It's hard to believe that it's already been nine years since Parks and Recreation aired its first episode. The show initially had a rocky start, but luckily, it prevailed nonetheless. The comedy went on to have a whopping seven seasons on NBC, and viewers everywhere fell in love with Leslie Knope and the rest of the Parks Department gang. It spawned endless numbers of hilarious gifs, and it helped to launch the careers of Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari and more.
With a show full of comedians, there's bound to be some interesting things that happen behind the scenes. You might already know some behind-the-scenes secrets of The Office, but we bet you didn't know Parks and Rec was originally supposed to be an Office spin-off! And its OG name wasn't Parks and Recreation. Want to know more behind-the-scenes secrets? Keep reading to find out!
When Aubrey met casting director Allison Jones, Allison knew immediately that Aubrey should be on the show. She called up Mike Schur, the show's co-creator, and told him, "I just met the weirdest girl I’ve ever met in my life. You have to meet her and put her on your show."
When Andy is trying to help Leslie figure out what kind of sickness she has, he says, "Leslie, I typed your symptoms into the thing up here, and it says you could have network connectivity problems."
It's Andy's most famous line, and it was totally improvised. The ad-libbed moment by Chris made it into the final cut of the episode, and it inspired gifs everywhere.
Ellie auditioned to be on the show, but she didn't end up getting a role. However, the opportunity led her to be cast on co-creator Greg Daniels’s other show, The Office, just a few months later.
It was actually Aubrey Plaza's idea for the two to get together. She decided that April would like Andy's band, Mouse Rat, and the rest is history.
Chris originally wore a pair of nude underwear to cover his private bits, but he didn't feel the reaction he was getting from Amy was genuine, so he decided to get completely naked. He whipped off the underwear in between takes, so when Amy opened the door, her reaction was 100 percent real. And that take was the one they ended up using in the final cut of the episode.
"Playing Mose Schrute was a waking nightmare," he told Entertainment Weekly. "My boss, Greg Daniels, forced me to do it as a way to cause me pain. And it was terrible. The first time I did it, I had to grow a real neckbeard. Every time after that, he 'let' me use a fake beard, which is maybe worse, because those beards are terrible."
Nick has been a saxophone player for years, but the writers had no idea when they wrote the episode. So it really was a surprise for both the audience and the crew.
The cast and crew actually shot two endings: one where Leslie won, and one where she lost. Mike Schur said the writing team went back and forth countless times on whether or not she should win, but after lots of careful consideration, it was decided that Leslie would come out on top.
In fact, his character was based on a real person. When Mike and Greg were doing research for the show, they spoke to various government officials. When the two brought up how funny it would be if Leslie's boss was anti-government, an official responded, "Well, I’m a libertarian, so I don’t really believe in the mission of my job." And Ron Swanson was born.
When filming for the final season came around, Amy had been busy raising her children. She didn't want to have to work with babies after having to deal with her own, so she told the writers to jump ahead in time. And that was that.
Parks and Recreation was originally going to be much darker than the lighthearted series fans grew to love. The comedy show's poorly-rated first season shows the dark tone that the show had planned when it was first conceived as a spin-off series of its fellow NBC half-hour comedy series The Office, which is, at its core, a fairly dark show. But after nearly getting canceled after their first season, the showrunners decided to take Parks and Rec in a new, happier direction. This included making Leslie Knope less ditzy and giving her more support from her coworkers in her political endeavors.
On the first episode of Parks and Rec season five, Leslie Knope finally gets to meet her ultimate celebrity crush, Vice President Joe Biden. The cast actually filmed multiple alternates takes of their meeting depending on how the presidential race ended: one for a Barack Obama win, one for an Obama loss, and one in case votes were tied in a key state like Florida, as they were in the Bush/Gore election. The cast and crew filmed in Joe's ceremonial vice presidential office at the actual, real-life White House. Joe was just one of many real politicians featured on the show.
It is hard to imagine Parks and Recreation without the lovable Andy Dwyer being portrayed by Chris Pratt. The only reason Chris was considered for the show was because of his work on The O.C. with Parks and Rec creator Mike Schur's wife. Chris appeared as Che, an activist Summer Roberts befriended during her time at Brown. Amy Poehler said that Chris had the best audition she'd ever seen when he came in for Parks and Rec, and the rest was history, with his six-episode guest-starring arc turning into a series regular role until the show ended in 2015.
L'il Sebastian made a big impact on the Parks and Recreation fans, but the mini-horse was actually only introduced as a concept eight episodes before he was killed off and memorialized with a giant funeral and an original song by Andy, "5,000 Candles In The Wind." It's like "A Candle In The Wind," only sadder. The mini-horse that played Li'l Sebastian was almost always erect, which made the horse very difficult for actors to work with. That's why on photos of Li'l Sebastian and in many shots the horse was in, production had to blur his penis out of the frame.
There was a lot of improvisation in the Parks and Rec creative process. In one scene, when the cable goes out during a viewing of one of Leslie's campaign speeches and Andy needs to keep the donors entertained, Andy reenacts the movies Rambo and Road House. Those moments were fully improvised by Chris. In the script, Amy just wrote "Pratt talks about Road House" and let the actor take it from there, according to an interview Mike Schur and the cast did with Indie Wire at Paleyfest ahead of its final season during the 2014-2015 sweeps.
Ben Schwartz's hilarious privileged, money-seeking character Jean-Ralphio Saperstein had some amazing recurring bits, like singing everything he says and constantly failing at his get rich quick schemes. One of these funny repeated jokes was Jean-Ralphio's complete inability to rhyme while rapping. He'd get so close, then ruin it at the last second with no self-awareness that he was doing anything wrong. For example: "K to the N to the OPE / She's the dopest little shawty in all Pawnee, Indiana." True comic genius. Although Ben is a master improviser who's had a regular show, Snowpants, at UCB Franklin, these raps were actually all written by Amy Poehler.
In most television shows, actors will have to do and re-do their scenes many times, either to get their lines right or in order to get different angles of the scene for the editors to splice together in post-production. The actors in Parks and Recreation, however, had to do scene "coverage" (which is what this process is called) fifteen to twenty times because of the show's documentary-style framing. After this, the actors would also do fun runs of the scenes with improvised jokes to try new things and make the actors feel funny.
Octavia Spencer is one of only two black actresses to receive three Academy Award nominations, and she has won an Oscar, a BAFTA, and a Golden Globe for her work in films such as The Help, Fruitvale Station, and The Shape of Water. Surprisingly, this acclaimed dramatic actress tried to show the world her funny side and auditioned for the role of Donna Meagle in Parks and Rec. It's hard to think of anyone other than the living icon that is Retta playing the kooky character, but now we know Octavia was one of the other options for the character.
Speaking of Retta, the actress and stand-up comedian has a ton of hidden talents. One of these talents is opera. Retta is a trained opera singer, and the voice you hear when Donna sings at Ben and Leslie's wedding really is Retta singing. Another truly random fact about Retta is that her aunt is the former president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. That sounds like something that Donna Meagle would say while talking about the Regal Meagles and her cousin, the rapper Genuwine. It's surprising that Amy and Mike never wrote in an Easter egg about Retta's aunt, but they definitely included her lovely singing voice.
Alan Yang co-created Master of None and served as co-showrunner alongside Parks and Rec alumn Aziz Ansari. A little known fact is that Alan also appeared in Parks and Rec as the bassist in Andy Dwyer's band, Mouse Rat, who was often named "Chang" in the credits. A man of many, many talents, Alan also co-wrote multiple Parks and Rec episodes, directed for the show, and eventually became one of the series' executive producers. Master of None was actually based on Aziz and Alan's real lives, and the character of Brian, played by Kelvin Yu, is based on Alan.
Speaking of Aziz Ansari, the actor was subject to a very Parks and Rec-like office shenanigan while filming the series. During the filming of the first season, Aziz got stuck in his trailer under a shelf and had to email Amy Poehler from his phone to come to save him. She did, but not before taking a picture of him trapped and sending it to the rest of the cast. That sounds exactly like something that would happen on Parks and Rec, but probably to Jerry/Garry/Larry instead of Tom Haverford, and Donna would be taking the picture.
Mike Schur and Greg Daniels wanted to make sure they got the facts right when writing about the lives of civil servants, so much so that the showrunners went to city council meetings in Los Angeles where the series filmed to observe citizens voicing their opinions (which was a common comedic element over the course of the series) while developing the series, during the same time period when they were both working on The Office. This is also where Mike met the aforementioned government official who would inspire the character of Ron Swanson through his strange apathy towards his job.
We already know that Amy chose to make the final season's time-jump because she'd just had children, but did you know that Amy's *first* pregnancy also happened while she was making Parks and Recreation? The pilot episode was scheduled for the coveted timeslot after the Super Bowl, but Amy Poehler's first pregnancy meant filming would have to be delayed. Amy assumed that she would be recast so the pilot could keep the prime airtime, but Mike and Daniel knew that they needed Amy for the role. Parks and Rec is a modern classic, so all's well that end's well.
Everyone starts somewhere. For Aubrey Plaza, 'somewhere' was the NBC Page program in New York. She may have ended up on Parks and Rec, but she lived the life of a 30 Rock character in 2006. She was encouraged to leave after making a joke about Jesus being crucified only three or four months into the program. She also used to make up fake fun facts during tours to keep herself entertained, and she was regularly hungover at work and would have to excuse herself to vomit in trash cans. She stole the uniform when she left, and she actually ended up as a page in the background of a 30 Rock shot when she was interning at NBC in the 30 Rock building.
Mark Rivers, who plays Mouse Rat's drummer on the show, wrote Andy's most iconic song "The Pit" from Parks and Rec's season one finale, "Rock Show," but Chris Pratt also dabbled in the songwriting for his musician character. He wrote the song "Ann" during that season, and a few others during the show. Mark, however, wrote Mouse Rat's three other songs in fifteen minutes, and aimed for a Hootie and the Blowfish vibe while creating the music for the character. The band came together when Mark, Andy, and the other band members were rehearsing the song before filming.
Michael Schur is a huge fan of Infinite Jest. So much so, that the Parks and Rec episode "Partridge" is mostly an homage to the David Foster Wallace classic. Nearly every location and new character introduced during the episode is named after something in the novel, as are the lawyers in the fictional firm that Councilman Jamm uses to represent him in his lawsuit against Ron. Mike's love for the Wallace novel is longstanding — he wrote his undergrad thesis on the author, directed a Decemberists music video based on the book, and owns the film rights.
Amy Poehler's autobiography Yes Please is full of personal anecdotes about her life, love, and work, Parks and Recreation included. One fun tidbit she revealed in the book is that the Joe Biden scene was shot on the same day the cast learned they weren't going to be up for the best comedy Emmy Award, for which they had been projected to be a front-runner. To turn a negative into a positive, Mike decided to channel his energy into writing the amazing, long-awaited scene where Ben proposes to Leslie. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade!
Way back in 2011, when Parks and Recreation was in its third season and finally finding its groove, Amy Poehler said that her dream for the show was to have Bill Murray appear as the mayor that the characters always reference but that is never seen, Walter Gunderson. Only four years later in 2015, Amy's dream came true when Bill did, in fact, appear on Parks and Recreation as Mayor Walter Gunderson in the season seven episode, "Two Funerals." It actually came about because Aubrey Plaza randomly met him somewhere and told him he should come on the show, and then incrementally started pestering him about it.
Adam Scott plays bad very, very well, as evidenced by his demonic roles on The Good Place and his starring role in Party Down. When it came to showing negative emotions on Parks and Rec, especially during scenes when he was arguing with Amy Poehler's character Leslie Knope, Adam tapped into his singular ability to be negative a little too well. Amy would always get concerned during the scenes that Adam was actually mad at her, to which he would respond, "No, dummy, I'm acting," which ironically sounds a lot like something his character on The Good Place would say.
Ben Schwartz was considered to be a love interest for Leslie Knope, but producers worried that Ben Schwartz was too young to play opposite Amy. The two actors have a ten year age difference, and Ben would have been in his twenties when Parks and Rec was in its early years. Mike Schur and writer Kate Dippold really liked Ben, so they found a way to get him onto the series by creating Jean-Ralphio, where Ben really shined. Despite being a minor character, Jean-Ralphio made a major impact on the classic series. He even exists in Mike Schur's other series, The Good Place.