'Parks and Recreation': Exec producer Michael Schur on the decision to end the show

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How much of the decision to deploy the future twist was tied to the fact that you knew you’d be entering your final season?
When we had that meeting and laid out the plan and it was agreed to almost instantly in the room, that definitely changed the calculus of how we handled the finale. The finale at that point was extremely close-ended, because we thought it might be the end. So we still had maybe five more [episodes] to shoot, and it was all careening headlong toward this giant finale, and we felt like, “All right, we can totally change everything that we’ve laid out and make it more of a cliffhanger. Maybe we can make Leslie turn the job down.” But nothing that we’d thought of really made that much sense, so what we did is we conceived of a way to throw everything into total chaos at the end of the year. And we were very much emboldened by the fact that we knew not only that A) we were coming back, but B) it was going to be 13 episodes or a shorter season, because it made us feel like we can do something this dramatic and world-changing without feeling like we might have to sustain this for six more seasons. [Laughs] Whatever this is, we can handle it for 13 episodes. We know that we don’t have 50 more episodes. It’s a move that you don’t make in season 3 of your show. It’s a move that you make when you’re like, “We’re going into the coda season and we’re going to have this fun, weird new world to play with for 13 episodes.”

The show has been known to take big risks with its stories. Does the fact that we’re three years into the future and this is now the last season mean that you might be taking even more risks than usual? Please tell me you’re not going to kill Jerry/Larry/Terry.
No, I don’t think we’re going to kill Jerry/Larry/Terry. When we talked about what it meant to jump into the future, the biggest thing to me was: Whatever we do, it has to feel like the show. We can’t be writing a science-fiction program. At this point, you think of it as a contract that you’ve signed with the viewers of the show, and if you break that contract and start presenting them something as unrecognizable or in some way isn’t what they’ve come to love about the show over, so far, 112 episodes, then what are you doing? You’re just screwing up. So we feel a little bit liberated creatively because of the leap, and I think there might be some more fun experimental stuff that we do. But it’s not going to be dream sequences and crazy flights of fancy. It’s not going to be like the Sopranos episode where Tony was in the plaza and had the dream about the talking fish. By the way, which was the best ever — I’m not saying that because I didn’t like that episode of the greatest drama of all time, but we’re a little bit liberated in terms of how we show events occurring on the show. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be 13 stories about the same characters in the same world, because I just think doing anything else would be suicide.

What excites you about the final season, storywise, knowing that it’ll take place in 2017?
I think the biggest thing is — and this is something that the writers have already started emailing about — we have the chance to put anybody anywhere we want. If we want to say that Donna (Retta) bought a 5 percent stake in the Seattle Sounders major league soccer team and is now working in their front office, we can do that. You don’t have to lay in stories where you lead up to that. You’ve jumped ahead of a lot of exposition. So we have that opportunity to blow things up a little and to put people in different places and to come up with fun ways that their lives have changed in the three years we missed. And furthermore, if we want to to go back and look at how they got there in flashbacks or in some other way — we can go backward and fill in blanks. So it’s just a kind of storytelling we’ve never done before because we’ve been following the traditional mockumentary format, and then we just gave that traditional mockumentary format a big middle finger [Laughs] and decided to do something else for the final season. We just have to make sure to use it in very measured doses and not go crazy and let things get out of control.

What odd request has Aubrey made knowing that it is the final season?
She’s been desperate to be pregnant on the show. And part of the reason I didn’t ever want to make her pregnant was because I liked that she and Andy represent the young people on the show. But now we’re jumping three years in the future, so that’s certainly a possibility. But I’m sure she’ll start pitching that she’s a zombie — that’s my guess. If I had to guess, it’ll be that she starts pitching soon that she’s an undead person walking the Earth.

How have the negotiations been going to bring back Jon Hamm for more episodes?
He’s been very busy promoting his movie Million Dollar Arm, so there’s been no contact. But I’m sure that an e-mail or a phone call will be made sometime in June or July to suss it out. He’s a great dude who loves comedy and loves Adam Scott and Amy Poehler and Aziz and Aubrey and everybody on the cast, so I’m only optimistic, because I think it’s the kind of thing that he enjoys doing. I think if he’s available and if we have something good worked out for him, he’s probably inclined to come do it. But obviously we’re very far away from having anything conceived of or written.

You told us a little about what to expect next season a few weeks ago. But is there one extra clue that you can give fans to obsess over during the long hiatus?
It’s so hard to say anything because it’s so early and we certainly haven’t committed to anything. The main thing that excites me is that we’re going to get to tell one more big, juicy story about Leslie and all of her co-workers, whom she loves so much, doing something together. It’s why the Unity Concert and the Harvest Festival and the campaign and all of these gigantic group projects where everybody is part of this big goofy team are so fun. And that’s something that [30 Rock executive producer] Rob Carlock and I have talked about: You can really do one big, juicy arced story in 13 episodes in a way that you can’t with 22. That’s what’s really exciting to me. It’s knowing that there’s going to be one more big thing — whatever it is that they’re doing, they’re going to do it together. It’s just so exciting that we have this opportunity to round up the gang one last time, you know?

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