How Co-Creator Mike Schur Pulled Off The 'Parks And Recreation' Reunion Special

What would Leslie Knope do during the coronavirus pandemic? It's an easy thing to imagine but a little harder to actually make into reality, as Parks and Recreation co-creator Mike Schur revealed ahead of the highly anticipated reunion special. Parks and Recreation is returning for a one-time coronavirus episode that will reunite the original cast of the beloved NBC sitcom and raise funds for frontline efforts against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Parks and Recreation reunion special already seemed like a miraculous thing to happen, considering the cast had gone their separate ways (some to Hollywood superstardom) and Schur wasn't interested in revisiting the series after the show "felt like it had made" its point. But how quickly the episode came together to air this Thursday feels like even more of a miracle. And according to Schur, it was a labor of love and lots of "goodwill volunteer work."

In a Tuesday press call (via Variety), Schur revealed how the Parks and Recreation came together so quickly, and almost against all odds. But the current worldwide climate presented a "compelling reason" for Leslie Knope and gang to return to our screens one last time, Schur said.

"I honestly didn't think that Parks and Rec was ever going to reunite for any reason, just because I felt like that show had a point to make, and I felt like we'd made it, and we ended the show and it just didn't seem like there was a compelling reason," Schur said. "But this is a compelling reason. This is as compelling a reason as there is."

Schur had already already imagined a Parks and Rec coronavirus episode for a Vulture article, but it was Universal TV president Pearlena Igbokwe who had reached out to Schur about the idea of making an actual TV special. Schur immediately jumped on the idea, as did the rest of the cast, who all replied to Schur's email in less than an hour. But Schur soon realized that the special should be a scripted original, not a table read. Which presented a whole host of obstacles to create a half-hour episode of TV in lockdown.

The logistics were "very difficult," Schur said, crediting directors and executive producers Morgan Sackett and Dean Holland, as well as script supervisor Valeria Collins, with making the special happen. Schur reached out to half a dozen former writers of the show, who brainstormed and penned the script in less than three days. The team mailed or dropped off equipment — including "little rig with a tripod," an iPhone, a light, and microphones — to the cast, and directed the actors on how to adjust their framing via Zoom. Schur recruited the effects team who worked on The Good Place "to make it not look like everyone was just sitting alone in their houses staring at a computer." The special was shot in just four days.

It sounds like it all came together rather smoothly, right? Not so, Schur said. The process was fun but "slow and laborious," Schur said, adding that this in no way will be the future of TV production:

"For me, this is not the way TV is be supposed to be made. It required an incredible amount of basically goodwill volunteer work, or guild minimum, union minimum volunteer work from from sound designers and editors and supervisors and all sorts of people really just doing it, because it's a fundraiser, because it was fun to get the cast back together. But, you know, TV is a team sport. From the very beginning to the very end, it's about groups of people functioning in holistic ways with each other, and collaborating and being in the same room at the same time. And, you know, I don't think there's any way that this is a sustainable method for making television."

But he anticipates a few shows addressing the coronavirus pandemic similarly to how series responded — or didn't respond — to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Friends didn't address it, but West Wing dedicated an entire episode to the attacks, Schur noted, adding that "there's no playbook" for such a world-altering event.

But while Parks and Recreation will address the coronavirus with the appropriate amount of gravity, it "wouldn't have been a Parks and Rec special if there hadn't been some of the super fun and enjoyable side characters and tertiary characters who used to pop up on the show being involved," Schur said, teasing a "decent number" of guest characters who will appear alongside regular cast members Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Jim O'Heir, and Retta. We will find out where everyone is five years later, despite the "tricky" timeline of the finale, which took a few leaps into the future:

"The first thing we had to do is say, 'Where the hell is everyone?' Where did everyone end up?" he said. "Gary's the mayor, based on how we left him, but Leslie and Ben and April and Andy are in Washington and Donna's in Seattle, and Chris and Anne are in Michigan."

But for fans who care, this special will be considered "canon," Schur confirmed.

The Parks and Recreation special will air on NBC on April 30. The money raised will go toward Feeding America's COVID-19 Response Fund.