When Parks and Recreation returns this fall, it's the beginning of the end for Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones, as both actors will exit the series halfway through the season. How will their characters say farewell to Pawnee?
"It's a murder, suicide," executive producer Mike Schur joked to reporters after promoting his new Fox comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine at the Television Critics Association fall TV previews on Thursday. In all seriousness, the seeds for Ann and Chris' exit will be planted in the first episode following the one-hour London-set premiere.
"The decision that they make that will see them transition off the show is made very early, so it's a long, fun celebratory send-off," he continued. "It's going to be a long crescendo and Leslie [Amy Poehler] will go through a series of complicated highs and lows about what's happening. For obvious reasons, it's the main arc that plays out over the first half of the year."
With the duo planning to have a child, the obvious way for the characters to leave would be for Chris Traeger to finally go home to Indianapolis, where he lived before coming to Pawnee as an auditor alongside Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott). "I don't want to say exactly what it is, but that's the basic idea," Schur said. "They're moving into a new phase in their lives and they have a lot of things to consider and make a decision that leads to them leaving." One thing Schur promised won't happen is have the duo move to Pawnee's rival town Eagleton.
Even though Parks will be down two main castmembers — and technically a third since Jim O'Heir will have a reduced role — Schur said they have no plans to add any new castmembers other than various guest stars per usual. "The decision wasn't like we're swapping out those two characters for two other characters at all," Schur said. "It was natural. They were trying to have a baby, and we felt like we should do that this year. They've been going in that direction."
The idea for the actors to exit, which was a mutual decision, came at the end of last season as the writers began to map out what's in store for the residents of Pawnee. "The more we talked about it, the more it felt like maybe this is the way that they get moved off into the next phase of their lives in the show," Schur said. "We talked about different scenarios, like we could do it at the end of the year, we could do it at the middle of the year. For whatever reason, it felt like the natural thing to do."
With Jones signing an overall deal — and selling a TV show, according to Schur — and Lowe under a holding deal with the network — again, according to Schur — Schur promised there was no drama when it came to them leaving the series. "The real headline is that everyone is happy," he said. "There's no controversy. This is nothing but happy. No one screamed and yelled and stormed off and said, 'I quit,' nor did we say, 'You're fired.'" Schur did say there's a chance the duo could return at some point before the end of the series, which they don't necessarily expect to happen this year.
As for how Leslie Knope will deal with losing her best friend, Schur said, "She's been handed a lot of challenges before in her life and she's always come through the other side, so that's not the only challenge she's going to be facing this year. We like to encourage change and stuff in our show, like people getting married and having kids and moving on. Every time we make those decisions to make those big moves, things are interesting and fun for the creative team."
Parks and Recreation returns for Season 6 on Thursday, Sept. 26 on NBC. Will you miss Ann and Chris when they leave?