The Writers' Room (2013) s01e02 Episode Script

Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation.
Leave a message after the beep.
Because of a local disaster, you, Andy Dwyer - Six seasons and counting Jerry God, gross.
This comedy survived threats of cancellation As soon as we heard that feedback, it was like, "oh, my God.
This is terrible.
" and is now hailed as one of the best series on television.
I went out and I bought a mansion and I filled it with solid gold furniture.
Let's meet the Emmy-nominated team who love to cross the line.
I kept saying, "are we sure about the fart attack?" I was staying up at night, hoping you wouldn't take it out.
Outrageous success, horrible mistakes, last-minute changes, the creators of today's most groundbreaking TV shows tell all in the place where it all starts All right, welcome to The Writers' Room.
Today, just a fantastic way to introduce our show.
We're going to have, almost like mystery guests.
Sort of like The Voice.
Here we go.
We have Mike Schur, Amy Poehler, - Dan Goor - Hello Whoa! - and Joe Mande! - Yes! And maybe a set after this one.
Did you break the wall? - No.
- Yeah, just a little bit.
All right, that's okay.
I don't like the make predictions, but I feel like we're going to go on an emotional ride.
And maybe not a physical one, but we're going to have an emotional trust fall today.
- Oh - Don't you think so? No, I really don't.
Okay, so we will not be going there.
I think this is all business.
Oh, then let's go.
Yeah, let's just go.
All right, here we go.
Oh, bye.
Careful, it's not a real wall.
Thank you for joining us.
We really got in deep.
We learned about, best names to use - Sorry I'm late, guys.
- Oh, that's okay.
Now let me ask you-- Mike, let me start with you, because-- Take us back to, sort of, the beginning of Parks and Rec and, sort of, where that idea came from.
Were you guys working together at the time? Was this-- Good.
Yeah, write down my questions and you can answer them as well in long form.
- "In the beginning" "The beginning" Uh, Amy and I had worked together at SNL and then I came out and worked on The Office and Greg Daniels and I were going to develop a show together.
The idea really came from, it was 2008 and the world was falling apart and the financial crisis was happening.
And we weren't sure how, but it was clear to us that government was going to be a very important part of people's lives.
- Yeah, yeah.
- In a new way.
And so, we had the idea of saying, like, "well there's all this, kind of, big picture, sort of theorizing about what the government is and what it should do and what the role of government is in people's lives.
" But we thought a way to do that in a manageable way, was to say, "what if we just focus on a small town and have a person who's just, this is where the rubber meets the road.
" This is like-- The decisions that these people make aren't what interest rate thing is going to blah, blah, blah This is important to them.
You can watch the news and you can read all the stuff about the world, and you know that it's happening and it can concern you, but ultimately, when you wake up in the morning, your life is unaffected by those decisions in a tangible way.
Most people wake up and if they have a problem with the government, it's that they got a parking ticket and want to contest it.
So, that's what we wanted to do.
We also thought it would be a fun way to talk about issues that are bigger issues.
So, I mean, one of our first issue episodes was when Leslie decides to have a cute little ceremony at the zoo, where two penguins get married.
- Right.
- And then it turns out that they're both male penguins and it's a gay marriage.
- A gay penguin wedding.
- A gay penguin marriage.
- And there's a huge protest.
- Which we can all agree on.
- Oh, yes, yeah.
- Right.
Penguins seem like the most gay of animals, you know? - Gayest animal? - Every time I see them, - I'm like if they're not, they should be.
- It just seems right.
Take it down a notch, guys.
They're always in formal wear.
But you were saying-- You were saying about that storyline.
That that was a way of doing a big issue in the small context of a Parks and Rec Department.
So, I mean, it's both the idea of bringing big stakes to little things, like a parking ticket or arguing over a soccer field and also finding a small stakes way to do a big stakes story.
- Yeah.
- I think I nailed that.
No, you did nail it.
Joe and Dan, did you come on at the beginning? - Yes.
- Were you guys there from the beginning? - I was.
- No.
I've been writing for a year and I'm convinced-- I'm a little scared I'm going to get fired.
Like, this is a very public firing.
It would be such a funny way to fire you.
I know, it would be.
If you were going to do it in a funny way This is the big reveal at the end.
We're going to decide whether Joe stays or goes.
You get to vote.
Vote him off.
But designing Leslie, what went into that? Oh, by the way, that's a good spin-off show.
Designing Leslie? When I'm a little bit more mature and me and my older girlfriends Just a big, grey streak in your hair right here.
But, approaching that, did you have something that you wanted to play? Did you guys talk about this character? Well, the character was quite formed when it came to me.
I mean, Leslie Knope was already there and we tweaked a little bit.
Not so much who Leslie was, but how the rest of the world, kind of, responded to her.
And that was that people thought she was coming off ditzy.
And as soon as we heard that feedback, it was like, "oh, my God.
This is terrible.
" And all we did-- We mostly, like Amy said, we had people react to her in a different way.
We had people be impressed by her work ethic, instead of sort of going like, "ugh! Why do I have to work on this thing that you want to work on?" And that, I think, largely changed the perception.
Now, going into the writers' room, because I'm always curious about how shows, sort of, tackle breaking stories, finding stories, all those kind of things, what is your, sort of, process in the room? It's very fun.
Like, it's very fun to do it, because the writing staff is a lot of odd, different voices in it.
And it's very fun, when I get a giant Frankenstein draft, to sort of pick out, like, who wrote what joke, which is really Is it easy to pinpoint when certain people gravitate towards something? Well it's interesting, you know, coming from SNL, you always knew what every person wrote.
And when I first started, I was always like, "who wrote this? Which joke is this?" Like, I was always kind of curious, who to like, kind of, assign-- - Blame.
- Blame or thank.
Yeah, sometimes blame, sometimes congratulations.
Sometimes shame.
But then you start to understand-- In the same way that writers start to understand the character and actor's voices, you get to pick up on the rhythm and the vibe of certain writers.
And you get used to it on SNL because the writers-- And you know, I was always surprised when I left SNL, how far away the actors and the writers would be, literally geographically.
The writers would be in the building and the actors would be on set.
And I'd be like, "when do they see each other? Do they not eat lunch together?" Because at SNL, the writers and actors are all one big, mash up thing, you know? We share offices.
We share offices with writers.
Every writers' room needs a good captain, every show needs a good captain and Mike is an ideal captain and a natural captain, because he has such a strong voice and a firm leader, but a collaborator.
So, those kind of things permeate our show because of it.
So, there's a sense of play, but you also really feel safe that someone's in charge.
Those two things aren't always found, I think, in the writers' room or in comedy shows.
And you know, behind the scenes of comedy shows - can not be very fun.
- Yeah.
Coming up, where comedy writers get their inspiration.
A stated goal of that retreat - was to like-- - Hook up with all the writers.
Some of the best ideas come after a good Sesh.
- Welcome back to - The Writers' Room with Parks and Recreation.
I mean, looking back on a grander scale, since we started talking about the evolution, a little bit, of Leslie-- Like, even Tom, because I think, like, the season finale, we get some insight into Tom, sort of growing as well.
Yeah, well rent-a-swag, which is Tom's, the first good idea he's ever had in his life.
He's had 10,000 bad ideas for businesses and this is the first good one.
Mande actually pitched it on our writers' retreat last year.
Yeah, and that was a very-- A stated goal of that retreat was to, like-- Hook up with all the writers.
- "A.
" - I want to ask real quick, before-- Because I want to know the answer to that.
This writers' retreat, did it get real? It got real.
Did it get really real? It started real and got realer.
What was the idea behind the retreat? Well, we go away, we go out of LA for two days and we just have a lot of like-- Sort of, like, sessions of "let's talk about this upcoming season.
And where did we leave off? Where are we going?" And you know, if people want to experiment sexually, it's up to them.
You don't have to do that.
That's not a stated goal.
Some of the best ideas come after a good - Sesh.
- (Bleeped).
They'll bleep that out if they use it.
But this is a little side thing about Jerry, because I thoroughly enjoy characters that basically get crapped on, like whenever they say something, like, "no.
" You know? You get so annoyed by this genuinely lovable, wonderful, kind, just immovable as far as someone cutting them down.
We cast Jim O'Heir without a character in mind.
We just-- he had auditioned for Ron Swanson and we just liked him.
We liked the way he looked and he seemed like a pleasant guy.
We just thought he was funny.
So, we just cast him, threw him into the office.
And then we were doing an episode early in season two, where everyone was trying to dig up dirt on each other.
And we wrote this joke that was-- The joke was that a character comes to him and says "I found something out about you, which is that your adoptive mother was arrested for marijuana possession.
" And he gets this ashen look on his face and they go, "ah, you didn't know that, huh?" And he says, "I didn't know I was adopted.
" And so, that was-- And when that joke was written, it was like, that's who he is.
He's a punching bag.
And then, what happened is, in the next nine scripts, there was forty Jerry jokes per script, of just pounding on him, just mercilessly, to the point where we had to go like, "oh, guys, let's back--" every scene was nothing but people Let's go to that well.
Oh, then this season also was the fart attack, which was Yeah, he had a heart attack and farted throughout the heart attack.
And Tom was making fun of him for farting while he was dying.
Pretty highbrow show.
It had to be, like, you couldn't stop laughing in the writers' room.
I'm just guessing.
Oh, fart attack was a real good one.
I kept saying, "are we sure about the fart attack? Are we sure?" And all the writers were like, - "Yes, absolutely.
" - 100%.
Let's go with it.
I was staying up at night, hoping you wouldn't take it out.
That was so I went on WebMD to see if that was a actual symptom of a heart attack and it is.
Is it? You can-- Some people do Excessive flatulence.
That's fantastic.
It's medically sound, that episode.
All of our episodes are medically sound.
It does feel like, well, we all know that the writers and actors are feeding off each other, because you're pulling from them things, you know, that could be stories.
Like, that's the interesting thing.
Can you guys think of a specific, sort of like a personal story that one of you may have pitched? Or something that happened in your life, or something that happened to Nick, or any of these people, that you're just like, "we shot this.
" Like chunks of Ron Swanson just come right out of Nick Offerman.
Really? In what way? He is a woodworker, he plays the saxophone.
- Are you serious? - Yes.
He is a red meat-- It makes you fall in love with him more.
Yeah, please.
He's a red meat enthusiast and a whiskey enthusiast.
In fact, there was one scene we shot, where he was in a diner and he was trying to get out of a lunch, and the stage directions called for him to eat an entire hamburger in one bite because he was trying to hurry things up.
So, they sort of hollowed out a hamburger and you know, he did it.
And then the director was like, "let's do that again, but do it-- he had sort of, like, shoved it half in his mouth and then whatever and he said, "do it again, but eat the whole thing in one bite.
" And Nick was like, "I'm not Superman.
That's not a thing" Then he smashed the desk, because he is Superman.
You start to think of him as a guy who can do anything and stuff, so we have to be careful sometimes, but writers' lives and actors' lives are open books.
Fertile ground.
Yeah, they're fertile ground.
And I really wanted-- I wanted to introduce this character who would be a love interest for Leslie, and I met with Adam Scott.
At the same time, Rob Lowe was leaving Brothers and Sisters, and the network called us and said, "we heard Rob Lowe might be available.
" And I loved Adam so much, but also Rob Lowe is Rob Lowe.
And so, we decided to kind of shoot the moon or tried to, and bring on two characters.
So, we designed his character, Chris Traegar, for Rob and we made them a little unit, a little pairing of a sort of yin and yang.
Rob is all, he made everyone feel good and flashed his beautiful smile and his blue eyes at everyone and warmed everybody up.
And then Adam came in and just slashed the budgets and ruined their lives.
And so, it worked out.
But I will say the actors-- If you had an Actor's Room, if that was your next show, like, The Green Room Are you angling to host this show? I just think if there's a show called The Green Room or something, where there's a host, like me or someone, like any kind of host Anyone though? Like someone else could do it? Anyone.
Like me, or I could just do the first couple.
No, no.
So, you're saying that you should be involved with this? I would be happy to, or if someone else would, or I'll just start it, or I'll just do it, or I'll do all of them or whatever.
I could make a list of names of people who could do it.
We could make a list or we could just start with me and we'll just end the list.
And we'd just do a green room where you go and talk to actors.
You would say that-- Actors would say the most important thing, the reason why the show is a success and the reason why people want to watch it - is because of the writing.
- Yes, they would.
And when you get a script that is so well written, it's like a dream, like a gift.
When we read our scripts every week, it's like Christmas.
It is one of the great joys of my job, when writers on the show write lines for characters that I could never write in a million years, which happens a lot.
Like, Aisha Muharrar, who's a writer on the show, writes lines for Leslie that are so just Just so perfect and great.
And Amy, she wrote an episode called "The Debate," which was fantastic.
And in the script there was a moment when she's talking to Ben and Ben is saying "I don't know.
I know you can beat Bobby," her opponent in the debate, "I don't know if I can beat Jen," which is her-- Which is his campaign manager.
And she says, "here's what I know.
I love you and I like you.
" And he said "I love you and I like you.
" And that was nowhere in the outline.
That did not exist in my brain or anyone else's brain.
I need to give proper credit to that line.
Who's line was that? Quincy Jones.
Quincy Jones once told-- Amy and Quincy were a writing team for a really long time.
Once told me that in Monte Carlo.
What? That's fantastic.
He held my face in his hands and he said "I love you and I like you.
" As soon as you said that, I knew, one, he was holding your face in his hands, because that's such a Quincy thing.
You knew it was Monte Carlo.
I knew it was Monte Carlo.
The only place that could happen.
That's the only place it could happen.
Coming up next, competition gets fierce in The Writers' Room.
Who's got the most jokes? Everyone's tied for last.
- Welcome back to - The Writers' Room, with the creators of Parks and Recreation.
We have an operating principle at our show, which is best idea wins.
If there's too much of a sense of, like, somebody's tallying up in a back room somewhere how many jokes per episode or whatever, then that's the stress that no one needs.
And if everybody just feels like it's a big, fun team, that's everyone kicking in and we make a good show, then you just have more pride in the show as a whole.
That said, who's winning? - Good question.
- Who's got the most jokes? - Who's winning? - I do have a tally.
Okay, who's winning in the writers' room? It could be someone here.
Everyone's tied for last.
What is the one though, what is that storyline, what's that card that's been stuck up there forever and then you guys, like-- There's one in particular.
The one that you go, like, "we have to put that in a show" and then fart attack made it, but this one is struggling to make the cut? There's a couple.
There was one, it's basically a story where-- The idea for the story was that Leslie and Ann teach a class to young girls about conflict resolution.
Is it called "Conflict Resolution?" For the sake of argument, we'll say it's "Conflict Resolution.
" And, um When this was pitched, it was glowing, like, white hot.
It was like, "yes, perfect story.
" - "This is it, this is it.
- We know this is it.
" While they teach the class, they get in a huge fight.
It's teaching a class in sort of Mean Girls style, teaching a class to middle school girls, about, like, "don't be mean to each other, don't insult each other, like be, you know--" - Supportive.
- Be supportive.
But we tried to break this episode for so long and it just kept And it was out there and I-- We write a story document, but we call it a "Goldilocks.
" And the idea is-- where does the name "Goldilocks" come from? I don't know that.
- It comes from the idea-- - Well, Amy Just practicing for-- Just practicing for The Green Room.
For The Green Room, good, good.
Uh, you'd be a really good host of the show.
Thank you.
I think so too.
I mean, you're doing a great job.
No, it's okay.
Two people can do a good job or one person can take over someone else's job.
It doesn't matter.
No, it makes sense.
It makes sense.
Where did the name "Goldilocks" come from? It comes from The Office and the idea is that it's a telling of the story that has as few details as you would use to tell Goldilocks, just the very basic information.
So, one day, we took it and we took it off the board and we found the most remote corner and we tacked it up there.
It was like raising a championship banner into the rafters.
But the opposite.
But the opposite.
It's like you retired this card, sort of.
That card is the champion.
So, we did that at the-- It was the middle of season three.
In-between seasons three and four, the maintenance staff at CBS Radford completely repainted, stripped the walls and repainted the entire place and for some reason, they knew and they left that card.
- Are you serious? - That card remains.
Oh, they painted-- I was hoping they just painted around it.
I don't know, we haven't taken it off.
That would be amazing.
There's almost nothing better than looking back on a sketch that bombed and having the time of your life remembering.
- Absolutely.
- Being on stage, whether you're live at a theater-- At SNL, you could call up any sketch and we would just watch sketches that had bombed at dress and laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh.
So fun.
Nothing bonds actors and probably the writers as well, as to go, "oh, my God.
What a piece of crap "that we put in front of America or just some eyes in the theater.
" Yes.
I mean, when you fail together, you really are kind of in love for life.
Everyone at SNL when I was there, adored Will Ferrell.
He's an adorable man.
Everyone loved him and the large part of the reason the performers loved him, wasn't just 'cause he was so funny and nice, it was because when that was happening in dress rehearsal or on air, he just was like, "let's go.
" Just dug in, you know? Speaking of terms that are specific to our show, another term is "candy bag," which I like.
What is it? What's that? Which means, um, it just "alts," pitches for jokes, meaning Oh, it's like treats in a bag.
So, you'll learn this in The Green Room, but actors have sides.
So, you have your sides and at the very end, there'll be a candy bag, which is alts for-- Alt jokes for lines.
And that's always a fun treat and it plays into that-- - Green Room pitch.
- Yeah? After the show, like after the closing credits, you have the candy bag and you show little outtakes that are great.
Let me ask you, when you are-- when you were writing Parks and Rec specifically, did you feel like it was going to be a hit? Or did it surprise you? Oh, no.
God, no.
I mean, I think anyone who would claim to know that something is going to be a hit in this day and age is either lying or crazy.
- Right.
- Or both.
I think that when I-- I remember calling Amy and pitching her the show and I think what I said was, "who knows what will happen? But we'll make something that we're proud of and that is classy and that we'll all think is good.
" And I went out and I bought a mansion and I filled it with solid gold furniture.
That's so smart.
Gold is worth so much.
I know.
I'm so psyched.
You made a huge profit on it.
So, we both had expectations of the show, a little different, I think, but Coming up, what happens when the Vice President of the United States drops by? On the last take, I just leaned in for a kiss.
- Welcome back to - The Writers' Room, and Entertainment Weekly's "The Last Word.
" Anytime.
Anytime and we're ready.
We're now joined by Jess Cagal from Entertainment Weekly.
Welcome, Jess.
Thank you, Jim.
Jess, what kind of humiliating personal questions do you have for these writers? I actually wanted to ask about some of the other guest stars, Joe Biden, John McCain.
I mean, there's been-- there's been a really impressive roster of these guest stars.
Are they coming to you now? Is it hard to go get them? Biden won't stop calling.
And McCain and Joe Mande are roommates, - so that one was easy.
- That was easy to get.
That's great.
Occasionally, I now-- It's a nice-- I sometimes meet politicians who like, who follow the show and kind of want to be on it, which is really cool.
Well, you know what's nice? I think is that if they haven't seen the show, their staffers have.
It was a really nice comment from Biden, where he said that he gets a lot of requests to do things and this was the one that he felt like and his staff felt like, like this is the one you say yes to.
And he was so great, like, he was so fun and was so game.
We improvised a lot with him in the room and he just kept going with it.
He just went with it? One the last take, I just leaned in for a kiss Leslie did and his response is great, because he's like So appropriate, you know? Just like Like, "yeah, that's not going to happen.
" With all of the senators we shot with, like, they're all so natural, because you realize all these people do, all day and all night is get in front of crowds of people and talk extemporaneously.
And John McCain obviously hosted SNL and knew Amy from SNL and they did a very funny scene together on SNL.
It was a Lifetime movie or something? Yeah.
Senator McCain and I did a scene in a shower together, where he was a stalker and he was in my shower.
And he liked-- I bring it up only because he brings it up all the time.
If Democrats and Republicans took more showers together, Congress would at least be cleaner.
- This feels like-- - Smell better.
This feels like a good "the more you know" type commercial "Shower together" Where we go "shower together" "Saves water, brings us closer together.
" "Bring your differences to--" "Wash 'em away.
" "Wash away your differences.
" May I remind you, if you'd like to see more of The Writers' Room, go to sundancechannel.
I'm Jim Rash.
We'll see you next time on The Writers' Room.
Now, let's pretend like something awkward just happened and we don't know what to do with ourselves.
I'm just gonna, um Look over here.
Oh, did you want Oh, here's something that I wanted to do back here.
Hello? Yup.
It's a good time.