Can NBC’s ‘Parks And Recreation’ Survive For Another Season?
By Rachel Bennett
Television Editor & Columnist
It may be only January, but it’s time to think about the next TV season.
As the networks begin to order pilots, it’s just another reminder that some of our favorite programs may not make it another year — new shows have to go somewhere, right?
As a result, during the pilot acquisition process, it’s also necessary to look at what series can get cut. Some already have (goodbye, ABC’s Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23), whereas others we won’t know the fates of until later this year.
There are always shows that are “on the bubble,” meaning they could either stay or go based on ratings, and somehow NBC’s Parks and Recreation has consistently been one of them. I’ve been worried lately that the beloved comedy won’t make it to six seasons, especially with NBC’s declared hope to broaden its series, but there are also some promising signs it could.
Here’s a rundown of Parks and Recreation‘s chances of survival:
Working against Parks and Recreation
1. NBC wants to broaden its comedy horizons
In July, NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt worried fans of NBC Thursday comedies when he said, “Those Thursday comedies, which the critics love, and we love, tend to be a bit more narrow than we’d ultimately like going forward.”
Greenblatt added, “I don’t want to say anything negative about what Tina Fey does, or Parks and Rec or The Office. Those are great shows. But it’s a challenge in comedy to broaden.”
Given that Parks and Recreation has been granted five seasons and still doesn’t have a large audience, it’s probably past time to hope it could appeal to the masses.
NBC’s plan to “broaden” may be to mimic CBS’s successful comedies, such as Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, and go from multi-camera to single camera. It already appears to be going in this direction, considering Up All Night’s switch to a multi-camera format as well as the head-scratching survivals of Whitney and Guys with Kids.
The peacock network has also ordered a multi-camera pilot based on the life of Jessica Simpson, starring the reality star/singer/fashion mogul. Although the pilot hasn’t been picked up to series, it’s a telling sign of NBC’s possible future that the net is considering it.
2. It’s being left behind
For most of its airtime, Parks and Recreation has been accompanied on Thursdays by The Office, 30 Rock and Community.
Even though this lineup doesn’t exactly deliver ratings gold for NBC, it’s elicited strong critical feedback and even stronger fan bases. These series have grown together, and their brands of comedy fit one another — if you love one, you most likely love another (if not all of them).
Consequently, if one was renewed in the past, it helped the others’ chances at seeing an additional season.
Sadly, however, this year will be drastically different. The Office is closing its doors for good come May, and 30 Rock has only two episodes left before shutting down. As for Community, despite Greenblatt saying he’s “absolutely hopeful” it will receive a fifth season, the comedy has been through its fair share of behind-the-scenes drama as well as delays — never good indicators for the future.
That leaves Parks and Recreation to possibly fend for itself, and especially without the companionship of its “sister show” The Office, that’s going to be a tough battle.
3. Co-creators Greg Daniels and Mike Schur are working on other projects
Yes, it’s true: Two of the fall’s brightest pilots are from Parks and Recreation co-creators Greg Daniels and Mike Schur. Although their involvement with these projects doesn’t signal the end of NBC’s political comedy, or their roles with it, it does seem as though they’re moving on in some way.
NBC ordered Daniels’ pilot last week. His untitled comedy project, told from the perspective of a group of friends, revolves around dating in your 20s. It’s not quite as alarming seeing Daniels tackling another series, as he’s juggled various programs throughout his career — he’s currently overseeing the final season of The Office while remaining a Parks and Recreation writer.
What is frightening, though, is seeing Schur creating another series. His untitled Fox comedy pilot, starring Andy Samberg (NBC’s Saturday Night Live), follows a group of New York detectives and was ordered earlier this month.
Not only is Schur a co-creator of Parks and Recreation, but he’s also the showrunner, and his new series will be the first time he’s attempted to do something else since Parks and Recreation began in 2009. Parks and Recreation executive producer Dan Goor is also involved in the Fox comedy.
Although these pilots have yet to be ordered to series, if they do, it could be a bad omen for the Amy Poehler series. Even if Parks and Recreation survives, Schur could handle both, but let’s be honest: the quality of the original show tends to decrease when showrunners do this.
Finally, this move screams “job security,” as Parks and Recreation has had a pretty good run and may be on the bubble more than ever this year. It also seems as though they’re wrapping up a lot of storylines, from Tom (Aziz Ansari) coming up with a good entrepreneurial venture to Ron (Nick Offerman) finding love with someone not named “Tammy,” which could be a sign the end is near.
Working in favor of Parks and Recreation
1. It’s the strongest comedy on NBC
As much as I love Community, I’d argue Parks and Recreation is the best comedy on the peacock network (Community is a very close second).
The series is heartfelt and hilarious, having yet to run out of steam after five seasons. It also features the best comedy cast on TV (Community is a very close second).
Sure, Go On and The New Normal are worthy additions to the lineup, but they don’t come close to Parks and Recreation. As for Whitney and Up All Night, I don’t expect to see them after this season.
Since NBC will be airing a mostly new Thursday night next season, they may not want to start completely from scratch. Parks and Recreation would make a fantastic anchor, and I hope the network is aware that the strong fan base would be furious if it were canceled — especially if Community, which has an even more passionate following, doesn’t make it to six seasons and a movie.
2. It could fit with the new pilots
Despite NBC’s declarations that they want to broaden its comedies, not to mention the addition of multicamera sitcoms the past couple of years, the pilots it’s ordered appear to be in the same vein as its current shows. In short, they’re mostly single-camera productions like Parks and Recreation — not something you’d see on CBS.
The most talked about pilot, which has been ordered to series (so you will see it come fall), is Michael J. Fox’s sitcom. The actor’s return to TV is a highly anticipated event, and the single-camera series will be loosely based on his life.
Aside from this, the network is looking at single-camera comedies from such executive producers as Showtime’s Nurse Jackie showrunner Liz Brixius, Arrested Development’s (Netflix) Jason Bateman, Starz’s Magic City executive producer Geyer Kosinski, NBC’s Parenthood showrunner Jason Katims and more.
If NBC is trying to incorporate more multi-camera projects into its lineup, it’s not doing a good job of it. I’m perfectly fine with that, though, as Parks and Recreation would likely make a wonderful stylistic companion to most of these series.
3. NBC owns it
One of the production companies behind Parks and Recreation is Universal Media Studios, which is a part of NBCUniversal. In short, NBC owns Parks and Recreation, and it will want to see the most from its investment.
At the end of its fifth season, the NBC comedy will have 90 episodes. The “magic number” for stripped syndication, which is the distribution to and Monday-thru-Friday broadcast of TV series on other networks (i.e. repeats of The Big Bang Theory on TBS), used to be 100. However, the number has recently been scaled back to 88 episodes.
Since Parks and Recreation has already reached this number, NBC may be less inclined to renew it. However, the more episodes there are of the series, the more money NBC will make off of it through syndication.
This could be incentive enough to give the comedy another season — especially if it holds up in the ratings for the rest of the year.
1. The ratings
Speaking of ratings, they appear to be figuratively and literally looking up for Parks and Recreation.
Upon its debut in the 8:30 p.m. EST timeslot, the series saw more viewers, attracting 3.9 million audience members and a 1.9 adults 18-49 rating. These ratings brought Parks and Recreation its largest audience since last January and the net’s strongest rating in the timeslot since last March.
These results are even more impressive considering the program was competing with Fox’s American Idol. As for the rest of NBC’s Thursday night comedies, The Office, 30 Rock and rookie 1600 Penn were down in the ratings.
As much as this is a great sign for Parks and Recreation, we still have to take into consideration how wonderful of a year this has been for the peacock network. NBC places No. 1 among the major networks in the coveted 18-49 demo, bouncing back from several years at No. 4.
Consequently, although the Indiana-set comedy’s ratings are improving, it’s unclear whether they’re good enough for a top net.
It remains to be seen, but Greenblatt was recently hesitant about whether Parks and Recreation would receive a sixth season, saying, “I hate to sort of predict [about Parks & Recreation] because its a long way between here and May, but we love it. I’m hopeful, and the same with Community.”
Hopefully the improved ratings will cause Greenblatt to be a bit more optimistic.
Even though Parks and Recreation‘s ratings could take a hit following this spike, I think they will remain good enough to warrant another season.
However, I’m not sure the comedy will receive a full 22-episode order. Instead, I think it will be given a shortened season, in the vein of 30 Rock’s season, on the condition that it’s the last chapter.
This will give the writers time to wrap up all of the storylines as well as provide a satisfying conclusion for the passionate fanbase.
It also gives the network time to establish new Thursday comedies to carry the night once Parks and Recreation ends. If it continues to perform well (even though it just hit a season low), Go On could very well move to Thursdays, and my guess is Michael J. Fox’s new series will be scheduled on the popular evening.
Of course, May is still months away, and NBC is pretty unpredictable these days. Let’s just hope the network will give Parks and Recreation another season because I’m not ready to say goodbye yet.
Tags: 1600 Penn, 30 Rock, ABC, American Idol, Amy Poehler, Andy Samberg, Aziz Ansari, Dan Goor, Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, Fox, Go On, Greg Daniels, Guys With Kids, Jason Bateman, Jason Katims, Jessica Simpson, Liz Brixius, Magic City, Michael J. Fox, Mike Schur, NBC, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Nick Offerman, Nurse Jackie, Parenthood, Parks and Recreation, Robert Greenblatt, Saturday Night Live, Showtime, Starz, TBS, The Big Bang Theory, The New Normal, The Office, Tina Fey, Two and a Half Men, Universal Media Studios, Up All Night, Whitney