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Spec Writing Roadmap for Parks & Recreation

PARKS AND RECREATION

SPEC WRITING ROAD MAP

By Michael Ferris and Guy Jackson

(Click here to download a Movie Magic Screenwriter format temlate for Parks and Recreation and a link to a sample script)

SERIES OVERVIEW AND CONCEIT:

"PARKS & RECREATION" is a half-hour sitcom on NBC. It concerns the small town of Pawnee, Indiana, and the goings-on in and around the nexus of a Parks & Recreation Department. It most often uses the department as a location, the department offices contained inside the oft-seen front of Pawnee City Hall.

Like "THE OFFICE", this show uses a documentary style, with characters talking to the camera off-the-cuff or as a sit-down interview (with no voices from off-camera; only the characters themselves answering unheard questions or holding forth to camera). These moments are defined in "PARKS & RECREATION" scripts with the direction TALKING HEAD.

As this show's evolved, the documentary style has come less and less into play, so don't overdo it. Usually Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) starts the episode with a brief, sit-down interview, and then you might have one or two other ultra-brief interviews in the course of the entire episode.

More often than with talking heads, the 4th wall is broken when characters give the camera a look indicating what they think of such-and-such a situation. April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) often surreptitiously rolls her eyes at the camera, for example.

Characters often grow in a maturing way, going from childish behavior to grown-up responsibility. Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) is the flagship of this conceit; his entire character and story arc through the whole of the series is working from overgrown manchild to responsible adult.  So it's a worthy idea to wield a theme or plot of 'maturation' in your spec.

Characters are often forced to care, as well, especially cynics and skeptics Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) and April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), much as they try not to.

"PARKS & RECREATION" is said to be a companion piece to "THE OFFICE", but it also closely resembles "THE SIMPSONS". You have a small town full of colorful characters and places you can use, and as Pawnee's universe is always being added to, you'd do fine to invent a new character or a new Pawnee establishment for your spec.

In the best episodes of "PARKS & RECREATION" the jokes are planted everywhere, ranging from the cosmic to the microcosmic, from the gigantic set piece to the infinitely subtle. Don't look for Ba-Dump Bump humor, with punchlines strictly following setups, a la "TWO AND A HALF MEN". Look instead to infest your spec with jokes in every little detail, even in the way people say things. One great instance of a massive set piece gag involved the cast walking across a slippery ice rink to begin Leslie Knope's campaign for mayor. On the other hand, one great instance of microscopic joking occurred when Andy Dwyer bespoke a sentence ever-so-slightly grammatically wrong while he was praising someone's 'poetic' utterance. Also wield 'callback' humor, setting up a joke early on and paying it off much later. Sometimes this is done quite literally, as when Tom Haverford tried to pick up a girl in a bar by giving her a bottlecap and saying he'd come back to her later, and then later he couldn't find the girl. 

There's a subtle theme of red tape spooling throughout the show (pun intended). Characters often are trying to navigate some sort of literal or metaphorical bureaucracy, and characters more often than not are getting in each other's ways or even messing up things for their own selves.

In the spirit of red tape, in almost every episode there's some sort of list. Leslie Knope is most often the culprit. She has rattled off Pawnee's town slogans, her religious Aunt's favorite sayings, her worst breakups, etc. Andy Dwyer continually goes through different names for his long-suffering small-time rock band. Though he rarely ticks off a list, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is a series-long list in and of himself, forever declaring what he likes and doesn't like, as in: "I like it when people stand up for themselves." Or: "I hate government."

The show is always sweet; like its protagonist it has a big heart for all its characters and situations, even while sometimes the characters and situations can be tortured. The naïve, ignorance-is-bliss, puppy love relationship between Andy Dwyer and April Ludgate is the vanguard of this sweetness.

One tiny detail that goes against the grain, sweetness-wise, is the ridicule and abuse of Jerry Gergich (Jim O'Heir), who's the scapegoat and jester for everyone, even Leslie.

PLOTTING OVERVIEW:

The first and second series' overarching plot involved the endless building of a park. The park began as a pit left by a bankrupt developer, and some fifteen episodes in the pit was filled in after exploiting its full comic potential. Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) first fell in the pit and broke both his legs, then later went to live in it when Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) threw him out, and the pit was also used as a dumping ground and a make-out spot.

The third series abandoned the pit plot entirely (without wrapping it up, if we're being nitpicky), in favor of a government crisis. The state of Indiana had gone into economic freefall and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) and Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) showed up as series' regulars, initially as government auditors intent on slashing the Pawnee government budget and shutting down the Pawnee government.

The fourth series concerns Leslie Knope's candidacy for city council, as she fulfills her lifelong dream to run for public office.

Each show begins with an ultra-short teaser and ends with an equally brief tag. Sometimes the teaser and tag will involve the ignition or wrap up of the A plot, but often they stand on their own. For technical purposes, in writing your spec, the teaser is noted in standard "PARKS & RECREATION" scripts as a 'COLD OPEN'. Meaning opening without credits.

When it's not starting off the A or B plot, the teaser can be a complete non-sequitar, a less-than-a-minute throwaway gag or mini-sketch. Surrealness is absolutely acceptable.

When it's not epilogue-ing the A or B plot, the tag often takes a moment to note some weird aspect of one of the characters, such as when Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) revealed his habit of giving his house key away to hot women. When writing a spec for this show, be careful to keep the tags and teasers super duper short. It's not uncommon for the tags and teasers to only have one line of dialogue or one visual gag and then end abruptly. One tag was so brief as to only show Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) hanging a picture of bacon and eggs on his office wall.  

"PARKS & RECREATION" most often features an 'evolving' A plot, the most famous references to this type of plotting being "THE SIMPSONS" and "FAMILY GUY". A situation will begin and then evolve into something else entirely. Some of the best episodes have begun in one place, evolved far afield, and then returned to the original conflict.

A defining example of this would be the episode where Leslie Knope decided to break with governmental procedure and get the aforementioned pit filled in without a permit. This action caused a bunch of dirt to be dumped on Andy, who lived in the pit at the time. Andy then sued, and so the filling in of the pit was left behind while Leslie dealt with Andy and his lawsuit, a plot that wound up largely concerned with Andy's loser lifestyle and that he needed a job. Things were brought back around to their original starting point when Andy was blackmailed into demanding the pit be filled in, and he in turned demanded he be given a construction job, in exchange for dropping his lawsuit. 

Tackle your spec, therefore, by starting off with a solid A plot that would seem all the entire show needs be about, but then take it off the rails, fly off in another direction entirely, and see if you can wend things back around to the original conflict.

"PARKS AND RECREATION" always features a B and C plot, and sometimes even a D plot, these subplots usually involving only 3 to 6 ultra-short scene beats. The A plot usually runs 7 to 9 beats.

In the best episodes of "PARKS AND RECREATION", as in the best episodes of any television show, the B, C, D, plots will dovetail, or overlap, or harbor the same theme as the A plot.

An excellent (though it didn't dovetail or overlap) B plot occurred when most of the Parks & Recreation office went on a hunting trip, leaving April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) and Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) to their own devices. This was the beginning of their perennial romance. The first scene beat featured April trying to get a phone call through to another branch of government. In the second scene beat April recruited Andy's help with eternally being on hold. The third scene beat featured April and Andy having a heart to heart. The fourth beat had April and Andy goofing off and wrapped up as April convinced Andy to let her give him hickeys to make Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) jealous. The result of this B plot only showed up later as a momentary throwaway gag. All the beats mentioned were less than a minute long, and probably didn't occupy more than a single page of the script.

Finally, you can also use 'B Roll' footage any time you please when writing "PARKS & RECREATION", which is basically footage of a flashback or footage of exposition. The flashbacks of just exactly how Andy fell into the pit in the first series were considered B roll. The B roll can be combined with a list for comic effect, too. So if Leslie talks about the politically incorrect murals in the Pawnee Town Hall, the script would depict and describe the murals as B Roll, like a montage, as in:

B ROLL – PAWNEE TOWN HALL MURALS

A mural depicting an Indian about to be executed.

And so on. 

PLOT SCHEMATIC:

Because "PARKS & RECREATION" is so dense with jibber jabber and fast-talking, it's okay, even encouraged, to find your script running 30-35 pages.

Unlike most scripts, you're also absolutely okay to mention the camera and what it's doing, though you probably needn't get overly technical with angle terminology. For example you can say: April rolls her eyes to camera as part of the action description.

Also, try and never let a scene or beat of an A, B, or C story last longer than a page. The show is tight like that. You should also be finding a reversal at the end of each beat, then spinning the script in that direction, with two major reversals for the A and B plot.

Pages 1-3: Cold Open/Teaser:

Keep this short, 3 pages maximum.

Use one or two punchlines, one visual gag.

Use one Talking Head, usually with Leslie Knope sat behind her desk looking presidential. Two different Talking Heads occur on rare occasion.

Introduce the A story (or don't). Many fine episodes have complete non-sequitars for their Cold Open. Especially great episodes use the Cold Open to introduce a theme that will overlap throughout the plots.

Example theme: Leslie Knope goes above and beyond the call of duty. The Cold Open/Teaser had Leslie trying to sneak into the office, while she was on suspension, to get some work done. The A story of the episode was all about Leslie staying occupied while she couldn't work. The B story of the same episode was about the P&R staff trying to get Leslie a great gift to make up for all the great gifts she'd given them. So both plots fit the Leslie above and beyond theme.

Pages 3-15: Act One:

Introduce A, B, C, and even a D story.

Let the A plot evolve. Again, in this methodology "PARKS & RECREATION" is very "SIMPSONS"-esque. The initial conflict of the A story should transform into something else entirely.  

End on page 15 with a cliffhanger for the A story.

Again it's best if the plots are built around the same theme and dovetail and overlap with one another.

Dovetailing Example: The episode marking the death of Pawnee's beloved Shetland pony, Lil' Sebastian, had Lil' Sebastian's funeral as the A story, the springtime of Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt's budding love affair as the B story, Chris Traeger dealing with his mortality as a C story, and Tom Haverford moving on from his Parks & Recreation job as a D story. All the stories were themed regarding passage, life, death, rebirth, etcetera. That show in and of itself was a 'passage'; it ended the third season.

Pages 15-25: Act Two:

Complications ensue in all stories.

End this act with things coming to head of steam in the A story. This can be a cliffhanger or a confrontation that's about to occur. A very common M.O. for the series is for a 'nothing can go wrong now' feel with the end of the second act. Victory can be in sight in the end of the second act, in otherwords, but be sure to reverse or spin the victory in the third act.

Example: When malevolent ex-wife Tammy One (Patricia Clark) swooped in to plague Ron Swanson, the second act ended with Leslie and the gang recruiting Ron's mother for an intervention. Ron's mother was so frightening victory seemed assured, but the third act spun that victory with a drinking contest that knocked out Leslie, and Ron had to man up and save the day.

Pages 25-34: Act Three:

Wrap up A, B, C, D plots here, again preferably by dovetailing them. The show referenced above with the funeral of Lil' Sebastian ended with Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt getting caught in their secret affair by Ron Swanson, while Chris Traeger sobbed for Lil' Sebastian (and his mortality) and Tom Haverford dabbled in his new company, all of which was encapsulated within the funeral.

Pages 35: Tag: 

Brevity. One page at the very most here. Use this for an epilogue to any of the plots. Typically this is the A plot's epilogue. On some occasions, however, the tag will be a non-sequitar, and add a little touch of character. Again, a tag might be so simple as Ron Swanson hanging a picture of bacon and eggs on his office wall.

PLOT SKELETON:

Going even barer with the bones, here's the 'average' skeleton for an episode, an average based on five classic and typical "PARKS & RECREATION" episodes broken up beat-by-beat.

COLD OPEN/TEASER

1.     Intro A plot or

2.     Execute non-sequitar mini-sketch that introduces a theme

A.              Use one Talking Head, preferably Leslie

OPENING TITLES

ACT 1

1.     If not in the Cold Open/Teaser, immediately have the first beat of A story.

2.     Use Talking Head to further explain the A story

A.              Use B Roll footage to capture any exposition

3.     Introduce B story immediately thereafter.

4.     Second beat of A story

5.     Third beat of A story

A.         Story can spin in new direction

6.     Second beat of B story

7.     Fourth beat of A story

8.     Third beat of B story

9.     First beat of C story

10. Cliffhanger/Fifth beat of A story

COMMERCIAL BREAK

ACT II

1.     Resolve cliffhanger of A story/Sixth beat

2.     Fourth beat of B story

3.     Seventh beat of A story

A.     Talking Head

B.     Story can spin in a new direction

4.   Second beat of C story

4.     B story cliffhanger (Fifth beat)

5.     A story cliffhanger (Eighth beat)

COMMERCIAL BREAK

ACT III

1.     Wrap up C story (withholding A story, drawing out cliffhanger)

2.     Wrap up B story (")

3.     Wrap up A story

COMMERCIAL BREAK

TAG

Epilogue of A story.  
Or non-sequitar character development disguised as gag that preferably calls back something we learned about the character earlier in the episode

Note that (of course) the A story has more beats than the B story which has more beats than the C story.

CHARACTER BREAKDOWNS:

MAJOR CHARACTERS:

Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler):

Deputy Director of Parks And Recreation. The primary thing to always remember when writing for Leslie is that she's an eternal optimist with a huge heart. Even when wrongdoing she'll make a positive choice that helps someone. The defining moment of this was when Leslie hosted a town hall meeting and spent it getting yelled at by the citizenry, then wrapped up the meeting talking to the camera and declaring 'This was the best night of my life'—because it was her first town hall meeting. Or, in another episode, directly after launching into another character for betraying her best friend, Leslie compliments the woman on her lovely home.

When she screws up, Leslie will either own up or go to great lengths to get others out of trouble, to confess her sins, to make amends.

Leslie has a tendency to get wacky drunk, but never maudlin drunk. Her optimism and glee will carry through into her drunks until she winds up teepeeing someone's house or dancing on tables.

Obscure Hot Tip: Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) once confessed to enjoying getting Leslie drunk, and though Tom often eggs Leslie on (see below) this particular gag has yet to be exploited.

Leslie has a penchant for taking cues from national politics or national politicians, referencing politics from both sides of the aisle to justify her means to her ends.

She also loves her town, Pawnee, Indiana, and takes cues or at least references Pawnee's history constantly. She knows the entirety of that history, even having, in one episode, written a book of the town's history, and in her optimistic, big-hearted way, Leslie is breezy and apologetic for the dark parts of said history.

When painted into a corner Leslie will go into miniature panics that result in her taking the blame upon herself. Also in these instances she'll often think out loud, argue with herself out loud, or ramble through a million different personalities. She often makes lists in these ramblings, as said above.

Leslie's favorite food is waffles from J.J.'s Diner in Pawnee, waffles heaped with whipped cream. She's rarely seen to eat anything else.

Leslie is a hoarder. A visit to her house in the second series revealed a living space stuffed with boxes of junk and paperwork.

Leslie is a pushover for cuteness. She loves a gingerbread house or a cute dog. 

Defining Dialogue:

Upon phoning her best friend, Ann: "Hi this is Leslie, Leslie Knope from the Parks Department."

Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones):

A nurse in the local hospital and as of series 4 a part-time worker in the Pawnee Department Of Public Health, Ann is primarily timid, harbors a low self-esteem, and is something of a tagalong. She's a pushover, as well, having begun the series under the spell of her slacker boyfriend (now ex) Andy Dwyer, who treated her as a servant after falling and breaking his legs.

Like Leslie, Ann has a gigantic heart, but this often takes the form of doing for others more than for herself. She's Leslie's friend but often shadows Leslie. Only when Leslie is in a tizzy will Ann step up and save the day.

A defining moment of this was when Anne counseled Leslie during Leslie's nervousness over a first date with Officer Dave Sanderson (Louis C.K.). Ann coached by tricking Leslie with bad date reverse psychology. 

Indeed, Ann will sometimes break out of her shell and exhibit great moments of strength, then effectually run away from these outbursts. In series 4, she began dating Tom Haverford and had to shut down his overeager attitude with a surprising show of brittleness.

Ann generally has bad luck with men. Case in point her being used by Andy, then enjoying Mark Brandanowitz (Paul Schneider) and adopting his personality until she abruptly decided he wasn't the man for her. She briefly dated Chris Traegar (Rob Lowe), but was dumped by him in such a nice fashion she didn't even realize she'd been dumped.

Ann is a nurse and scolds people accordingly, when she sees them doing terrible things to their health. Or the opposite in the case of Chris Traegar, whom she was partially impressed with because he's oh-so-healthy. A handful of episodes footnote Ann trying to pry Nutriyum bars ('blocks of sugar') from the Parks & Rec gang.

Ann apparently makes marvelous pancakes, and often characters visiting her house will ask her to make them, which she does because she's just too nice.

In the final episodes of the fourth series Ann became especially assertive, fending off Chris Traeger wanting to date her again and putting Tom Haverford in his place, humbling him, which is an especial feat.

Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari):

Leslie's assistant, in the third series Tom briefly quit Parks & Recreation to start up his own company, Entertainment 720. He and his best friend, Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz), quickly spent away the company's assets, and Tom returned to his job at Parks & Recreation slightly humbled.

Tom is the slickster goof-off of the Department of Parks & Rec. He spends much of his time egging Leslie on, tricking Leslie into making a fool of herself, metaphorically leaving banana peels around for Leslie to slip on. He enjoys ridiculing Jerry Gergich (Jim O'Heir), sucking up to Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), and hanging out with Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt).

At the very, very end of the day Tom has a kind heart, perfectly defined in one instance where he anonymously donated money he'd connived from a Venezuelan delegation to Leslie's faltering park fund.

Or in other instances Tom's kind heart will get him into trouble, as does his bravado. But trouble is water off a duck's back to Tom, who often wriggles out of stickiness with his class clown charm or breezy antics.

He does has a soft, gooey center, though, and will very occasionally burst into childish tears so childish you can't tell if he's joking. The epitome of his soft center occurred when Tom got so drunk Ron Swanson had to carry him home like a doll.

Tom was once (in the first and second series) married to Wendy Haverford (Jama Williamson) in a green card marriage to gain her U.S. citizenship—she's Canadian and much, much too beautiful for Tom, or so Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) constantly pointed out. Upon achieving her green card Wendy divorced Tom, and wound up dating Ron, which didn't go over so well with Tom, to the point where he threw such a fit as to lose a girlfriend he'd managed to acquire at the time.

Tom obsessively 'looked at the menu' in unfaithfulness to Wendy, and still to this day very often tries and fails to hook up with women.

Obscure Hot Tip: As said earlier, Tom once revealed he gives out his house key to hot women, a joke which has never been exploited. 

Tom worked for awhile as a seducer to Joan Callamezzo (Mo Collins) the plucky, desperate host of Pawnee Today, a taxing morning show that often goes after Leslie Knope for a good story. But when Joan finally got her own divorce Tom had to quickly escape her desperate wiles.

Tom has his own hypercool vocabulary, which consists of shortening, perverting, or acronym-ing any old word he chooses. Zerts = deserts, for example.

Tom's also an aspiring club promoter, and has partial ownership of Pawnee's club, The Snakehole.

Tom's a clothes horse, and often wears outrageous hipster fashions.

He also idolizes people, fawning over people more self-possessed than he, not only Ron Swanson and Chris Traeger but in one string of episodes Justin Anderson (Justin Theroux).   

Sometimes Tom's fast talking totally helps the situation, like when he brought donations from car dealers to help out the Pawnee Harvest Festival, or became a spin man for Leslie's campaign.

Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman):

Infinitely cool and reserved, Ron is a self-declared Libertarian, but he rarely lets on about anything. Often his infinite silence and self-suppression prove his undoing. The best way to write for Ron, in fact, is to give him a secret and then let circumstances drag it out of him as awkwardly as possible. Or, politics-wise, give him an unwavering stance, and then let him be forced into momentarily going against himself.

Cases in point: Ron was once discovered to be a jazz musician under the moniker Duke Silver. He also revealed a foot fetish upon getting shoeshines from Andy Dwyer. He also has a crazy, dysfunctional relationship with both of his ex-wives, Tammy Two (Megan Mullally) and Tammy One (Patricia Clark). Ron's ex-wives are both named Tammy and so is his mother.

Ron will also hide physical pain, as in the time when he sat unmoving at his desk rather than getting medical treatment for a hernia.

Ron is very fond of guns and food (especially breakfast and steak) and has an intense relationship with the mediocre pictures he hangs in his office even though he often mocks 'art'. When he does speak to the camera, he'll reveal these fetishes under duress. On occasion speaking to the camera will drag enormous secrets out of Ron, especially if he has emotional impetus (usually anger) to inspire him to speak.

Ron is fiercely loyal, loves that Leslie does all the work for him as his Deputy Director, and will go to bat for her any day. Like Tom, Ron always winds up having to care, and open his heart. In one defining moment when the government budget was being slashed, Ron offered to quit his job so Leslie could keep hers.  

Ron dresses like Tiger Woods, in a red golf shirt and black pants, any time he gets laid.

Defining Dialogue:

"It's art. Art is anything.'

"Son…" (whenever he's about to address a male younger than him in a teaching moment)

"I don't hold hands."

April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza):

Infinitely sullen, often to the point of being moribund, April Ludgate has a lot in common with Ron Swanson, in that her mysterious teenager act often hides surprising secrets. Ron and her get on famously.

April will often pop up with morbid moments and also has a tendency to reveal surprising depths of naughtiness. Defining episodes of this include her design for a mural that featured a fat man on a hamster wheel bleeding from the mouth, or the time she convinced Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) to let her cover his neck in hickeys to make Ann jealous.

April is now married to Andy Dwyer, in a spur-of-the-moment wedding that was the culmination of their evolving, sweet-hearted relationship. Together Andy and April are a great team, sometimes scam artists, sometimes exhibiting great appetites for destruction, sometimes pranksters, but always full of glee.

April once (in the first and second series) had a boyfriend, Derek (Blake Lee), who in turn had a gay boyfriend Ben (Josh Duvendeck), and the trio was all okay with their love triangle. This relationship came up mostly as a sight gag, and rarely did Derek or Ben speak, their obscurity denoted by their lack of last names.

April will also be aggressively mean and apathetic, which makes her the perfect secretary to Ron Swanson, and Ron in turn is quite fond of her, gleefully saying at one point: "I couldn't have a worse secretary."

April hates Jerry Gergich (Jim O'Heir) above all.

Often used as a momentary Greek Chorus, April rolls her eyes at the cameras almost once per episode.

Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt):

Ann Perkins' (Rashida Jones) ex-boyfriend, Andy began the first series with two broken legs from falling into the aforementioned pit. He used Ann as a house servant. He's infinitely self-indulgent, prone to pratfalls, and childlike. In the third series, perfectly happy as a shoeshine boy for city hall, Andy exhibits short-lived bursts of ambition. He used to harmlessly semi-stalk Ann in lost puppy dog fashion. In fact, a puppy is the perfect metaphor for Andy.

Andy plays in a band which can never decide on its name, and successions of silly band names come up. You can never go wrong when writing an episode by casually dropping a new band name.

Andy is open to odd jobs, and engaging him in preposterous tasks that he can execute in childish-as-possible fashion is a good way to approach his character. A case in point was the episode where Leslie sent him after the town vandal (see: Greg Pikitis below) and Andy went from vigilante to posing as an FBI agent to having a infantile cry when the vandal turned the tables on him.

In the second and third series Andy had an involved, charming relationship with April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), which wound up with them getting married. Andy's nowadays dedicated and head-over-heels for April, and goes to the ends of the earth, or at least the ends of his abilities, for her.

Andy sometimes dubs himself 'Burt Macklin, FBI' when he's posing as an action hero to bodyguard Leslie or some such. Somewhere he's picked up an FBI jacket, and his Burt Macklin guise came into huge play during the fourth series when Leslie ran for City Council.

Andy's main occupation has been running a shoeshine stand in the hall of City Hall, but during the 4th season he became Leslie's assistant and then bodyguard.

He's incredible at pratfalls, but don't overdo it, make sure the pratfall is organic to your plotting. See the WATCH OUT FOR section below.

Defining Dialogue:

"Nailed it!" (More a catchphrase used when Andy vaults a desk and takes a jawdropping pratfall)

"I can't figure out who my boss is."

Jerry Gergich (Jim O'Heir):

Middle-aged, overweight, and a forever put-upon Parks & Rec man with an undefined job, he's been seen to host hikes for local kids and been a hunting buddy for Ron Swanson. He's often befuddled and ridiculed to the point of meanness. In one episode his wonderful design for a mural was scuttled when he mispronounced the word mural.

Another episode featured the characters digging up dirt on one another, a game Jerry didn't want to play, but of course all kinds of terrible things came out about him, including that he didn't know he was adopted.

Jerry has bladder problems, is often the purveyor of fart jokes and farts. He's prone to outrageous malapropisms.

His beautiful daughter once dated and promptly broke up with Chris Traegar.

You can never go wrong with letting the other characters treat Jerry cruelly and insultingly, and that includes Leslie. Every now and then Jerry is given a little breathing room and shown a modicum of kindness.

Donna Meagle (Retta):

Also middle-aged and overweight, Donna is the no-nonsense taking Parks & Rec employee, again with an undefined position. She's African-American and something of an Aretha Franklin presence, which always works to her advantage, as when a Venezualan Parks & Rec delegation fell in love with her (the whole delegation), or simply when she holds all the cards.

In many ways she seems the wisest one in the office, but she comes up with moments of pure crazy. In one episode she went nuts when her Mercedes window was shot out during a hunting trip. She loves her Mercedes above all else. One ever-so-brief tag showed her wiping a speck from the Mercedes' hood. In the fourth series this love for her Mercedes came to a head when she purposefully rammed it into an evil car rental man trying to withhold vans for Leslie's campaign.

Donna's a man-eater, and gobbles her way through men at Snakehole Lounge and singles events. She does double shots of liquor to loosen up, simultaneously drinking two shots in the opposite corners of her mouth.

Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe):

Chris is a health nut, a herbalist, and an exercise freak, often seen running off on a preposterously long jog with his Ipod plugged into his ears. He began by auditing the Pawnee City Hall in cahoots with his former assistant Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) (see below) but has now become the City Manager after the former City Manager suffered a heart attack.

Chris once told Ann Perkins, during their aborted third series relationship in which Ann adopted all the health nut quirks of Chris, that as a child he suffered a near-death experience, and he's lived every day since with an utter joy for life. 99% of the time Chris is keenly optimistic, refusing to say anything negative even when he needs to fire someone or break bad news. He often uses surrogates to deliver bad news for him. He always approaches any situation entirely upbeat.

In the Lil' Sebastian Funeral episode, mentioned above, Chris revealed a morbid fear of death; upon being diagnosed with tendonitis Chris spiraled down until he was seen sobbing helplessly.

Chris forever greets people by pointing at them and saying their full name. 

Definining Dialogue:

"Literally!" as in "That is literally the best pizza I've ever eaten." Chris will use this word at least once per any episode he appears in. More of a catchphrase, really, except it's only one word.

"I'll have a beer, in a bottle, and the bottle cold."

"If someone was going to tell me I had cancer, I would want that someone to be me."

Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott):

Ben arrived in the end of the second series with Chris Traeger to audit the Pawnee government and make cuts in the Parks & Recreation Department budget. He gradually fell for Leslie Knope and the two are now a hot item.

Ben tends to dull nerdiness, and is relentlessly teased by the likes of Tom Haverford for being a nerd, and oft wielding knowledge of Star Wars. In one episode Ben bought a Batman costume.

Ben is a number cruncher, and tends to really enjoy accounting and suchlike, but in keeping with the series' notion of growing up and maturation, Leslie has brought him out of his shell to where he wants more exciting things, such as being her campaign manager.

Ben was once upon a time elected mayor of his small hometown, at the age of 18, and he blew the town budget by building a rec center called Ice Town. In the 3rd series he had to overcome a tendency to get ultra-defensive and shut down whenever questioned about this history.

He's very nervous around cops.

After his affair with Leslie was found out, he resigned from his assistant-ship with Chris Traeger and thus became Leslie's campaign manager.

MINOR CHARACTERS:

This is a selection of the most outstanding minor characters, some of which have only appeared in one episode or on rare occasion, some of which are always in the background, some of which are recurring and important characters.   

Marlene Knope (Pamela Reed):

Leslie's stern, unforgiving mother who only vaguely seems to care for Leslie, in that she'd prefer Leslie retreat into housewifery. Marlene has become a ruthless, cold politician and she more than likely doesn't want her daughter to befall the same fate. In spite of her chilliness she'll often slip and let herself exhibit pride in Leslie, especially on camera.

Marlene is a brittle, sometimes conniving, and rather strict woman. Leslie once remarked that Marlene's favorite scold for nervous people is: 'Um' is the sound in 'dumb'.

Dave Sanderson (Louis C.K.):

A humble, schleppy, no-nonsense police officer with an absolutely good, huge heart and an infinite patience. He once dated Leslie and was her perfect match in terms of endless kindness, but you'd probably want to be careful about putting him in a spec because it's undoubtedly difficult for them to schedule Louis C.K.'s appearances on the show.

This character left the show after a few episodes to move to San Diego, but returned for an awkward attempt to reunite with Leslie, who dates Ben Wyatt nowadays.

Oren (Eric Isenhower):

April Ludgate's goth friend, who appears on occasion to stand around looking creepy. Has never spoken to date.

Wendy Haverford (Jama Williamson):

As mentioned above, the ex-wife of Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), she hails from Canada and only married Tom so she could get a green card. She's a lovely person, and seems to quite like Tom, but she wasn't under any illusions about their marriage and voiced an eagerness for divorce. Tom obviously loves/ loved her, but then again his commitment wavered whilst he chased other women.

Once divorced, Tom tried and failed to get back together with Wendy.

Wendy wound up dating Ron Swanson for a time, much to Tom's dismay, and then moved back to Canada to take care of her parents.

Joan Calamezzo (Mo Collins):

The diabolical host of Pawnee Today, a local morning show. Joan is not above muckraking journalism to get the goods, and her favorite  target seems to be Leslie Knope. During Leslie's initial bid for city council, Joan found out Leslie was in fact not born in Pawnee. On another occasion Joan almost blew the lid of an all important Harvest Festival set up by Leslie because of the momentary running away of Pawnee's once-favorite Shetland Pony, Lil' Sebastian.

Joan is constantly wooed by Tom Haverford when it serves his political means, but upon getting a divorce and coming after Tom, Joan was of course spurned in all her craven harridan-ness.

Perd Hapley (Jay Jackson):

Host of Ya Heard With Perd and Final Word With Perd, and an anchor for local Channel 6, Eyewitness News, Perd is an avuncular, down home news anchor who, like Joan, isn't above muckraking, but he goes about it in the most naïve, friendly fashion possible. He will always make everything obvious whenever he talks about anything. Defining Dialogue: "I am about to ask you a question right now, and that question is this…"

Dennis Feinstein (Jason Mantzoukas):

The snooty local perfume magnate, he almost hired Ben Wyatt to be his accountant. He also rejected Tom Haverford's homemade cologne without fanfare.

Natalie Ludgate (Minni Jo Mazzola):

Even meaner and more sullen than her older sister, April, Natalie was introduced tormenting Andy Dwyer, nearly getting him arrested for pedophilia.

Crazy Ira & The Douche (Matt Besser, Nick Kroll):

Fart joke loving local morning radio show hosts, and generally vile characters.

Greg Pikitis (Cody Klop):

The town vandal, a manipulative, forever-scoffing teenager who spent an entire episode outsmarting Leslie Knope in a dramatic act of Halloween vandalism. In the same episode he insulted and messed with Andy Dwyer's mind until Andy was in tears, as mentioned above. Not quite as great a minor character as Tammy Two (see below) but a spec could do worse than to bring him back.

Nick Newport Jr. (Gary Weeks):

The diabolical CEO of Sweetums, who with a grin on his face employs half the citizenry and then infuses them with high fructose corn syrup. A great character only used once, he appears only in hunting vests.

An attempt by Ann Perkins to stop him making Nutriyum Bars ('blocks of sugar') due on Pawnee's obesity rate (it's the 4th fattest city in the country) failed in a town meeting where Nick Newport entertained the crowd with a video and free candy.

He died in the penultimate episode of the fourth series.

Marsha Langman (Darlene Hunt):

From the Society For Family Stability Foundation, Marsha is a far right winger who enjoys making Leslie Knope's life miserable if there's any ethical problem, or problem to be entirely unreasonable about.

She's appeared twice, once to scold Leslie's accidental marriage of two male penguins at the Pawnee Zoo, and once to stop a topless painting of Leslie (as a centaur) from being hung at City Hall.

Kelly Larson (Will Forte):

In an episode where Leslie was attempting to bury a Pawnee time capsule, Kelly Larson threw a wrench into the work by handcuffing himself to a pipe in Leslie's office until she agreed to put a copy of teen vampire love story "TWILIGHT" by Stephanie Meyer into the time capsule. He did as much so he could impress his daughter.

Trish Ianetta (April Marie Eden):

The winner of a Pawnee beauty contest and a sparkling ne'er-do-well character who exploits her sexuality shamelessly.

Shauna Malwae-Tweep (Alison Becker):

Wielding a priceless comic name that's funny whenever anyone says it, Shauna is the town reporter, not above sleeping with men to get the dirt. Whenever they encounter one another, Leslie tries to manipulate Shauna's journalism and miserably fails.

Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz):

Tom Haverford's best friend, Jean-Ralphio is cut from the same hyperkinetic cloth of catchphrases, made-up phraseology, fashion obsessiveness, and slicksterism that Tom is. Together Jean-Ralphio and Tom started Entertainment 720, a multimedia business that wound up having no purpose other than purveying a bunch of items with the Entertainment 720 logo. Consequently, Entertainment 720 went bankrupt within a few episodes.

Kyle (Andy Forrest):

Kyle, like Jerry Gergich, is a lifelong schlep of a bureaucrat with an undefined job at Pawnee City Hall, seen only as a figure of abuse. Usually he can be caught getting a shoeshine from Andy's shoeshine stand, and as a running gag Andy will rudely interrupt the shoeshine to run off with April.  

Tammy Two (Megan Mullally):

Easily the best minor character in the entire series. An extremely manipulative, psychotic librarian and the ex-wife of Ron Swanson, Tammy Swanson proves to be absolutely ruthless, a compulsive liar, a dirty sex scoundrel, and everything else a great comic character needs to be.

When Ron and Tammy's psychodrama relationship came into play over whether the library or the parks department would get hold of a vacant lot for a park or a library, it was easily one of the most excellent episodes of any sitcom ever.

Upon her second return she talked Ron into getting cornrows.

For this writer's money: huge bonus points for using Tammy in a spec.

Tammy One (Patricia Clarkson):

A Princess Of Darkness, a character of absolute evil and black hole nothingness, Tammy One appeared in a single episode wherein she sternly drove Ron into a childlike state of obeying her every command. She works for the I.R.S.

Tammy Two is terrified of her.

Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd):

Heir to the Sweetums Candy Factory (as of yet unseen in the series), Bobby is the spoiled rotten child of Nick Newport. He's not, however, spoiled into being a bully, but more spoiled to the point of an absolute childishness, wherein he wants nothing sad, bad, or mad to happen. He ran for City Council against Leslie Knope and lost.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

  • Leslie Knope has just become a city council member.
  • Ann Perkins has just decided to date Tom Haverford.
  • Tom Haverford has become humble enough to date Ann Perkins.
  • Ron Swanson is maintaining his status quo as Director of Department of Parks & Rec.
  • Andy Dwyer is pursuing his subliminal dream to become a member of law enforcement.
  • April Ludgate remains Ron Swanson's assistant.
  • Jerry Gergich remains the same faceless bureaucrat and scapegoat.
  • Donna Meagle remains the same faceless bureaucrat and stalwart anchor of the entire Parks & Rec Department.
  • Ben Wyatt is off to Washington to work on a senatorial campaign and will maintain a long distance relationship with Leslie Knope.
  • Chris Traegar is headed back to Indianapolis, his tenure as City Manager finished.

DEPARTED CHARACTERS:

Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider):

In the first series Fix-It Man Mark was the city-planning hunk of the Department Of Parks & Rec. Though he dated Ann and seemed to be angling toward settling down, his past of sleeping his way around town left him with a certain amount of insincerity.

He was forever unhappy with his work. When he managed to get a town speed bump lowered by two inches, he remarked: "I can literally measure my progress in government by inches."

Long ago Mark slept with Leslie and they both harbored confused feelings for one another. Leslie was jealous when Mark hooked up with Ann, of course, but soon got over it in the arms of Officer Dave Sanderson.

Mark had an awkward, tense relationship with Andy Dwyer, in his capacity as Ann's ex-boyfriend.

Mark left Pawnee City Hall (and the series) to work for the private sector.

WORLD & SETTING:

Pawnee, Indiana. Small town, conservative America. Much of the action takes place in City Hall and the Parks & Rec offices. The show also goes to Ann's house quite a bit, and of course to the parks, particularly the park that was being built in the first series' overarching plot.  

There are various funky, small town establishments that have been visited, and here's a representative list:

  • JJ's Diner, a greasy spoon diner where Leslie gets her favorite food, waffles heaped with whipped cream
  • A strip club called The Glitter Factory
  • A theme restaurant called Jurassic Fork
  • The Pawnee Public Library
  • Pawnee Zoo
  • A bed and breakfast filled with cats, The Quiet Corn Bed & Breakfast
  • Ricky's Rock N Bowl
  • The Pawnee Snow Globe Museum
  • The Gunbelievable Gun Emporium
  • Harvey James Park
  • Pawnee Public Radio, a parody of NPR
  • A gay club called The Bulge
  • The dance club Tom is part owner of, The Snakehole Lounge

A spec writer can always do well to throw in some new, random public place in the (metaphorically) ever-expanding town. Again, much like "THE SIMPSONS".

GOD IS IN THE DETAILS:

These are teeny tiny details of the series you might want to exploit in a spec.

  • The Pawnee Town Hall features (in its entry hall) a series of politically incorrect murals depicting the town's pioneers and their exploitation of the Native Americans.
  • The show often comes up with funny names (i.e. Shauna Malwae-Tweep) for characters and places (Harvey James Park) and then will repeat the names in dialogue in casual, throwaway fashion. Ron Swanson is almost always spoken of as 'Ron Swanson'. Tom Haverford once listed a bevy of hilarious stripper names in The Glitter Factory episode.  
  • Pawnee history often comes into play; "PARKS & RECREATION" takes a page from "THE SIMPSONS" here too, though it doesn't go quite to the absurdities of Jebediah Springfield. Usually a terrible Indian massacre is mentioned, or some other such politically incorrect shred of history.
  • There's a running gag with Talking Head moments, wherein one character will be talking about another character, who is stood in the background, and the other character will shout from the background: "I can hear you!"
  • The Parks & Rec gang hates The Pawnee Public Library, virulently hates the place and all of its staff, especially Tammy Two, the head librarian. Overdue books are a good gag, and Leslie once stole a book. Characters will insult the library for having outlived its usefulness in the age of the internet. In her stump speech for City Council, Leslie made the campaign promise to eliminate the Pawnee Library System.
  • On occasion Public Forums will be held where townspeople shout out their disapproval of public works projects, or just plain shout crazy nonsense of the like found in letters to the editor, all while Leslie et. al. hold court.
  • Leslie is a gay hero for once marrying two male penguins at the Pawnee Zoo, and she drinks for free at The Bulge, Pawnee's gay club.

WATCH OUT FOR…

As great as much of "PARKS & RECREATION" is, careful watching of the series can spot the wrinkles, and there are some truly slipshod episodes that have quite obviously come from spec writers more concerned with referencing rather than developing. For example: Andy will be depicted as dumber than reality allows and do one too many pratfalls, or April will be depicted as way too sullen, or Ron will say "Son…" and launch into a Libertarian pronouncement, but all these things will happen without an organic connection to the story. And therefore the show can take turns for the self-referential. Make sure your gags aren't generated from: 'Andy's so dumb!' instead of 'That's Andy.'

As with any script be sure to use to the aspects of the characters as tools to further a good story, rather than hoping to shout out character traits in random fashion. As with any script, story comes first.

Also watch out for weirdness. "PARKS & RECREATION" can be surreal at times, like "THE SIMPSONS", but there's a very fine line to tread. In one faltering episode, for example, Leslie got too drunk to carry out an important television interview. Except to make the gag work Leslie had to act uncontrollably, over-the-top, insanely drunk, and the episode wound up reaching. Not only that, but it was reaching from a foundation of 'drunks are funny', which is the first thing you learn not to do in any comedy improv class. To put it another way, in the funniest episodes of "PARKS & RECREATION" wherein Leslie gets drunk, her drunkenness is a footnote, a throwaway gag that has little effect on the story.

To give another example of weirdness, Ron Swanson loves steak, but in one episode a quick joke featured him ordering a third steak at a restaurant. Which is weird, y'see; in reality no one eats three steaks, or at least no one as generally trim as Ron. If he'd ordered two steaks, maybe… This is semantics, of course, but it's important not to fly off the rails when writing a spec, thinking that the more you can exploit the characters' foibles the better off you'll be until you've exploited them to clownish extremities.  

Also watch out for meanness. On occasion characters like Tom Haverford have been too mean in misfired jokes. Yes, the Parks & Rec gang are cruel and abuse Jerry, for example, but they would never cut Jerry's fingers off with a chainsaw, right? Careful you don't stray into King Of Comedy territory with the meanness (do watch the excellent 1983 movie starring Robert De Niro for a solid lesson in how comedy can go cruelly wrong) and write dialogue or action that's too mean for Tom or April Ludgate or Ron Swanson, et. al.

Also watch out for dividing the attention of your spec with completely disparate plots. As stated above, the best plots and best episodes of the series have featured dovetailing plots and A, B, C stories that stuck to the same theme. But some of the worst episodes of the series have featured A plots and B plots that have nothing to do with one another. As with writing any script whatsoever, you want to seek integration, let every plot and subplot touch upon each other, let the theme of your script blanket those plots and subplots.


Movie Magic® Screenwriter Template for Parks and Recreation

To download a Movie Magic Screenwriter template file for Parks and Recreation, right click here: http://support.screenplay.com/filestore/templates/mmsw6/New/TV/Parks%20and%20Recreation.def

For a list of available Movie Magic Screenwriter format templates for download, go to http://support.screenplay.com/downloads/MMScreenwriter/Templates/index.php

SCRIPT SAMPLE: Here is a link to a Parks and Rec script online: http://www.tv-calling.com/scripts/TV_Comedies/Parks_and_Recreation_2x07.pdf


A former Hollywood Lit Manager, Michael started ScriptAWish.com as a way to help other writers get their foot in the door and has helped several writers sell their scripts (like Travis Beacham of PACIFIC RIM) and set up projects with producers like Academy Award Winner Arnold Kopelson. The mission of ScriptAWish.com is to help aspiring writers get their scripts into shape and then get their foot in the door. His new venture is a collaboration with several professional screenwriters called StudioGhostwriters.com and is intended to help producers get their movie ideas on paper or their drafts polished for production.