As TVWriter™’s longtime friend the Old Billionaire used to say, “If you’re lucky, you don’t have to be smart.” Truth to tell, though, Michael Schur, writer-creator of The Good Place and former writer for The Office has both those things going for him and then some:
by Todd VenDerWerff
Michael Schur is one of the most adept minds in TV comedy. From his early days producing the Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon-era Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live, to his work as one of the key writers on The Office, he has charted a career that spans some of the best TV comedy of the 2000s.
But in the 2010s, he’s become perhaps the principal figure in network TV comedy, via his shows Parks and Recreation and The Good Place. (He’s also the co-creator of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, though his fellow co-creator Dan Goor is the showrunner on that series.) Parks and Recreation was a tribute to the idea of a kinder, more loving America, just barely holding off a dark and horrifying one, while The Good Place is the only show in TV history that has balanced advanced lessons in ethics and philosophy with elaborate jokes about shrimp.
That’s what made me want to talk with Schur for the latest episode of my podcast, I Think You’re Interesting. But I wanted to talk not only about his shows, but about his overall philosophy of comedy.
We delved into questions of what makes a good comedic premise, what makes a good character relationship to build a comedy around, and what the best comedic actors have in common. We even got around to tackling that age-old question: Why is it so much easier to set a sitcom in a bar than it is to set one in a restaurant?
But early in our discussion, when I asked him to find a common denominator among successful sitcoms, he gave me a long dissection of what went right with The Office, which helped transform it from a one-season curio into a nine-season series that ran for over 200 episodes. His answer, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.