'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' creators Mike Schur and Dan Goor on following up 'Parks and Recreation'
Their new FOX comedy with Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher isn't a mockumentary
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But how much harder is it to do a show set in a police world with stakes of varying degrees? Dan and I were talking before about the fact that there's a murder in your pilot, even if we don't see the body. How much harder is it to do comedy where there they are good at their jobs as opposed to goofy police hijinks with bumblers who don't care?
Mike Schur: I don't think it's harder, personally. On “Parks and Rec,” there's people who were varying degrees good at their jobs. But it's not harder to write for police officers. It would be harder, actually, to keep characters in the mix and likable and have an audience that supports them if they were terrible. Like if they're really terrible cops then you'd be like, "Hey man, don't take a gun and wander out on the street and try to keep people safe, you don't know what you're doing."
Dan Goor: I think it's also just a different type of comedy. If we were making a cop comedy about bad cops or cops who were comically bad at the jobs then the jokes would be more hijinks and more like slapstick. It would be like they keep shooting each other or they keep arresting the wrong person. And there's a place for that kind of show, but that just isn't the mission statement of this. This is a workplace comedy where the workplace is being cops. So the comedy generators are these characters and their relationships with one another.
Mike Schur: And also, by the way, the plan is not to have them solve cases every week. There’ll be many episodes where the point isn't whether they’re good enough detective to crack this case but more like someone went on a bad date the night before and they have to be in a stakeout talking about their bad day.
Even if they're not solving cases every week there will be crime and things. Have you thought about how far you would go in terms of the types of crimes? There's not going to be a serial rape storyline.
Mike Schur: No.
Dan Goor: There are times where, to come up with story ideas, I'll go to the NYPD website and I'll look up the most common crimes in the 78th Precinct of New York. And it's assault and felony rape. And we're not going to do that. The amazing thing about “Barney Miller” is that they did stories about every single one of these crimes. They did things like rape. They did molesting and all kinds of stuff. I guess it's interesting that the times are now prurient or prudish.
Mike Schur: Well, New York City in the 70s was a very different kind of place. And I think the national conversation was about how New York is really dangerous and it's a crazy place. And now New York's murder rate is the lowest it's been since the early 60s. And it's just in general a much safer city so it doesn't feel like we have to do that. They could do jokes on Barney Miller about how disgusting Time Square was. Now that would be a confusing joke to people who've been to Times Square. So it's just a different city and it's a different world they’re in. It's tricky, though: the crimes have to be serious enough to matter in general. Not all of them do — we’re working on a story about spray painting graffiti — but we've also talked about more serious things and the reality is that in big cities, people do get murdered. I think that will be a little bit of trial and error. We'll see what the show can support.
Dan Goor: But we've also talked about picking up a case either in the middle or the very end and just following a part of it. So even if it's a murder, these guys are working with Homicide and their task is they have to find the weapon or something like that. So it's not procedural and the body's gone. You're not getting into what happened between the two people. It's really about our guys together and they're on a scavenger hunt.
What was the original idea that you guys had where you said, “It's development season, and this is the show”?
Mike Schur: This is pretty much it. Once we started talking about a police precinct as a location for comedy, that took hold pretty quickly. We were pretty into it.
Dan Goor: There were a bunch of things we really liked right off the bat about a police precinct. We loved how instantly relatable it was. We loved how little exposition was required to tell people who these guys were and what they were doing. You do an episode where you start on the sign that says 99th precinct, you drop-down, you see the captain dressed like a captain say, "Somebody's been stealing cars." No more exposition necessary for the work story, which was really appealing to us. We liked the idea of setting it in New York. These are the kinds of conversations that jelled very quickly because anybody can be a cop in New York. In our pitch we would say — and it's true — that you can have a five foot three inch Taiwanese lady who became a cop and you could have like a six foot six inch biker, you can have Terry Crews and you put him in a cop outfit and they're a cop. And they come from all different boroughs and they interact with every single person in Brooklyn, which seems like a funny subset of New York. So all of those elements were fun little ingredients in the recipe. And then the specifics of, “Well, should it be a high crime area, should it be a low crime area, should it just be an area?”
Mike Schur: “Should it be like the worst precinct in New York? Should it be the best precinct in New York?” Those details we sorted out in a trial and error way in the way that you do when you're blue skying shows.
Dan Goor: The hookiest version would be that they're all screw-ups in the worst precinct in the most distant part of New York. And it's like you can imagine how you sell that as a pilot. And that actually could be a good show, but like there was something appealing also about like nope like pulling it back and making it a little less hooky and a little less high concept.