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'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
Mike Schur: And then we found out Andy left “SNL,” which we read about in the newspapers like everybody else. And it was like we went to Fox, we'd already sold the show and we went to Fox and said, “If he wanted to do a show, is this a guy?" And before we finished the sentence they were like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go get that guy." So we went and pitched it to him and he liked it and signed on board.
Dan Goor: It was amazing 'cause like we pitched it him, he listened and he goes, "So I'm the comedy McNulty?" And we were like, "Yes!"
Mike Schur: We were like, "Yeah, that's way better than what we have." Also, part of the pitch was that there was a new relationship between him and a captain. At the time, he was moving into a new precinct, which we changed to the captain moving to precinct, but the relationship was the same. Which was a new relationship between him and a sort of authoritarian father figure guy.
Dan Goor: Although less fraught at that point.
Mike Schur: So it all was pretty smooth sailing creatively, in the sense that we did alter the character and play a little bit more towards Andy. What happens is you have these theoretical ideas for characters and then when you find the actors you want, you tailor them a little bit to the people. But it was not very different from what we’d envisioned.
Dan Goor: And when Kevin Riley gave us some great notes, his big note was to really focus the pilot on the relationship between between Andy and Andre Braugher and to make sure that that tension didn't dissipate. We wrote the pilot originally like a little movie; tthe coda was basically they're all best friends, after one episode. And he's like, "Let's make 100 episodes, not one episode." But his notes really helped us move into the next level. I hate that expression but it's true.
Andy, as a down-to-earth character, doesn’t necessarily have an established comic persona at this point. We know him playing these exaggerated goofs.
Mike Schur: Hot Rod.
Mike Schur: But that was part of the real fun of it, both for us and him: the character we design was not like that. And I don't think he was interested in playing a character like that in the long-form way. I think he likes goofing around a lot. Like he looks goofy in three-minute videos. And there were a lot of similarities i between what the kind of thing he was looking to do and the kind of thing Amy was looking to do when we started “Parks and Rec.” You work at “SNL” for seven years and you have a great time. And you do a lot of sketches and you get to do a lot of really fun stuff but when you leave that world the last thing you want to do is playing a sketch character for another seven years. What was exciting to Amy and what is exciting I think to Andy is like this is a real character. He gets to do a real character now who has a life and a soul and an inner life and who gets to slowly change and evolve over the course of hopefully many years. That’s what makes sense as the next step to take for people who leave “SNL.” That's how I felt when I left as a writer: “I can write something longer than ten pages? It's amazing.”
Dan Goor: He's a guy who is able to do super goofy and funny over the top characters, but who also did “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” where he's very grounded and real. So in a way this character in its core design is us trying to harness both sides of Andy. Andy's incredibly smart, he's likable and he's incredibly funny.
So right now you’re pitching jokes and deciding whether they fit these new characters. I assume on “Parks” you reached a point where you just know Leslie wouldn't do that. April wouldn't do that.
Mike Schur: Yeah, it takes a while. I think sometimes those things come from writers and sometimes they come from actors. I think that we figured out Ron Swanson in two moments early on. One was when he said that bacon wrapped shrimp was his number one favorite food wrapped around his number three favorite food. That was very meaningful to all of us. Tucker Cawley wrote that joke. We were all like, “That’s something.” And then in the second episode of the second year when Dan's pitch was that he has a hernia and can't leave his chair, I remember him pitching it to me in my office and going, "Yep, go, go, go quickly." And then shooting it and (Nick) performing it and seeing and then him improvising, “I was born ready; I'm Ron fucking Swanson,” it was like okay we're good. Like there was never a moment after that where we had any question about any aspect of his character. It was very, very clear after that what was right and what was wrong for him.
Dan Goor: But I will say this: sometimes where you think you know the character and the best pitch is the thing that's exactly the opposite (of what they’d do) and it's right. So when we did “Jerry’s Painting,” all the early versions of that we were like there's a nude picture of her and she's angry about it because it demeans her. And then in the room we asked, “What if she loves it?” That was obviously not immediately clear, but that broke the episode and it's so much more in her character. And that was season four.
Mike Schur: But that's less about character defining work then character refining work or something. There are moments early on – there was a tiny thing in the “Rock Show” episode when she was walking out, and Mark was at the bar and Mark was like, "Where're you going?" And she went, "I'm going home. I had a really crappy day." And it was a nothing line, but the way it was written and the way she delivered it, we realized she doesn't have to always be so political and concerned about everything — she's a normal person who says things like, "I just had a really crappy day."