I’m a little late discussing the departure of Paul Schneider (Mark) from Parks & Recreation. Here’s the long Los Angeles Times interview with co-creator Mike Schur, where he says that this was a mutual decision. (He also that they originally considered making him a guy who could leave and come back, presumably like Ryan on The Office.) Basically, Schneider’s movie career is picking up, and as Schur says, these are the kind of movies that don’t shoot during the TV off-season. And Mark is not the most necessary of characters. So he’ll leave, the show will bring in a bunch of stars for mini-arcs — including Rob Lowe and Natalie Morales — and his character will probably return for guest appearances next year.
I think I like the decision to drop him from the show instead of letting him hang around without much to do. As Schur says “well, the way the character’s gone…we were all on the same page here and we decided to write the character out.” Mark really seemed linked to the show’s original conception as a relative of The Office. As the show has taken on its own identity, most of the funny stuff is going to the, well, funny characters, and the show doesn’t really need the Jim/Pam dynamic they were setting up with Ann and Mark, or even the sort of parody version of Jim/Pam that they originally had with Leslie’s crush on Mark. And he was also a character who was famously rewritten quite a bit, tinkered with after the underwhelming initial test screenings, and never quite settled into a clear characterization.
This constantly happens, of course; we’ve talked about it many times. A character is set up to fill a role, and when the show finds itself, that role is no longer needed or is filled by someone else. Scott Adsit on 30 Rock is the most notable modern example, a character who was supposed to be one of two forces pulling Liz Lemon in opposite directions — the pathetic but nice producer on the one hand, the ruthless, anti-artistic but brilliant corporate executive on the other. Then the show stopped having anything to do with the process of putting on a comedy show and threw all its relationship eggs in the Liz/Jack basket; these were the right decisions, but it left Scott Adsit with a nothing part. There are two things a show can do in that situation: leave him around with no clear role, Potsie-style, or write him out. If the actor can get lots of work elsewhere, as Schneider apparently can, then it’s not surprising that he and the producers would mutually agree on the latter option.
(Some have argued that the show doesn’t really need Rashida Jones either, and she does seem a bit tonally out of whack with the show as it’s developed — particularly since she doesn’t have a huge amount of comic range. But while I could see her leaving eventually, she’s well-known enough that the show would presumably try harder to keep her and find more stuff for her to do.)