology company, Gryzzl, to bring free wi-fi to the city of Pawnee by beating them at a board game he had invented, The Cones of Dunshire, which had become wildly popular without his knowledge after he left it in the hands of the accounting company he repeatedly declines to work for. Gryzzl engages in intense data mining on everyone who uses their phone and Internet services, inducing Ron, whose new construction company Very Good Building and Development Company, has been handling their construction needs, to reconnect with Leslie to correct the issue. It is explained that the Morningstar Incident refers to Ron's company having torn down Ann's old house in order to build an apartment building next to the new park. After he and Leslie resolve their differences, Ron gives her a picture frame fashioned from Ann's former front door. Ron and Leslie convince Gryzzl to change its ways, and the firm becomes a positive influence in Pawnee, building its headquarters in a previously run-down part of town and eventually donating a significant quantity of land, which Leslie turns into a national park. Tom's restaurant is doing very well, and he hires his old girlfriend Lucy to work for him as a manager. Eventually he proposes, and she accepts. He later experiences financial ruin, but finds success again by publishing a best selling book on failure and second chances. Donna marries, moves to Seattle, and becomes a successful real estate agent, which supports her lavish lifestyle and supplements the income from the financially strained school district where her husband Joe works. Andy makes a popular television show starring his Johnny Karate character, though he and April choose to allow the show to end so that April can start a new job as a career placement advisor with a foundation in Washington, D.C. Ben and Leslie are also moving to Washington, D.C. with their three children, Wesley, Steven, and Sonia (who have little airtime but are always shown to be wildly high-energy) due to Leslie's continued upward movement in government. Eventually, she and Ben are both approached with offers to run for Indiana governor. Ben chooses to manage Leslie's campaign in lieu of running himself, and Leslie is shown in flash forwards not only to win the office of governor, but eventually to move on to an even higher, unspecified role. Ann and Chris make a brief appearance in the finale; continue to live happily in Ann Arbor, though Chris tells Ben they plan to return to Pawnee. Ann and Chris' children appear to get on well with Leslie's, and Leslie remarks that she hopes her daughter and Ann's son will fall in love one day. Ann and Chris are revealed to have a second child, a daughter named Leslie. April and Andy also have a son named Jack, after April's initial hesitation passes; April also reveals she is pregnant again. Before leaving Pawnee, Ben appoints Garry Gergich (finally going by his real name) interim mayor of Pawnee, and the people of Pawnee continue to re-elect him until his death on the night of his 100th birthday. Ron Swanson eventually tires of his construction company, which he had been running with his brothers, and approaches Leslie for guidance about what his next career move should be. Leslie arranges for him to become the commissioner of Pawnee National Park. Although it's a federal government job, the primary responsibilities include wandering the woods, mostly alone, so he accepts.
Deedle-Dee Productions and Universal Media Studios produced Parks and Recreation starting with the first season; the production companies Fremulon and 3 Arts Entertainment also became involved with the show starting with the second season. The series was created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, who served as executive producers along with Howard Klein. Klein previously worked with Daniels and Schur on The Office, a half-hour NBC comedy Daniels adapted from the British comedy of the same name, created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Schur served as the showrunner of Parks and Recreation, while Amy Poehler and Morgan Sackett worked as producers. Dean Holland, an editor on The Office, also worked as an editor on Parks and Recreation. Mike Scully, a former executive producer and showrunner for The Simpsons, joined Parks and Recreation as a consulting producer starting in the middle of the first season. Allison Jones, who worked as a casting director for The Office, served in the same capacity at the start of Parks and Recreation, along with Nancy Perkins, for whom the character Ann Perkins was named. Dorian Frankel became the casting director starting with the second season. Alan Yang, Harris Wittels, and Katie Dippold, all of whom were Parks and Recreation screenwriters, also worked as executive story editors.
The pilot episode was written by Daniels and Schur, and directed by Daniels. Daniels also directed the second season episode "Hunting Trip", while Schur made his directorial debut with the first season finale "Rock Show", and wrote or directed several other episodes including "Sister City", "The Master Plan" and "Time Capsule".
Poehler wrote three episodes: "Telethon" in season 2, "The Fight" in season 3, and "The Debate" in season 4 (for which she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series). She also co-wrote "Second Chunce" in season 6, the series' 100th episode, and "One Last Ride", the series finale, with Schur.
Holland also directed several episodes throughout the series, including "The Master Plan". Norm Hiscock, a consulting producer on the show, wrote a number of episodes, including the first season finale "Rock Show" and second season premiere "Pawnee Zoo". Other regular screenwriters included Katie Dippold, Dan Goor, Aisha Muharrar, Harris Wittels, and Alan Yang. Frequent Parks and Recreation directors include Dean Holland, Randall Einhorn, Troy Miller, and Jason Woliner, with several others guest-directing one or two episodes such as Jeffrey Blitz, Paul Feig, Tucker Gates, Seth Gordon, Nicole Holofcener, Beth McCarthy-Miller, Michael McCullers, and Charles McDougall.
The principal cast starting in season one included:Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, a mid-level bureaucrat with a strong love of her home town of Pawnee, who has not let politics dampen her sense of optimism (which apparently has lasted six years in her job); her ultimate goal is to become President of the United States. Poehler departed from the NBC sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live, where she was a cast member for nearly seven years, to star in Parks and Recreation. It was only after she was cast that Daniels and Schur established the general concept of the show and the script for the pilot was written.
Rashida Jones as Ann Perkins, a nurse and political outsider who gradually becomes more involved in Pawnee government through her friendship with Leslie. Jones was among the first to be cast by Daniels and Schur in 2008, when the series was still being considered as a spin-off to The Office, where Jones had played Jim Halpert's girlfriend Karen Filippelli, who formerly worked at the Stamford Branch but was soon transferred to the Scranton Branch in the 3rd season. She and Lowe departed the show in the 13th episode of Season 6. Jones and Lowe returned in the Season 7 series finale.
Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford, Leslie's sarcastic and underachieving subordinate, who eventually begins to consider leaving his city hall job to pursue his own entrepreneurial interests. As with Jones, Daniels and Schur had intended to cast Ansari from the earliest stages of the development of Parks and Recreation.
Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson, the parks and recreation director who, as a libertarian, believes in as small a government as possible. As such, Ron strives to make his department as ineffective as possible, and favors hiring employees who do not care about their jobs or are poor at them. Nevertheless, Ron consistently demonstrates that he secretly cares deeply about his fellow co-workers.
Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate, a cynical and uninterested parks department intern who eventually becomes the perfect assistant for Ron. The role was written specifically for Plaza; after meeting her, casting director Allison Jones told 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."
Paul Schneider as Mark Brendanawicz, a city planner who entered the field with a sense of optimism, but has since become jaded and disillusioned. Schneider said early in the series he was insecure in the role because he was still trying to figure out the character's motivations. Schneider left the cast after the second season and the character is not referenced at any point during the remainder of the show.
Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer, a goofy and dim-witted but lovable slacker and Ann's ex-boyfriend. Pratt was originally intended to be a guest star and the character Andy was initially meant to appear only in the first season, but the producers liked Pratt so much that, almost immediately after casting him, they decided to make him a regular cast member starting with season two.
Several cast members were introduced or developed, and added to the opening credits over the course of the series:Adam Scott as Ben Wyatt, a brilliant but socially awkward government official trying to redeem his past as a failed mayor in his youth. Scott left his starring role on the Starz comedy series Party Down to join the show, starting with the penultimate second season episode, "The Master Plan":
Rob Lowe as Chris Traeger, an excessively positive and extremely health-conscious government official. Lowe was introduced with Scott and was originally expected to depart after a string of guest appearances, but later signed a multi-year contract to become a regular cast member. He and Rashida Jones departed the show in the 13th episode of season 6, returning in the Season 7 series finale.
Jim O'Heir and Retta made regular appearances as Jerry Gergich and Donna Meagle from the start of the show, but their personalities did not become developed until the second season. Schur said the Parks and Recreation staff liked the actors so decided to include them in the show and "figured we'd work it out later". A throwaway joke at Jerry's expense in the episode "Practice Date" led him to be established as the inept co-worker the rest of the department affectionately picks on. Donna was developed as a sassy hedonist whose mysterious life is occasionally hinted at. It was not until the third season they became considered regular cast members, and were added to the credits during season 6.
Billy Eichner as Craig Middlebrooks, an overly passionate employee of the Pawnee local government, began working for Pawnee when Eagleton merged with Pawnee. He was recurring during season 6 and began being billed as a member the regular cast in the fourth episode of season 7.
Numerous actors have made recurring guest appearances throughout the show, including Pamela Reed as Leslie's mother and fellow politician Marlene Griggs-Knope, Ben Schwartz as Tom's fast-talking friend Jean-Ralphio, Jama Williamson as Tom's ex-wife Wendy, Mo Collins as morning talk show host Joan Callamezzo, Jay Jackson as television broadcaster Perd Hapley, Alison Becker as newspaper reporter Shauna Malwae-Tweep, Darlene Hunt as conservative activist Marcia Langman, and Andy Forrest as Andy's frequent shoeshine customer Kyle. Megan Mullally, the real-life wife of Nick Offerman, portrayed Ron's ex-wife Tammy in the second season's "Ron and Tammy", a role she reprised in later episodes. Lucy Lawless had a recurring role in the fifth and sixth seasons of the show as Diane Lewis a single mother who later falls in love with Ron.
Mullally's performance was well received, which made the Parks and Recreation producers feel more comfortable about using celebrity guest actors in later episodes. Other such celebrity guests included: Blake Anderson, Fred Armisen, Will Arnett, Kristen Bell, H. Jon Benjamin, Matt Besser, Chris Bosh, Louis C.K., The Decemberists, Sam Elliott, Will Forte, Ginuwine, Michael Gross, Jon Hamm, Nick Kroll, John Larroquette, Letters to Cleo, Natalie Morales, Parker Posey, Andy Samberg, Roy Hibbert, Detlef Schrempf, Justin Theroux, Wilco, Henry Winkler, and Yo La Tengo. Paul Rudd appeared in several season four episodes as Bobby Newport, Leslie's opponent in the City Council race, and returned for two episodes in the final season.
The show has had cameos by several real-life political figures, including Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Barbara Boxer, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Senator John McCain, First Lady Michelle Obama, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Senator Olympia Snowe.
Immediately after Ben Silverman was named co-chairman of NBC's entertainment division in 2007, he asked Greg Daniels to create a spin-off of The Office. Daniels co-created Parks and Recreation with Michael Schur, who had been a writer on The Office. The two spent months considering ideas for the new series and debating whether to make it a stand-alone show rather than a spin-off. According to Daniels, they eventually abandoned the original spin-off plan because they "couldn't find the right fit". They considered a series about a local government official trying to rebuild a political career following a humiliating public spectacle. They eventually abandoned the idea, though it did end up being incorporated into the backstory for Ben Wyatt late in the second season. After Amy Poehler agreed to play the lead, they decided the show would revolve around an optimistic bureaucrat in small-town government.
The idea was partly inspired by the portrayal of local politics on the HBO drama series The Wire, as well as the renewed interest in and optimism about politics stemming from the 2008 United States presidential election. The staff was also drawn to the idea of building a show around a female relationship, namely Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins. Reports that Daniels and Schur were developing a show together led to press speculation that it would, in fact, be a spin-off of The Office. The producers insisted their new series would be entirely independent. Nevertheless, their concept for it shared several elements with The Office, particularly the mockumentary approach and the encouragement of improvisation among the cast, even though the episodes were scripted. The series was scheduled as a mid-season replacement, and was rushed into production to meet the premiere date of April 9, 2009. Before the title Parks and Recreation was chosen, the name Public Service was considered, but ultimately rejected because network officials did not want to be accused of mocking the idea.
The writers spent time researching local California politics and attending Los Angeles City Council meetings. Schur said they observed that many community hearings were attended only by those opposed, often angrily, to the proposals under consideration. This fact became a major component of town hall scenes, and was the basis for the "Canvassing" episode. The writers consulted with real-life government officials such as urban planners and elected officials. Scott Albright, a California city planner, provided direct feedback for the Mark Brendanawicz character, and the inspiration for Ron Swanson's anti-government convictions came from a real-life encounter Schur had in Burbank with a Libertarian government official who admitted, "I don't really believe in the mission of my job." The concept of turning a construction pit into a park was seen as a device to bring all the characters together working toward a common goal. The writers originally envisioned the pit becoming a park only in the series finale, although those plans were later changed and the pit was filled in during the second season. While researching whether such a project could realistically last several months or longer, Schur spoke to urban planners in Claremont, California who said it was entirely plausible because they had recently broken ground on a park that had been in various planning stages for 18 years.
Daniels and Schur wrote the script for the pilot episode in mid-2008. The original script portrayed Leslie and Mark as slightly less likable than they appeared in the final draft, and they were changed to be more appealing in response to feedback the episode received from focus groups and press tour screenings. For example, while an early draft of the pilot script had Mark saying he didn't care about Leslie or the pit but would support her plan because he liked Ann Perkins and wanted an excuse to spend more time with her, the finished pilot had Mark backing Leslie because he admired her passion and drive. Schur said the writing staff strove to avoid the type of cynical humor prevalent in most television comedies at the time, and wanted the characters to have genuine appreciation for each other. Schur said of this, "I've never liked mean-spirited comedy. The characters on our show make fun of each other, but not in a biting, angry way. And there's no shortage of conflict in the world of government." The first season episodes were written and developed relatively quickly after each other, and Schur said the staff was treating the entire six-episode season as if it were a single television pilot. Daniels felt due to pre-expectations from viewers familiar with The Office, the first season episodes were "just about trying to tell people what we weren't", and that the writers had a better understanding of the characters by season two and could better write to their strengths.
During the first season, the writing staff received audience feedback that Leslie Knope seemed unintelligent and "ditzy". Schur said the writers did not intend for Leslie to be stupid, but rather an overeager woman who "takes her job too seriously," so a particular effort was made to present that character as more intelligent and capable at her job starting in the second season. The staff also decided to move on from the construction pit story arc, having the pit filled in the second season episode "Kaboom". Although it was originally conceived that the pit would only become a park in the series finale, Schur said the plotline was accelerated because early episodes were too focused on the pit and had led viewers to believe the entire show was about filling it in, which was not the writers' intention. Also starting with the second season, the writers made an effort to be more topical and incorporate current events into their scripts. For example, the episode "Pawnee Zoo" included social commentary about same-sex marriage. "The Stakeout" included a parody of the controversial arrest of Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, and a sex scandal involving a Pawnee councilman in "Practice Date" mirrored the real-life 2009 scandal of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.
Starting in the middle of the second season, the writing staff began to draw inspiration from the premise of The Contender (2000). Schur explained that The Contender was about a female politician trying to succeed amid intense scrutiny in a political arena dominated by men, which is similar to challenges Leslie Knope occasionally encounters. The financial difficulties Pawnee experiences during the late second season and third season episodes were reflective of the financial crisis facing the nation and much of the world when the episodes were produced. The introduction of Chris Traeger and Ben Wyatt as state auditors visiting Pawnee, and the subsequent government shutdown, were inspired by news reports at the time of a number of states considering a shut down of schools, parks and other services due to the global recession. The third season included a seven-episode story arc about the characters organizing a harvest festival, and staking the financial future of their department on its success. The festival served as a device to unite the characters, much like the construction pit had earlier in the show. Schur said this was done because the first six episodes were written and filmed early, and the writing staff felt that having one concise storyline to tie them together kept the writers focused and, in Schur's words, helped "organize our tired, end-of-the-year brains". For the romance arc between Leslie and Ben in seasons three and four, The Remains of the Day was used as an inspiration, as a story about two people who are forced not to convey their romantic feelings for each other due to a repressive social system, which Schur compared to modern-day government.
Like The Office, Parks and Recreation is filmed with a single-camera setup in a cinéma vérité style simulating the look of an actual documentary, with no studio audience or laugh track. Within the context of the show, the characters are being filmed by a documentary crew, the members of which are never seen or heard from on-screen. The actors occasionally look at and directly address the cameras, and in some scenes directly engage the cameras in one-on-one interviews with the documentary crew members. The episodes are scripted, but the production encourages the cast to improvise, and dialogue or performances the actors make up during filming often make the final cut of the episodes. Schur said he believes the mockumentary style is particularly fitting for a show about city government because, "It's a device for showing the ways people act and behave differently when they're in public and private [and] the difference between what goes on behind closed doors and what people present to the public is a huge issue."
The Parks and Recreation producers approach each episode as if filming a real documentary. They typically shoot enough for a 35 or 40-minute episode, then cut it down to 22 minutes, using the best material. Due to the improvisational acting and hand-held camerawork, a great deal of extra footage is shot that must be discarded for the final cut; for example, the original cut of the 22-minute pilot was 48 minutes long. The producers film about nine pages of the script each day, a large amount by U.S. television standards.
Despite the similarities in the mockumentary style with The Office, Daniels and Schur sought to establish a slightly different tone in the camerawork of the pilot episode. The one-on-one interviews, for example, sometimes feature two separate camera angles on the same person; the footage is intercut to create the final version of the scene. This technique was inspired by The Five Obstructions, a 2003 experimental documentary directed by Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth, which Daniels watched at the suggestion of actor Paul Schneider. Another distinction from The Office is that, while almost all footage from that show is filmed in a workplace setting, the documentary crew on Parks and Recreation regularly follows the characters into more intimate, non-work settings, such as on dates or at their homes. Parks and Recreation also makes frequent use of the jump cut technique. For instance, one scene in the pilot episode repeatedly jump cuts between brief clips in which Leslie seeks permission from Ron to pursue the pit project. Early in the season, editor Dean Holland developed a technique that would be used throughout the series. During a scene in "The Reporter" in which Leslie reacts to quotes read to her by the journalist, Poehler improvised a number of jokes, many of which were ultimately going to be cut from the episode. Holland thought they were all funny, so he created a brief montage intercutting several of the lines.
Principal photography began on February 18, 2009, less than two months before the show premiered. The show faced early production delays because Poehler was pregnant when she signed on, and filming had to be postponed until she gave birth. The show was filmed in Southern California. The exterior of the Pawnee government building, and several of the hallway scenes, were shot at Pasadena City Hall. The parks and recreation department interiors, as well as the Town Hall courtyard, were filmed on a large studio set sound stage. The set's windows were outfitted with water systems to simulate falling rain, and the windowsills included fake pigeons. The set also includes four hallways that make up the hospital setting where Ann Perkins works as a nurse. The construction pit featured throughout the first and second seasons was dug by the episode's producers at an undeveloped property in Van Nuys, a district of Los Angeles. The producers went door-to-door in the neighborhood, seeking residents' permission for the dig. The pit was guarded 24 hours a day. Scenes set in playgrounds and elsewhere outdoors were filmed on location in Los Angeles. Most scenes set in locations outside the usual Parks and Recreation settings are also filmed in Los Angeles-area locations. For example, public forum scenes in the pilot episode were filmed in one of the city's middle schools, and a town meeting scene in the episode "Eagleton" was shot at the Toluca Lake Sports Center in the Toluca Lake district of Los Angeles. Other Eagleton scenes were also shot at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens, located in San Marino. Elaborate festival setting and corn maze sets featured in "Harvest Festival" was filmed at a real-life festival setting at Los Angeles Pierce College, a community college in Woodland Hills, California. Schur said an aerial shot of the harvest festival at the end of the episode was the most expensive shot in the entire series.
Toward the end of production on the second season, Poehler became pregnant again and the producers of the show were forced to go into production on season three early and film an additional six episodes to accommodate not only Poehler's pregnancy, but also a projected September 2010 air date. After the episodes were already filmed, NBC opted not to put the show on the fall schedule and instead delayed the premiere of the third season until the beginning of 2011. This allowed for the network to run its new comedy, Outsourced, in two-hour comedy schedule block rather than Parks and Recreation. The schedule change meant that all sixteen episodes from the third season were filmed before any of them were shown; the rest of the episodes, starting with the seventh, were filmed in the fall of 2010. NBC chief executive officer Jeff Gaspin said this move was not a reflection on Parks and Recreation, and suggested the extended hiatus would not only have no negative effect on the show, but could actually build anticipation for its return. The move proved frustrating for the cast and crew of Parks and Recreation, although Poehler also pointed out it gave them additional time to go back and re-edit episodes or shoot and add new material.
The producers hired BMI as music consultants to find a theme song. With less than three weeks until the show first aired, BMI sent out a mass e-mail to a slew of composers, giving them just five days to submit an entry. According to the terms of the submission request, the only compensated composer would be the winner, who would receive $7,500 in exchange for release of all rights to NBC. The winning entry was written by Gaby Moreno and Vincent Jones. Michael Schur said this theme song was chosen because producers wanted something that would immediately make the viewer associate the music with the series and the characters. He said Moreno and Jones' song "does a really good job of explaining what the town is like. (The) credits do a really good job of establishing it's just sort of a normal, every-day town in the middle of the country." Due to its realistic mockumentary-style cinematography technique, Parks and Recreation does not use composed background music.
Several songs were written for the show to be performed by Chris Pratt's character, Andy Dwyer, and his band within the show, Mouse Rat. Pratt sings and plays guitar in the band himself, while the drums are played by Mark Rivers, the guitar by Andrew Burlinson, and the bass guitar by Alan Yang, a screenwriter with the show.
Pratt and the other band members played live during filming of the episode, rather than being pre-recorded and dubbed later. One song featured in "Rock Show", called "The Pit", chronicles Andy's experience falling into a construction pit and breaking his legs. Pratt wrote "Ann", a ballad about Ann Perkins, featured in the episode "Boys' Club". Schur wrote the lyrics to "November", a song featured in "The Master Plan" about April Ludgate. In the episode "Woman of the Year", Andy claims every song he writes includes either the lyrics, "Spread your wings and fly", or "You deserve to be a champion." As a result of that joke, every "Mouse Rat" song featured in the series since then has included one of those two lyrics. In the episode "Telethon", Andy plays the song "Sex Hair", about how one can tell whether someone has had sex because their hair is matted. In "Li'l Sebastian", Andy performs a tribute song called "5,000 Candles in the Wind", so-called because he tried to write a song 5,000 times better than Elton John's "Candle in the Wind".
Parks and Recreation was broadcast in the 8:30 PM timeslot Thursdays on NBC, in the United States, during its first two seasons, as part of the network's Comedy Night Done Right line-up. It was moved to a 9:30 PM timeslot during its third season, where it premiered as a mid-season replacement. In the fall of 2011, the show returned to its original 8:30 pm timeslot for the fourth season.
In Australia, the series airs on Channel Seven's digital channel, 7mate, on Mondays at 10:00 PM, after having aired Season 1 and five episodes of Season 2 on Seven at a late timeslot of 11:00 PM.
In Canada, Parks and Recreation is simsubbed in most areas on City.
In India, it airs on Zee Cafe.
In the Philippines, it airs on Jack TV every Friday at 9:30 PM, Wednesday at 2:30 AM, and 10:00 AM.
In Portugal, the show airs on AXN White.
In the Republic of Ireland, it airs on RTÉ Two.
In South Africa, the show airs on Pay-TV operator MNET.
In the UK, the show began airing on BBC Four in 2013. The first three seasons aired on this channel before moving to Dave in the summer of 2015, starting with Season 4.
In March 2011, Universal Media Studios announced their intentions to sell the syndication rights to Parks and Recreation. Comedy Central, FX, and Spike were all described as possible contenders to buy the syndication rights.
Syndicated episodes are thus far planned to air on multiple cable networks including NBCUniversal owned Esquire Network (after relaunching from Style) and WGN America. The pilot episode also served as the first official broadcast of FX sister network, FXX, when it launched on September 2, 2013, followed by an all-day marathon, marking the first time the NBC comedy appeared off-network.
The first season of Parks and Recreation started to receive criticism before the premiere episode aired. According to a March 18, 2009 report that was leaked to writer Nikki Finke, focus groups responded poorly to a rough-cut version of the pilot. Many focus group members felt the show was a "carbon copy" of The Office. Some found it predictable, slow paced, and lacking in character development; others said the show lacked strong male characters, particularly a "datable" lead. Schur insisted the pilot had been completely re-edited at least four times since the focus groups described in the report were held. Nevertheless, the early feedback left many critics and industry observers skeptical about the show's chances of success.
After it aired, the first season received generally mixed reviews; it currently holds a Metacritic score of 59 out of 100. Many critics said the series was too similar to The Office, and several commentators said Leslie Knope too closely resembled Michael Scott, the dimwitted protagonist of The Office. Some critics said the show's characters and overall tone were too mean-spirited in the early episodes, and although reviewers praised various cast members in individual episodes, some said the supporting characters in general needed to be more fully developed and provided with better material. The season finale "Rock Show" received far better reviews, with several commentators declaring that Parks and Recreation had finally found the right tone both generally and for the Leslie Knope character in particular.
Season two was better received and currently holds a Metacritic score of 72 out 100, indicating "Generally Positive" reviews. Several publications declared it among the best shows of 2009 including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Time, Entertainment Weekly, GQ, New York magazine, The Star-Ledger, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Paste magazine, IGN, and TV Squad. Several reviewers called the second season one of the most impressive comebacks in television history. Some reviewers said the supporting cast was now working with better material and that Amy Poehler's character had improved and become less over-the-top and more human than in the first season. Others praised the decision to drop subplots from season one that risked becoming stale, like Leslie's long-standing crush on Mark, as well as the decision to fill in the pit during the second season, which some commentators said freed the show up for more stories and better scripts.
The critical acclaim continued into the third season, which currently holds a Metacritic score of 83 out of 100, indicating "Universal Acclaim". Eric Sundermann of Hollywood.com said he believed third season "will become [sic] to be recognized as one of the best seasons of any sitcom ever", and that the characters and setting of Pawnee were so fully developed that he felt a close, personal connection to them. Henry Hanks of CNN called it "a near-flawless season". Scott Meslow of The Atlantic said during the third season, Parks and Recreation was "the funniest, sweetest, most consistent sitcom on television". TIME magazine writer James Poniewozik called it "a fabulous season – the best thing on TV in 2011 so far", and which TV Squad writer Maureen Ryan, who previously criticized the series, called one of the 10 best shows of 2011. In TIME magazine's 2012 year-end top 10 lists, Parks and Recreation was named the top TV series.
Parks and Recreation featured on the February 11, 2011 cover of Entertainment Weekly, which called it, "the smartest comedy on TV." The magazine included an article called The 101 Reasons We Love Parks and Recreation.
Poehler said the first season struggled in part due to extremely high expectations from comparisons to The Office. After the first season ended, she said, "I think it was something we had to work through in the beginning, and I'm kind of hoping we're on the other side of that and people will start to judge the show on its own, for what it is and realize it's just a completely different world in a similar style." Likewise, Schur said he believed much of the early criticism stemmed from the fact that audiences were not yet familiar with the characters, and he thought viewers who revisited the episodes would enjoy them more with a better understanding of the characters.
Poehler received wide praise for her performance from the beginning of the series; several reviewers, even those who did not enjoy the show, said her talent, timing and likability helped elevate the series above some of its flaws.
Nick Offerman received particularly strong praise for his minimalist and understated performance as Ron Swanson, whom many considered the show's breakout character. By the end of the second season, the character had taken on a cult status; Jonah Weiner of Slate magazine declared Swanson "Parks and Recreation's secret weapon".
Reviewers also consistently praised the performances by supporting actors Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford, and Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer.
Parks and Recreation struggled in the Nielsen ratings throughout its entire run on NBC. The series premiere was seen in 6.77 million households, which media outlets described as a strong opening, comparable to the average Nielsen ratings for 30 Rock, another Thursday-night show on NBC. Viewership declined almost every week over the rest of the season, culminating in a season low of 4.25 million households for the final episode. Parks and Recreation ended the first season with an overall average rating of 5.97 million household viewers, ranking 94th in a list of 193 network shows for the 2008–09 television season. The Office experienced similarly poor ratings during its first season and later became a success. Low viewership presented a greater challenge for Parks and Recreation because NBC now trailed CBS, ABC and Fox in the ratings, and the move of comedian Jay Leno from The Tonight Show to a variety show in NBC's 10:00 pm weeknight slot left less room on the network's primetime schedule. At the end of the season, members of the cast and crew were stressed because they did not know whether the show would be renewed.
Although Parks and Recreation achieved critical success during the second season, the show continued to suffer in the ratings. By December 2009, the average episode viewership was 5.3 million households, which was lower than the average ratings other Thursday-night NBC comedy shows like Community's 6.5 million households, 30 Rock's 7.3 million and The Office's 10.1 million. For the overall second season, Parks and Recreation had an overall average viewership of 4.6 million households, making it the 108th ranked network series for the 2009–10 season. The poor ratings continued into the third season, which ended with an overall average rating of 5.1 million households, the 116th ranked network series of the 2010–11 television season. Michael Schur partially attributed the continually low viewership to a decline in ratings for NBC in general, as well as changing viewer trends due to a large number of available channels.
Despite the generally low ratings, Parks and Recreation was renewed for a sixth season on May 9, 2013. NBC had a financial incentive to continue the series, as it owns the distribution rights via its NBCUniversal Television Distribution company: the sixth season put the series over the 100 episodes milestone, making it more viable for syndication.
In 2010, Amy Poehler was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her work in the second season. Also that year, Parks and Recreation was nominated for the Television Critics Association Award for Outstanding Achievement in Comedy and Individual Achievement in Comedy for Nick Offerman for his work in the second season. The second season premiere episode, "Pawnee Zoo", won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Individual Episode (in a Series without a Regular LGBT Character). Also in 2010, Parks and Recreation received two nominations from Entertainment Weekly's EWwy Awards: Best Comedy Series and Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for Offerman.
In 2011, Parks and Recreation was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series and Amy Poehler received her second Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. In June 2011, Parks and Recreation was nominated for three awards for the inaugural Critics' Choice Television Awards: Best Comedy Series, Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Poehler, and Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for Nick Offerman. Also that month, Parks and Recreation was nominated for four TCA Awards: Program of the Year, Outstanding Achievement in Comedy, and Individual Achievement in Comedy for Offerman and Poehler. Offerman hosted the TCA Awards ceremony that year.
In January 2014, Amy Poehler won her first Golden Globe award for her portrayal of Leslie Knope. Poehler was hosting the ceremony along with Tina Fey.
The first season of Parks and Recreation was released on DVD in region 1 on September 8, 2009. The DVD included all six episodes, as well as an "Extended Producer's Cut" of the season finale, "Rock Show". The disc also included cast and crew commentary tracks for each episode, as well as about 30 minutes of deleted scenes. The second season was released in a four-disc set in region 1 on November 30, 2010. They included extended episodes for "The Master Plan" and "Freddy Spaghetti", as well as two-and-a-half hours of deleted scenes, a third season preview and additional video clips. Audio commentaries were recorded for the episodes "Sister City", "Ron and Tammy", "Hunting Trip", "Woman of the Year", "The Master Plan" and "Freddy Spaghetti". It is not known if the remaining 5 seasons will be released on DVD.
All seven seasons of Parks and Recreation can be viewed on the streaming video service Hulu, as well as the "Instant Watch" streaming feature of Netflix and Amazon Prime. Individual episodes can also be purchased on the iTunes Store and viewed on an NBC mobile browser on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.
Parks and Recreation is not available on Blu-ray for any season despite airing in high definition and its availability in HD through streaming; the episode "The Hunting Trip" is available as a bonus feature on the Blu-ray set for Season Six of The Office, making it the only Parks and Recreation episode on Blu-ray.Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America — Book featured in the fourth season episode "Born & Raised," with credited author Leslie Knope.
http://annsolo.tumblr.com — Ann's personal blog (Tumblr), seen in the fifth season episode "Ann's Decision."
http://www.awesomesaucewedding.com/ — Andy and April's wedding site.
http://www.dukesilver.com/ — Website for Ron Swanson's secret musical alter ego
http://www.entertainment720.com/ (archive) — Website for Tom and Jean-Ralphio's failed business venture, Entertainment 7wenty.
http://hoosiermate.com/ (archive) — Dating website featured in the third season episode "Soulmates."
http://www.knope2012.com/ — Knope 2012 campaign site.
http://www.pawneeindiana.com/ — Fictional city of Pawnee website.
http://www.rentaswag.com/ (archive) — Tom's high-end clothes rental for teens, tweens and everything in betweens
http://www.ronswansongrill.com — Ron Swanson's grilling webpage
http://www.scarecrowboat.com/ (archive) — Website for Andy's band Mouse Rat (formerly Scarecrow Boat), Pawnee, Indiana's #1 band.
http://www.snakeholelounge.com/ — Website for the Snakehole Lounge, "Pawnee's sickest nightclub."
https://www.twitter.com/munchmeat2015 — Twitter account featured in "The Debate."