Last week’s episode (October 25th, 2012) of NBC’s Parks and Recreation managed to do something fairly rare in television these days with a genuine surprise for its audience. For those of you not caught up with your DVR, you may want to click away now.
Granted the episode was titled “Halloween Surprise” but viewers would be forgiven for thinking that Jerry’s “fart attack” was surprise enough. That was until Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) reappeared from his political travels to propose to Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) in their new home. It was heartfelt, funny, and definitely one of the series best moments. Poehler, Scott, and show creator and executive producer, Mike Schur, held a press conference to discuss this big development in Pawnee:
What the vibe was on set that day and what you all were feeling as you were shooting that scene?
Amy Poehler: When I read that scene I cried because I was so happy that I had my job at Parks and then I got to do that scene with Adam and that Mike Schur wrote it because I knew it would be great.
And it’s very rare, you know, as an actor when you read a scene and you know it’s going to be great, you can just kind of see it. And so when we were shooting the scene I was really excited that we were getting to do it because I was – had really just been looking forward to doing it.
And I was really happy for Leslie, so I think the mood on set was a really kind of joyous one. I know even though it was kind of a sweet scene I know Adam and I were really just happy to have such a well written scene to get to do.
And we care about our characters so we were kind of excited that this was happening for them.
Adam Scott: Yes, I feel the same way, I mean I also just kind of felt like, you know, this was a really big deal for all of us. I mean we of course are well aware that these are fictional characters that we are playing on television.
But I think we also want them to be happy and want them to be all right and we all care about them. I can say, speaking for myself that I care about them, you know, quite deeply and so, you know, knowing this scene was coming, you know, it was – maybe a little nervous about it but mostly just really happy about it.
And happy to be able to do it and happy for the characters and, you know, so the day we were doing it it was – it was like Amy said very kind of joyous but also there’s a real feeling that this was very special and we wanted it to be special for the fans and for he characters and we were all – it was exciting.
It’s so hard to keep a secret these days. So how did you guys all keep it under wraps?
Mike Schur: Well there’s a lot of things, you know. We were extra, extra, extra careful not to – when we shot outside and you know, and there’s may paparazzi lurking around, we always would hide Leslie’s engagement ring and although a couple shots of it did get snapped a while ago.
We titled the episode Halloween Surprise and then we built it around what you think is the surprise, which is that they – Leslie and Anne surprised Jerry and he has a devastating fart attack. So that was meant to sort of throw people off the scent.
And I don’t know, we just didn’t – we just tried to telegraph where we were going to much, you know…In the first four episodes we tried to build in, you know, that – like that Ben was having a good time and was working really hard at this job in Washington that he cared about.
But also that there were things about the job that sort of annoyed him, like that the politician that he was – the politician he was working for who was kind of a robot who didn’t really care about anything. And that was contrasted when he called Leslie at the end of that episode and she was so revved up and just wanted to just put boots on the ground and kind of – and fix this problem in her town.
And you saw on his face and in his delivery that he just liked that better, you know. So we just tried to – just not to telegraph in the storytelling where we were going but the goal is that once it happens you think back and you think, oh yes that makes perfect sense.
So it’s just very meticulous, you know, writing and re-writing and story breaking and a lot of discussions with the actors about, you know, where we’re going so that they know how to play different things and how to kind of give certain clues without giving everything away.
And then just, you know, asking everybody on our production staff not to leak stuff to the Internet.
Amy Poehler: And you know, the fans of the show are always – we have such great fans. And they – I think some of them kind of found out or dug deep and they were kind of excited to know but they also I think were respectful and kind of like keep things like, you know, like letting people know about spoilers and just kind of trying to keep it adrift because I think they were as excited as we were.
Mike Schur: Yes, it’s funny that you say that because I kind of snooped around yesterday before the episode aired and I saw that a lot of our fans had kind of called that it was actually maybe happening tonight…and they were, you know, really cool about it and not trying to spread it around and just kind of talking to each other and not wanting to like spoil it for others.
And I just kind of second that that we have the greatest fans of any show – I really just – we feel very, very lucky.
How connected is your staff in general to the internet?
Mike Schur: Well, I mean I’m – comparatively speaking I’m about to turn thirty seven and there’s a bunch of little whipper snappers on this writing staff and in the cast who are, you know, in their twenties. And I don’t understand anything they do.
There was a line that Leslie had in season two where she said ‘the thing about youth culture is I don’t understand it’. And that came right out of my brain because I don’t have any idea how these people, what they’re doing with their time.
I don’t understand it, it doesn’t make sense to me and I work out my own anxieties about the fact that I’m getting old by having young people do things that I don’t understand and then having Ron Swanson [played by Nick Offerman] scold them.
So, yes they’re incredibly connected, I mean it is absurd, the level to which twenty-five year-olds have merged with their electronic devices.
How much of an influence the supporting actors like Aziz Ansari (plays Tom Haverford) or Retta (as Donna) have over their characters?
Mike Schur: Well the story line last night [Donna live tweeted the Parks Department’s Halloween viewing of Death Canoe 4] obviously came out of real life because Retta has been doing this insane thing where she like live Tweet’s season two of Buffy and it’s hilarious, we all find it hilarious.
And so we just decided to work it into an episode. It’s a common theme on this show that we take aspects of the actor’s real life and kind of weave them into their characters and that seemed very much appropriate for Donna somehow.
So, you know, I think that – I think we do that with all the characters but maybe Aziz and Retta more than – and Nick [Offerman] I guess more than almost anybody else because they just do things in real life that we find funny and the writer’s room and then we try to find ways to work them in to their characters.
But that’s – everyone’s character has some aspect I would say of their real life persona. And it just seems funny to have Donna live Tweeting a terrible horror movie from 1986, so. It was also another extra in joke that the guy who complains to her about it was played by Joe Mande who’s one of our writer’s who is like – essentially lives on Twitter. So it was our little nod to the obsession with Twitter that exists in this – on the writing staff right now.
How are we going to see the proposal really impact the Parks Department?
Amy Poehler: Well, you know that no matter what Leslie will involve and include everyone in her plans all the time. This engagement will be said of everybody’s engagement.
Adam Scott: America’s engagement.
Were there ever any alternative ideas for Ben’s proposal?
Amy Poehler: I loved that the scene is about everything to come, you know. It’s an empty room, which is – which can be depressing in some respects for some people but in this context it was all about hostility, you know, that nothing had filled that room. That that room was empty and open and ready to be filled with like the future.
And it was really cool that Dean Holland our Director and Mike Schur picked that it happened in front of the fireplace of the empty room, which is just really nice because it was like warm but, I don’t know. I just loved that Leslie looked around to see what was around here and there was just this big empty room, which was like basically the idea, you know, it’s basically what happens when you’re thinking about committing to someone.
It’s just the future seems really wide and open and clean and so that ended up being what it was and I thought it was perfect. But were there other ideas?
Mike Schur: The original original idea was that he was going to sing ‘It’s Not Unusual’ by Tom Jones next to a white tiger.
Adam Scott: Which I was lobbying for.
Mike Schur: Yes, you were really into that. And then we kind of scaled it back, we decided, you know, let’s make it a little, you know, classier and kind of quieter.
Amy Poehler: We couldn’t get – we couldn’t get the rights to the song.
Mike Schur: We couldn’t get the rights or the white tiger so we just used – all right well maybe he just proposes, you know.
Adam Scott: Mike I told you I had a firm connection to both of those things I totally could have made it happen.
Mike Schur: If showing me pictures on the Internet of Siegfried and Roy’s Vegas show does not mean you have a firm connection to anything.
Adam Scott: That is exactly what that means.
New episodes of Parks and Recreation air Thursday at 9:30pm on NBC.