The PARKS Problem -

The PARKS Problem


In a previous post I noted that the Office mock-documentary format has proved to have a type of mass appeal that movie-style single-camera shooting does not usually have (in half-hours, I mean). Having said that, I’ll come back for a second to Parks and Recreation, which in some ways is one of the bigger ratings disappointments of the season. Not only did it get really good, but it has a format that is much more audience-friendly than conventional single-camera, yet its ratings are nowhere. True, some of that is because its lead-in, Community, hasn’t caught on either, but right or wrong, the perception is that these ratings are more damaging for a show in its second season (because it has less room to grow). I speculated earlier that the format has hurt P&R, not because the format is unpopular — obviously, it isn’t — but because it reinforces the mistaken perception that it’s an Office spinoff, resulting in disappointment because it’s not really very similar. But if it switched to Community‘s movie-style look, that wouldn’t help it in the ratings at all. So I’ve come to think that the problem with P&R may simply be that it shot itself in the foot with that weak six-episode first season.

I was not bothered by the first season, because I had faith in Greg Daniels; I know that his shows make big leaps forward in their second seasons, and that he and his team would look at what they’d done wrong in the first season and fix it. That’s what happened with The Office. But the first six episodes of The Office weren’t bad; the least-liked entry was the pilot, and that had certain things going for it (mainly that it had all those great lines carried over from the original UK version). P&R’s first six episodes, on the other hand — the most you can say for them is that they weren’t terrible, but it didn’t seem to be a good show.

So now the show has righted itself and become a first-rate half-hour of TV. But who, having seen the first season, is going to believe that, unless they know how good Greg Daniels is? In a strange way, P&R is suffering from the fact that it improved without a major re-tool: no characters were dropped, no major format shake-up was instituted. So there is no hook for NBC to use when trying to get people to give the show a second chance; you can’t make an advertising tagline out of “We didn’t change anything, but it doesn’t suck now.” Maybe, when it comes back for its belated third season, they can make something out of the fact that Paul Schneider left, but even that doesn’t really make it “The New Parks and Recreation.” This is one reason why I think the show would benefit from going to a new night; even if the format isn’t new, the move would create the perception that something has changed. And that show may not go anywhere until it shakes off the curse of that first season.

Or they could just change the theme song to one of the alternate P&R themes that have turned up online, like “Jabba the Hutt,” or even:

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Update: One other idea I forgot to mention is that they could change the almost aggressively unappealing title to something else. If they called it something simple like “The Amy Poehler Show” — which probably should have been the title in the first place — it would have a more likable title (one that stresses the kinship with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which both this and 30 Rock seek to resemble) and offer the perception that something is new and different. It’s like These Friends Of Mine probably wouldn’t have survived if it hadn’t changed its name to Ellen.

Update 2: James Poniewozik adds his two very valuable cents on the subject of what’s holding back P&R.

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