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Chris Haston/NBC
Chris Haston/NBC

18 Facts About Parks and Recreation

Chris Haston/NBC
Chris Haston/NBC

Since 2009, Parks and Recreation has taught us that there are many different first names you can call a very clumsy co-worker, even more ways to tell your best friend she is beautiful, and that sometimes you should take a day off and treat yourself. Read on to find out more about the show set in a town whose residents still use AltaVista.

1. THE SHOW WAS INITIALLY CONCEIVED AS A SPIN-OFF OF THE OFFICE.

NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman asked Greg Daniels, the man in charge of the American version of The Office, for a spin-off of the popular comedy. Along with Office writer Michael Schur, the two considered some concepts, including one where a broken copy machine from Scranton would break down in an episode of The Office and then end up in Pawnee, making the office equipment the spun-off character. Despite the originality of that idea, Daniels and Schur decided to create a show of their own, while using The Office’s mockumentary format and one of the show’s actors, Rashida Jones.

2. THE SHOW WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED PUBLIC SERVICE.

Public Service was seriously considered as the name of the show, which got its start as The Untitled Amy Poehler Sitcom. A little over two months before its series premiere, NBC announced in a Super Bowl commercial that they went with the title Parks and Recreation. Silverman said the title was changed because the network and/or the show’s producers didn’t want to “make fun of public service.”

3. APRIL LUDGATE WAS WRITTEN JUST FOR AUBREY PLAZA.

Casting director Allison Jones informed Schur, who became Parks’ showrunner, that she had just met “the weirdest girl," and that a meeting between Plaza and Schur had to happen. At the sit-down, Plaza made Schur "really uncomfortable for like an hour," and he decided to employ her. Aziz Ansari and Rashida Jones did not make Schur uneasy, but they were also cast before they or the writers knew who they would be playing.

4. RON SWANSON WAS LOOSELY BASED ON A REAL LIFE GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL.

While Daniels and Schur were doing research, the two brought up the potential humor in Leslie Knope’s boss being anti-government to a libertarian official in Burbank, California. She said she could relate because she didn’t “really believe in the mission” of her government job herself. Schur said that the unidentified government official was aware of the irony.

5. RON SWANSON’S BOBBY KNIGHT POSTER WAS TAKEN DOWN FOR LEGAL REASONS.

A large poster of the legendary former college basketball coach was visible in Ron’s office throughout the six-episode first season, with Swanson speaking glowingly of the outspoken coach in the end of the pilot episode. Due to what has only been described as "legal reasons," the poster was removed, replaced for the remainder of the series with a picture of a dark-haired woman eating breakfast food, a result of the show’s production team going through an image library’s results of typing in other things Ron Swanson would like.

6. CHRIS PRATT WAS CAST BECAUSE OF HIS WORK ON THE O.C.

Pratt played an activist named Winchester "Ché" Cook on The O.C., a primetime teen drama that Michael Schur’s wife, J.J. Philbin, wrote 12 episodes for. Philbin—Regis and Joy Philbin’s daughter—recommended Pratt for the role of Andy Dwyer to her husband, and the future movie star ended up ad-libbing Schur’s favorite improvised line of the entire series.

7. MOUSE RAT WAS MEANT TO SOUND LIKE HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH.

On the episode “Rock Show,” Andy claims that his band Mouse Rat née Scarecrow Boat sounds like “Matchbox 20 meets The Fray,” but their “aren’t that great, but they’ve got a hook to it” sound was actually influenced by one artist, who was left conspicuously absent from Ben Wyatt’s nineties-filled mix tape. Chris Pratt said that the writers of the songs were “aiming for something that sounds something like Hootie and The Blowfish mixed with…well, any other band that sounds like Hootie and The Blowfish.”

8. THE PIT WAS INITIALLY NOT GOING TO BECOME A PARK UNTIL THE SERIES FINALE.

When Schur talked to urban planners in Claremont, California while doing research, he discovered that it took the Claremont government 18 years to break ground on a new park. That fact encouraged Schur and Daniels to have Leslie’s pledge in the series premiere to turn the pit into a park not become a reality until the final episode. Because some viewers believed that the project was the only thing the show was about, the pit was filled in the middle of season two, and the writers came up with different long-term storylines to fill the creative hole.

9. THE SHOW RECEIVED BAD REVIEWS IN ITS FIRST SEASON.

Parks and Recreation had a bit of a rocky creative beginning, and was unfavorably compared to The Office before becoming a consistent critical darling once season two appeared. Some initial reviews from critics who would later change their minds were notably unkind, like the Chicago Tribune’s review which said it was worse than the universally panned Friends spin-off Joey.

10. LESLIE KNOPE WAS RE-CALIBRATED TO BE LESS "DITZY."

One important change between seasons one and two was Leslie Knope herself. After hearing that some viewers found Amy Poehler’s character to be “unintelligent” and “ditzy,” Leslie was made to seem smarter, and the recipient of more support from her co-workers.

11. MARK BRENDANAWICZ WAS ALWAYS MEANT TO LEAVE THE SHOW (HONEST).

The fictional city planner was based on an actual government city planner Schur and Daniels came across who kept going back and forth between working a government job and working for the private sector, always becoming disillusioned no matter his setting. The initial understanding between the writers and independent movie actor/writer/director Paul Schneider was for Mark Brendanawicz to repeatedly leave and return, but the successful additions of the Ben Wyatt and Chris Traeger characters that coincided with Mark leaving Pawnee at the end of season two, plus Schneider’s busy movie schedule, helped make his departure a permanent one. Schneider was interviewed last year and, seemingly without any hard feelings, said he was never asked to return, nor has any interest in doing so.

12. ROB LOWE WAS INITIALLY ONLY SUPPOSED TO APPEAR FOR A FEW EPISODES.

The original plan was for Lowe’s Chris Traeger to appear for a few episodes as the Indiana state auditor sent down to Pawnee to help with their financial situation, but the character worked well enough for Traeger to stick around for three and a half more seasons as the town’s acting city manager.

13. NBC GOT AWAY WITH SPOILING APRIL AND ANDY’S WEDDING SURPRISE.

The network ran an ad imploring viewers to check out April and Andy’s wedding registry online after “Ron & Tammy: Part Two,” an episode that was primarily about the volatile Ron and Tammy relationship. The commercial was actually supposed to air after the episode “Andy and April’s Fancy Party,” two months later. For damage control, the official explanation was that NBC messed up and an oblivious employee mixed up the two couples, and the excuse worked. Once April and Andy’s surprise wedding was broadcast, Schur acknowledged the “gentle lie” and hoped the fans were “cool with it."

14. THERE IS AN OFFICIAL BOOK ABOUT PAWNEE.

Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America is a 256-page book published in 2011 in concert with the season four episode “Born & Raised," where Leslie Knope tries to get the book featured in Joan Callamezzo’s Book Club. The credited author is Knope and it goes over the history of the fictional town, and includes blurbs from some of the characters, including Chris Traeger, who characteristically writes that Leslie’s book is "Literally the greatest endeavor of human creativity in the history of mankind."

15. THERE WAS AN EXTRA LINE NOT AIRED WITH LESLIE KNOPE AND JOE BIDEN.

Senators Barbara Boxer and John McCain, former senator Olympia Snowe, ex-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and First Lady Michelle Obama have all cameoed on Parks, but Joe Biden’s appearance was the payoff of a series-long joke that Leslie Knope had a massive crush on the vice president. The scene aired soon after his 2012 re-election, but an “addendum” was shot just in case Obama and Biden had lost, or were in the middle of a “weird Florida disaster tie.”

16. LESLIE KNOPE WON, LOST, AND MAYBE EVEN TIED HER CITY COUNCIL ELECTION.

The overarching story of season four was Leslie’s campaign to win a seat on the Pawnee city council. In the season finale, “Win, Lose, or Draw,” she defeated Bobby Newport on a recount. But in reality, three different endings were shot to avoid spoilers, and for the producers to buy more time to make a big creative decision on how they wanted the election to turn out.

17. ONE EPISODE IS FILLED WITH INFINITE JEST REFERENCES.

Michael Schur is such a huge fan of author David Foster Wallace and his magnum opus Infinite Jest that he owns the film rights to it, and jammed a bunch of references to the novel in the season five episode “Partridge.”

18. AMY POEHLER WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FINAL SEASON’S TIME JUMP.

Retta, who plays Donna Meagle, revealed that Amy Poehler influenced the decision. Poehler expressed a desire to not work with infants on the show, because she had her fill of babies raising her two children in real life.

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Mister Rogers Is Now a Funko Pop! and It’s Such a Good Feeling, a Very Good Feeling
Amazon
Amazon

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood for fans of Mister Rogers, as Funko has announced that, just in time for the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the kindest soul to ever grace a television screen will be honored with a series of Funko toys, some of them limited-edition versions.

The news broke at the New York Toy Fair, where the pop culture-loving toy company revealed a new Pop Funko! in Fred Rogers’s likeness—he’ll be holding onto the Neighborhood Trolley—plus a Mister Rogers Pop! keychain and a SuperCute Plush.

In addition to the standard Pop! figurine, there will also be a Funko Shop exclusive version, in which everyone’s favorite neighbor will be wearing a special blue sweater. Barnes & Noble will also carry its own special edition, which will see Fred wearing a red cardigan and holding a King Friday puppet instead of the Neighborhood Trolley.

 

Barnes & Noble's special edition Mister Rogers Funko Pop!
Funko

Mister Rogers’s seemingly endless supply of colored cardigans was an integral part of the show, and a sweet tribute to his mom (who knitted all of them). But don’t go running out to snatch up the whole collection just yet; Funko won’t release these sure-to-sell-out items until June 1, but you can pre-order your Pop! on Amazon right now.

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14 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Hollywood Food Stylists
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iStock

Hollywood food stylists are little short of magicians—only instead of pulling rabbits out of hats, they’re turning piles of mashed potatoes into ice cream sundaes. Indeed, making food (or food-like products) appear photogenic and appetizing onscreen is a job for a true illusionist. Mental Floss spoke to a few food stylists working in TV, film, and commercials—from Game of Thrones to Taco Bell—to bring you the tricks of their magical trade.

1. MOST OF THE FOOD BEING FILMED IS REAL.

While food stylists are well-versed in the old-school swap tricks—using a pint of white glue to impersonate a glass of milk, for example—those are being phased out. Now, directors want actors to interact with their food, and high-definition camera lenses have made the fake stuff much more obvious. Plastic food props only appear in the background of scenes today, where they're less visible and susceptible to scrutiny.

“I only deal with real food,” says Chris Oliver, who has styled food for movies including Gone Girl (2014) and TV shows such as Seinfeld and Big Little Lies. “You also have to think about how a character would cook something or put a plate together. Realistic food is not all beautiful and perfect. I make ugly food and burnt food, too.”

There’s a trend in commercial food styling to present dishes that are less-than-perfect, too. Shellie Anderson, who styles food ads for clients including Burger King and Ragù, says it’s the consumers who are demanding food look more realistic and therefore more approachable.

“People are tired of seeing something in a TV commercial and then ordering it in a restaurant and it doesn't look the same,” she says. “You don’t want it to look staged anymore. You want a burger to look like the cheese naturally dripped off and landed on the plate.”

2. THEY GO THROUGH A LOT OF FOOD ...

Bowl of strawberry ice cream
iStock

If a food stylist needs one sprig of parsley for a shoot, they’ll often order 10 bunches. They never know what the condition of the parsley is going to be when it arrives from the produce vendor, or if the shoot is going to require more than they originally planned for. Carving a turkey in a scene? That may require two dozen birds if an actor keeps flubbing his line.

“It really depends on how much of a story point the food is and how important the scene is for the director,” Oliver says.

Food stylists usually have relationships with produce vendors, who can look for products with the specific size, shape, and color that stylists need. No bruises or dents, and no frozen lettuce! But stylists can hide those things if they have to.

Ice cream is infamously hard to keep intact because it melts so quickly. Food stylists have been known to replace the scoops with dollops of meringue, which don’t melt, or butter rolled in sugar. Oliver makes her sundaes the day before and sticks them in the freezer, spoons and straws and all. If they freeze rock hard overnight, they can last a few hours on set the next day before being replaced with another sundae lined up in the deep-freeze. Anderson sprays her ice cream with cold spray, an aerosol can of super-chilled gas used for cooling electronics.

3. ... BUT THE FOOD RARELY GOES TO WASTE.

On film and TV shoots, there are rarely leftovers. In fact, good food stylists often compete with the caterers: Actors usually have to eat the food during their scenes, and the crew finishes off the scraps. While shooting a Chinese New Year scene for the show Fresh Off the Boat recently, actress Lucille Soong told Oliver, who was styling that episode, that she was going to skip lunch because she wanted to enjoy eating her food on camera. “That was pretty freaking flattering!” Oliver says.

Because Oliver works on multiple TV shows in a single day, if an item doesn’t get used on set and never comes out of her cooler, she can just take it back to her shop and recycle it for use on another show. If something can’t be used again, she’ll take it home and make salsa or jam. “When it gets really old, I'll just stick it in vodka,” she says.

Commercial shoots tend to have more unused food. Anderson says anything that’s still edible will be given to a food pantry. “I once donated an entire swordfish when we did a commercial for a fish restaurant,” she says. “We never even used it. So I kept it on ice and took it to a men's homeless shelter. They were thrilled to have it.”

4. THEY VALUE FOOD SAFETY.

Another reason food stylists swap out on-camera food so much is because of safety concerns—hot and cold foods need to be kept at certain temperatures that may not be practical on-set. Sushi-grade tuna may be replaced with watermelon, for example, because the fish spoils so easily.

Oliver requires all of her employees to have a food handler’s license. She also only works out of commercial kitchens (including the one on her fully-equipped food styling truck). But not every food styling team does; some prepare food in their homes. “The reason that I get so much work is that everybody knows I'm a chef and I have a real kitchen,” Oliver says. “People trust my food. I’ve done a bunch of movies with Reese [Witherspoon] because she knows that if I’m on set, the food is safe to eat.”

5. WOMEN DOMINATE THE FIELD.

woman styling food
iStock

While there are a few well-known male food stylists, for the most part the key food stylists in the U.S. are women. (Both of Anderson’s daughters are food stylists, too.) The reason for this dates back decades.

Before food styling became its own career in the 1990s, it was up to network employees with home economics degrees (almost always women) to cook on-camera food. Then props departments became responsible. “But props guys can’t even make spaghetti,” Oliver says, laughing. So according to her, these guys would go home and ask their girlfriends or wives to make whatever food was required for the next day’s scene. “Eventually they would just hire their girlfriends or wives to do it; keep the money in the family,” she says. “I know five food stylists who at one time were in relationships with prop masters.”

Also in the 1990s, networks began making more multi-camera TV shows. A lot more food began appearing on screen, and actors openly discussed their dietary restrictions. They were vegan, sugar-free, and low-carb all of a sudden. Oliver trained at the Culinary Institute of America and had worked in restaurants and catering jobs before stumbling into this career. “Because I was a chef, and I understood how food works, I knew how to feed people and make food last on set,” she says. “And I could charge anything I wanted to.”

To get a job as a food stylist today, it helps to know someone already in the industry and have a culinary background. Everyone starts as an intern, and then may be able to work their way up to being an assistant and then a stylist. “Not everybody can be a food stylist,” Anderson says. “You have to be able to cook, but you still have to be creative. And you have to be able to work fast and under pressure.”

6. THEY LIVE OUTSIDE OF LOS ANGELES NOW.

Now that movies and TV shows are frequently filmed all over the world, instead of just on sets in Los Angeles, food stylists can be based anywhere. There is a concentration of stylists who live in Vancouver, British Columbia, for example, because that's where many shows are now filmed. Labor laws also often require production crews to hire locally, so residing outside of L.A. can be a real advantage.

Some commercial food stylists, like Anderson, are flown in for shoots. “Food stylists can make or break a commercial,” she says. “And if you have trouble and you don't know what you're doing, it can be a real problem for production.” This is especially true on out-of-the-country shoots, when stylists don't have the resources that they’re used to. So clients who know her and her skill level, such as Taco Bell, will fly her to wherever they're filming.

7. THEY TALK LIKE CHEFS AND FILMMAKERS.

hand styling pancakes
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Food stylists use a mix of back-of-the-house kitchen lingo and film jargon. Some examples: The “hero” is the food that is written into the script, is being shot, and must appear in front of the actor. “Bite and smile” is when an actor takes a bite of food and pretends to like it. “All day” is the total number of items needed; if they needed five turkeys on a set, they would say “five all day.”

8. NOT EVERYONE WANTS TO BE IN THE MOVIES.

Food stylists usually specialize in different media: film, TV, commercials, or print editorial. Stylists often prefer one over the other. Print editorial is shot in a controlled studio and tends to have more leeway for creativity. Commercials are tied to a brand’s specifications. Film and TV shoots on location are in unpredictable settings and can be physically demanding. But everyone tends to work long, 12- to 14-hour days. For commercials, it can often take three days to shoot one 30-second spot.

When working on a movie or TV show, the actors’ demands usually take precedence over the food needs. After working on one film, Anderson had had enough and dedicated herself to commercial work. “When I do commercials, the food is the star,” she says. “So [the directors] want to make sure I have everything I need. On a movie, they could care less about you.”

9. FOOD STYLISTS DON’T JUST MAKE FOOD.

Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford, Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter on Hannibal
NBC

Sometimes food stylists are expected to create sci-fi props—what would a person eat in the year 3000?—or fantasy items that they have no experience with. While working on the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Oliver made gooey, edible slime from her imagination. “I also had to roll with the [actors’] different dietary needs,” she says. “I had to be able to make vegan slime, sugar-free slime, gluten-free slime, gelatin-free slime … Slime, any way you want it.”

Oliver also has to make items that you don’t really want to put in your mouth. While filming the TV show Big Little Lies, she made green-colored vomit for actress Reese Witherspoon of cucumbers and parsley. She says it was tasty, like green gazpacho. For a war film, she had to make 400 pounds of “dirt” for a group of prisoners of war to eat. She got Pakistani soil shipped to California so she could match it exactly. (Her recipe: ground-up Oreos and graham crackers, mixed with brown sugar and white sugar.)

Janice Poon, the food stylist behind the cannibal-centric TV show Hannibal, had a more challenging obstacle: how to make dishes that resembled human flesh. She refused to do research on cannibalism websites, she told HopesAndFears.com, but she studied a lot of anatomy books. “I’m just like Dr. Frankenstein,” Poon said. “I’m always stitching things, exchanging, putting one kind of meat on a different bone, patching stuff together. ... The key is to let the viewer’s imagination do more of your work.” She transformed veal shanks into human legs, and used prosciutto slices to mimic slivers of a human arm.

10. THEY PACK SOME SERIOUS GEAR.

When shooting, stylists need to be prepared for anything. They carry tools including tweezers, scissors, paint brushes, knives, offset spatulas, wet wipes, syringes, rulers, Q-tips, and spritz bottles.

“Think about your kitchen: all of your mixing bowls and utensils … I have that times 10 in my kit,” Anderson says. She also has a torch on hand for quick-cooking burgers and cold spray for extending the life of ice cream. Other stylists may have glycerin for adding shine or Kitchen Bouquet sauce for adding color. Poon often uses a white ceramic knife so she can see what she's doing on dark sets and work more quietly, so as not to disturb the acting process.

Food stylists sometimes work in erratic environments. Oliver brings her own 17-foot, cab-over truck to shoots. “It has a lift gate and everything's on wheels, so I can take everything out and have a kitchen in the middle of the desert, if I want,” she says. Inside, she has a full commercial kitchen: a six-burner stove, refrigerator, microwave, grill, freezer, prep tables, storage, TV, and a generator.

11. THEY’RE SKILLED AT IMPROV.

When production starts, the prop team sends memos to actors or their reps asking about food allergies and dietary restrictions. As trained chefs, most food stylists are happy to accommodate such limitations, cooking convincing swap-outs. “I find out what they will eat and make it happen,” Oliver says.

For example, Poon once made a convincing vegan “raw meat” on Hannibal using only grains. “I made lamb tongues out of bulgur and water,” Poon told HopesAndFears.com. “It’s like making a Lebanese kibbeh. You mix cracked wheat with water and it makes a kind of mush that holds together. The texture is a little 'nubbly,' so I added a pink food coloring, made little tongues out of kibbeh dough, steamed them up, and they were my little lambs’ tongues.”

Sometimes a director changes his or her mind at the last minute, and what was supposed to be a spaghetti dinner, for example, is now a breakfast spread. So the food stylist will squish down the meatballs and turn them into sausage patties. In an interview with NPR, food stylist Melissa McSorley recalled a time when a movie director suddenly decided to cut open a birthday cake she had made. The problem: It wasn’t real.

“So we had to cut the cake that was made out of Styrofoam, and I had to use a saw in order to do it because none of my knives could get through it,” McSorley said. “And then we had to layer in cake so it did look like it was real and then we had to send people scurrying to many markets to find white layer cake so it looked like people in the background could be actually be eating the cake.”

12. THERE’S ALWAYS THE SPIT BUCKET OPTION.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, David Bradley in Game of Thrones
HBO

Professional actors will often pick at the food in front of them, but not eat it because they know their scenes are going to require a lot of takes; they could be eating birthday cake for eight hours straight. Others dive right in. For a scene in The Guilt Trip (2012), actress Barbra Streisand had to pretend she was in a steak-eating contest. Oliver says they went through more than 300 pounds of meat for that scene’s three-day shoot and Streisand was totally game.

“But there’s a part towards the end where she has to eat really quickly and do a line without, you know, choking and dying,” Oliver says. “So I switched out the steak with seared watermelon. She took one bite and it sort of dissolved in her mouth, so she could do her line. If you watch it, and you really listen, you can hear the crunch of the watermelon.”

Sometimes, though, the spit bucket is the only option. In season one of Game of Thrones, the character Daenerys Targaryen had to eat a whole horse heart. But the actress who plays her, Emilia Clarke, actually had to eat 28. They were made of solidified jam, which tasted like “bleach and raw pasta,” she told The Mirror. “It was very helpful to be given something so truly disgusting to eat, so there wasn’t much acting required. Fortunately, they gave me a spit bucket because I was vomiting in it quite often.”

13. SOMETIMES THEY’RE SURPRISED BY THE FINAL PRODUCT.

Food stylists who work on multiple projects at a time, like Oliver, can’t always stick around to see how their food will be used. They may later find out that a gorgeous spread was relegated to the background, or worse. For a scene in Seinfeld, Oliver was once asked to prepare a perfect, glistening turkey. “Later I was home watching the episode and they had put the turkey on Kramer!” she says. “I was literally crying I was laughing so hard. Never in a million years did I think my turkey was going to end up with a guy’s head.”

14. THEY THROW EPIC DINNER PARTIES.

Food stylist preparing vegetables
iStock

You’d think that being around food all day would make food stylists tired of making things look nice. But most food stylists love to cook, and on the days they aren’t working, they love to throw parties. “People always expect to have beautiful food,” Anderson says. “And I don't disappoint.”

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