Mike Schur talks ‘Parks and Recreation’ coronavirus episode—and why remote TV production isn’t the future

April 28, 2020, 9:20 PM UTC

When A Parks and Recreation Special airs Thursday night on NBC, it will remain just that—a special one-off episode that’s unlikely to lead to a series reboot.

“This felt like a moment in time and a cause that we could all rally behind and that made sense,” said executive producer Mike Schur in a call with reporters Tuesday. “Parks and Rec [in its original run from 2009 to 2015] had a very specific subject to discuss and a very specific point to make.”

“When it ended, Amy [Poehler] and I used to talk a lot about this, like we felt like we made our point,” he continued. “I don’t see the point of rebooting a show…just to do it.”

Parks and Recreation - Season 7
The “Parks and Recreation” cast during season seven (from left): Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer, Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate, Retta as Donna Meagle, Rashida Jones as Ann Perkins, Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson, Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford, Rob Lowe as Chris Traeger, Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, Adam Scott as Ben Wyatt, and Jim O’Heir as Garry Gergich.
Colleen Hayes—NBCU Photo Bank, NBCUniversal via Getty Images

But this one-off installment is something different. It was announced last week that the half-hour episode, which will feature series regulars in character as they navigate a time of social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic, will serve as a fundraiser for Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund.

It wasn’t hard to get the cast back together. Schur said he sent an email about doing the episode and received responses in less than an hour. The cast could have done a table read of a past episode, but Schur opted not to, instead choosing to drum up a new story line. That wasn’t difficult either, he added.

“There’s only one thing happening in the entire world right now,” Schur said. “If you get any groups of people together to film anything and you don’t have the story be about what’s happening to them during this pandemic, what are you doing?”

Schur said the creative team came up with ways to explain why some of the characters—especially the married couples on the show—weren’t in the same room in the episode. But a lot of what fans are familiar with and would expect of those characters remains the same, which means some—like noted Libertarian Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman)—haven’t changed very much.

“Leslie [Knope, played by Poehler] says, ‘When you go to your cabin, are you social distancing?’ And he says, ‘I’ve been social distancing since I was 4 years old,’” Schur said.

As far as whether those characters look the same, he said they all looked the same to him: “It’s a handsome crew of actors, and they’ve aged very excellently and gracefully.”

Schur (left) with actors Adam Scott and Retta during the “Parks and Recreation” panel at the NBCUniversal portion of the 2015 Winter TCA Tour in Pasadena.
Frederick M. Brown—Getty Images

But making the special involved some very careful logistics. Visual effects were taken care of by the team Schur worked with on The Good Place. Rigs containing a tripod, an iPhone, a light, and microphone—all wiped down, of course—were either shipped to or dropped off at cast members’ homes. Select members of the behind-the-scenes team would then watch through a computer as the actors looked into the iPhone that was actually recording them.    

“They would send us screenshots to show what their framing was, and we would be able to listen and sort of watch from a weird oblique angle,” Schur said. “But they had to be their own camerapeople.”

It all came together in a pinch, and making the episode was a lot of fun, but ultimately, it’s no way to film a TV show, he said, pointing out that productions are a team sport that require a lot of collaboration.

“I don’t think there’s any way that this is a sustainable way for making television,” he said.

The Paley Center Salutes “Parks and Recreation” special will air at 8 p.m. ET on NBC, Thursday, April 30, followed by the Parks and Recreation special at 8:30 p.m.

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