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Things You Probably Never Knew About Parks And Recreation

In one of the most popular bloopers from the Season 4 "Parks and Recreation" episode "The Comeback Kid," Rashida Jones's character, Ann Perkins, says "Everyone loves a good comeback story." She offers Seabiscuit and the Mighty Ducks as examples, but really, "Parks and Recreation" was its own comeback story. 

The show began in deep creative debt to "The Office," created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur. Predictably, the show faced comparisons to its fellow NBC mockumentary over the course of seven seasons, particularly in the beginning. However, "Parks and Recreation" eventually won over fans with its charm, its relentless optimism about American politics, and of course, its ensemble cast. The show featured established stars Amy Poehler and Rob Lowe while jumpstarting the careers of others, including Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza. By the time Vox declared it the show that defined the Obama administration, it was a staple of NBC primetime programming. No matter how well you think you might know the show, it may come as a shock to hear some of these stories from behind the scenes of Pawnee's local government.

It was supposed to be a spinoff of The Office

"Parks and Recreation" co-creator Greg Daniels is the man responsible for bringing "The Office" from British TV to American audiences. After turning that show into a hit, Daniels was tasked with pitching a new series. He recruited Michael Schur, a producer and writer for "The Office," to assist. According to the New York Times, the show wasn't always supposed to be about a parks & recreation office in a small Indiana town. It was almost a spinoff that existed in the same universe as "The Office," given its casting of "Office" alumni Rashida Jones early in its development. 

Everything changed once Amy Poehler joined the show. Fresh off of her run as the longest-serving female cast member on "Saturday Night Live," she completely changed the trajectory of Daniels and Schur's planned project. They decided to put Poehler at the center of their new fake mockumentary. Where the show would take place was another question — one that would be answered by American culture in 2008. 

Following the 2008 presidential election, Daniels and Schur felt inspired by the country's growing optimism in regards to politics. Barack Obama had run for president on a campaign of hope and change and managed to win. They decided to craft their new series around Poehler's character, an optimist working in public service. 

Leslie Knope was changed after Season 1

Season 1 of "Parks and Recreation" consisted of only six episodes, centering on Poehler's character, the kind-hearted and idealistic Leslie Knope. The role was written specifically with Poehler in mind, even forcing production to be delayed to accommodate her pregnancy (via the New York Times). At the start of the show, Leslie is the deputy director of the Parks Department in Pawnee, Indiana, a fictional town whose absurdity has drawn comparisons to Springfield from "The Simpsons." It isn't uncommon for a sitcom to take its time finding its footing, and in this short first season, Leslie was unfavorably compared to Steve Carrell's Michael Scott from "The Office." 

One of the biggest criticisms of Leslie's portrayal in the first season was that the character came off as incompetent, or as some critics put it, "ditzy." According to co-creator Schur, their intention was for Leslie to be smart, although perhaps a little naive, but that didn't initially come across to audiences. Seemingly against all odds, the show was renewed by NBC for a second season, allowing the writers time to improve the character. 

As the show went on, Leslie became more than the butt of jokes or a punching bag for other characters. Her optimism doesn't make her naive; it makes her inspiring. By the end of the series, she's come a long way from the overly eager park director of the pilot. She's a politician, a leader, and a mother all at once. 

Paul Schneider was meant to re-appear

Fans of the show's later seasons may have forgotten about Mark Brendanawicz, played by Paul Schneider. Don't worry, the writers did too. The character, a city planner and on-again/off-again romantic interest of Leslie's, was in the main cast during the first season. However, according to Schur, they always planned to have Mark's appearances become rarer as the show went on to reflect the reality of the careers of city planners. 

The end of Season 2 of "Parks and Recreation" coincided with Schneider's departure from the series. Schur claimed this was in line with their plans for the character, but the decision was also influenced by Schneider's increased success in films like "Bright Star" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford." However, despite Schur's claims that Schneider would return for guest appearances, that never came to pass. 

Despite Mark's importance to the show during the first two seasons, the character is never mentioned after his departure from Pawnee — not even by Rashida Jones' Ann Perkins, who dated Mark during the second season. Schneider didn't return for the show's final season, telling the press that he wasn't interested.

Ron Swanson was inspired by real government officials

Nick Offerman's mustachioed Ron Swanson is one of the true breakout characters of "Parks and Recreation." He's the polar opposite of Poehler's Leslie Knope — deadpan, masculine, and stoic. However, the differences between the two characters goes beyond personality; Swanson is also a libertarian, with a strong opposition to big government, which puts him at odds with Knope's desire for bureaucratic change in Pawnee. This has some basis in real-life U.S. politicians, according to the series' co-creators. 

As Michael Schur has told it, Swanson's opposition to government control is based on a libertarian government official the creators met while researching for the show. When Schur pointed out the contradiction between the official's political stance and their office of duty, they apparently responded, "I don't really believe in the mission of my job" (via The Los Angeles Times). This became the perfect inspiration to cast Offerman, who was favored by Schur and Daniels after the actor missed out on a part in "The Office."

Additionally, many aspects of Ron Swanson's personality were also inspired by Nick Offerman himself. The two share a lot in common, such as their love of woodwork and saxophone. When casting Swanson's antagonistic ex-wife, it was Schur's idea to bring in Offerman's real-life spouse, "Will & Grace" star Megan Mullally. It's safe to say the show wouldn't be what it is without Offerman's dry humor stealing every scene he's in.

The role of April was created for Aubrey Plaza

It's hard to imagine "Parks and Recreation" with a different cast, especially given that most of the characters were designed with certain actors in mind. According to Michael Schur, that's how Aubrey Plaza came to be cast as young intern April Ludgate. At a Q&A with the cast at the Paley Center, Schur recounted how the show's casting director, Allison Jones, sent Plaza to him with the preface that she was the "weirdest girl [Allison] ever met." It only took one meeting for Schur and Daniels to be sufficiently intrigued.

Plaza's account of the meeting is a little different. (She claims she wasn't aware she was auditioning for anything.) Still, it inspired Schur to write a scene between Leslie and an assistant named "Aubrey." The character, over the course of developing the pilot, evolved into April, the parks & recreation department's apathetic intern. April, along with Ron Swanson, became one of the show's breakout characters and launched Plaza's career

It's not hard to see how Plaza's personality inspired the character. Like April, she seems to relish uncomfortable situations, often making use of the deadpan humor that turned April into a fan favorite. Any interview between Aubrey Plaza and Conan O'Brien can give fans of "Parks and Recreation" an idea of how that first meeting with Schur might have gone.

Andy was only supposed to appear in the first season

Before Chris Pratt was cast as Star-Lord, the wisecracking self-described leader of Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy," he broke out as the dim-witted Andy Dwyer on "Parks and Recreation." The character debuts in the pilot as the boyfriend of Rashida Jones' Ann, whose legs are broken after he falls in the empty construction pit that the first season centers around filling, and their breakup at the end of that season was meant to be the end of Andy's time on the show. 

Fortunately for Pratt, the producers liked the character so much that he was promoted from guest star to main cast for Season 2, when Andy gets a job as a shoeshiner at the parks & recreation office. An early idea from the writers would have seen Andy eventually become mayor of Pawnee by the end of the series, since everybody who meets him loves him. Sadly, this idea never came to fruition, but Andy did take on several other jobs throughout the show, serving as Leslie's campaign assistant and a public access TV show host. 

Despite Pratt's growing fame, Andy's presence on the show was never compromised. In between shooting "Guardians of the Galaxy" as well as films like "Zero Dark Thirty," Pratt gained and lost weight in order to keep Andy's body shape. According to Pratt, Andy's weight became vital to his character, underscoring Andy's misplaced confidence in how fit he is.

Chris Pratt was formally reprimanded by NBC

Leave it to Chris Pratt to have more fun on set than everybody else. Often, his improvisations made it onto the show, if not the blooper reel. One of those unscripted moments, however, almost cost him his job. The scene in question was filmed for the Season 2 episode "Kaboom," when Andy shows up to Ann's house completely naked under the mistaken belief that she wants him back — but Leslie answers the door and is horrified. 

On the day of filming, Pratt recognized that Poehler wasn't reacting the way she would if she actually saw Andy naked, so with a recommendation from the boom mic operator, he removed his skin-colored underwear and surprised Poehler by actually being naked. This ended up being the take they used on the show, meaning Leslie's reaction to Andy's nudity is actually Poehler's reaction to Pratt's. 

When telling this story on talk shows like Graham Norton, Pratt has recounted how the take led to a formal letter from NBC executives reprimanding him for the incident. According to Pratt, he has the letter framed and hung in his home office, but it was enough to keep him from flashing any other cast members... as far as we know. 

Adam Scott left another show for Parks and Recreation

Prior to playing Ben Wyatt, Adam Scott was known for supporting roles in comedies like "Step Brothers" and "Knocked Up" as well as the lead on the Starz sitcom "Party Down." The series had a lot of Hollywood names involved, including Paul Rudd, "Veronica Mars" creator Rob Thomas, Fred Savage, and Ken Marino

Unfortunately, the show was doomed after two of its stars, Scott and Jane Lynch, moved on to other projects: Lynch joined the cast of "Glee," while Scott was offered the role of Ben Wyatt at the end of the second season of "Parks and Recreation." He joined the show alongside Rob Lowe's Chris Traeger, and his character later began dating Leslie. Ben becomes a central member of the "Parks and Recreation" family, though that wasn't what drew Scott to the part.

Since the future of "Party Down" was up in the air when "Parks" came calling, Scott has said it was an easy choice to make. That's especially due to the fact that "Parks and Recreation" was one of his favorite TV shows at the time. The feeling was mutual with the showrunners — Scott was their number one choice to play Ben. 

Rob Lowe only signed on to be a guest star

Rob Lowe made his "Parks and Recreation" debut alongside Adam Scott in Season 2's "The Master Plan." A unique role for the actor who rose to fame with films such as "The Outsiders" and found TV stardom on "The West Wing," government auditor Chris Traeger is relentlessly positive, energetic, and health-conscious to an absurd degree, making him a perfect foil for characters like Ron and April. While the role garnered Rob Lowe heaps of praise, it wasn't always the plan for him to join the main cast.

Chris was meant to be a guest spot for Lowe, who was initially slated to appear at the end of Season 2 as well as the first six episodes of Season 3. Between Seasons 2 and 3, Lowe signed on to join the main cast.

The addition of Lowe as a series regular was fruitful for Ann Perkins. Rashida Jones' character had gone through many relationships throughout the show, from Andy Dwyer to Aziz Ansari's Tom Haverford. However, through Chris Traeger, Ann found an endgame, and their relationship was well-received by critics and audiences alike. 

Ben Schwartz improvised most of his lines

Comedian Ben Schwartz portrayed one of the most popular recurring characters on "Parks and Recreation." He originally met with creator Michael Schur for a different role, a potential love interest for Leslie Knope. Though he didn't land the part, the character of Jean-Ralphio Saperstein, an obnoxious friend of Aziz Ansari's Tom Haverford, was created just for Schwartz.

The more Ben Schwartz appeared on "Parks and Recreation," the more fans fell in love with Jean-Ralphio. Eventually, the character's family made appearances, including his sister Mona-Lisa, played by Jenny Slate, and his father, played by Henry Winkler.

As Jean-Ralphio, Schwartz often improvised his lines, stealing every scene he was in. Schwartz is no stranger to improv, having come up through Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and even having a long-form improv show with "Silicon Valley" star Thomas Middleditch, with their own Netflix special to boot. Several blooper reels from "Parks and Recreation" showcase Schwartz's ability to make his co-stars break character.

Andy and April's relationship wasn't planned

Few "Parks and Recreation" pairings seemed as unlikely as Andy Dwyer and April Ludgate. Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza's chemistry together was undeniable, but Michael Schur didn't consider them as a couple until the Season 1 finale, "Rock Show." In a brief moment improvised by Plaza, April is the only one who gets Andy's taste in music

The characters got another chance to bond in the Season 2 episode "Hunting Trip," which found the two alone in the office while the rest of the staff goes on a hunting trip together. While Andy is still lamenting his breakup with Ann in the episode, April gives him a hickey as a way to make her jealous. This moment became the impetus for the pair's "will-they-won't-they" story throughout the rest of Seasons 2 and 3. April and Andy get married at the end of Season 3 after dating for a month, which is perfectly in character for both of them. 

As the series went on, April and Andy's relationship became a highlight for many fans. The two role-played as their alter egos, Burt Macklin and Janet Snakehole. April also helped Andy check off items on his bucket list, such as holding $1,000 in cash in his hands and becoming an action star. All of that delightful comedy came out of a clever improvisation from Aubrey Plaza, who simply felt that April would have a crush on Andy.

Amy Poehler suggested Season 7's time jump

"Parks and Recreation" took a big risk when they came back for a seventh season. Rather than tell a smaller, concise story with the main cast, the show branched out over a longer period of time to show the characters growing over the rest of their lives. This wasn't planned from the start — it actually happened after Amy Poehler suggested it. 

Toward the end of Season 6, Leslie discovers that she's pregnant, and later gives birth to triplets. Poehler wasn't enthusiastic about working with babies, and the creators of "Parks and Recreation" were accommodating, pushing the show three years into the future. This led to some pretty interesting directions for Season 7's story. 

It opens with Leslie and Ron not on speaking terms after a falling out between them. The rivalry results in the episode "Leslie and Ron," where the two are locked in a room to solve their differences; it garnered widespread acclaim, especially for the performances of Offerman and Poehler.

A future U.S. President made a cameo

From the beginning, "Parks and Recreation" was a show about politics. Many plots were directly inspired by current events, from the government shutdown in 2007 to the attitudes of real-life U.S. political officials

The show also featured its fair share of cameos from political figures. Late Arizona senator John McCain appeared very briefly in two episodes, while First Lady Michelle Obama also made a cameo during the show's finale, where she meets a starstruck Leslie. Arguably the biggest of these moments came when Vice President Joe Biden appeared — not once, but twice. 

It had been a running joke throughout the series that Leslie had a crush on Biden. In the episode "Leslie vs. April," Ben pulls a few favors to get Leslie to meet the future U.S. President, who is good-naturedly weirded out by the way she gushes over him. Biden later made an appearance in the series finale, where he and his real-life wife, Jill, welcome Leslie and Ben to a house party. We can only imagine Leslie's excitement after Biden was elected the 46th President of the United States. 

NBC paid millions to stream the series

"Parks and Recreation" came to an end in 2015 after seven seasons, but the show lives on through the growing popularity of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Its fanbase has remained active on social media as well, and the cast often speaks fondly about the show in hindsight. This persistent popularity led to "A Parks and Recreation Special," a one-off episode filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, catching up on the characters in quarantine. 

This did not go unnoticed by NBC when they launched their own streaming service, Peacock. According to Deadline, NBCUniversal paid approximately nine figures to move "Parks and Recreation" over to Peacock from Netflix. The actual cost is apparently not even close to what they paid for "The Office," which was upwards of $500,000,000. 

The show's stars have gone on to other projects, but they and their fans can always come back to Pawnee, Indiana.