Leslie Knope, upbeat deputy director of the Parks and Recreation department in Pawnee, Ind., is penning a bold new book about her favorite place on earth. “Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America” will hit shelves this October.
The only thing is that Leslie Knope doesn’t actually exist. Nor does Pawnee. But in TV land, that’s not a problem.
Ms. Knope, in fact, is the blindingly cheerful star, played by Amy Poehler, of the NBC comedy “Parks and Recreation,” set in the fictional Midwestern town of Pawnee, Ind. Knope’s voice in the book is not her own, but that of authors Michael Schur, co-creator and executive producer of “Parks and Recreation,” and Nate DiMeo, a former public radio producer and founder of the podcast “The Memory Palace.”
“The ever-expanding town of Pawnee has become its own character in our show, and we're thrilled that we got to accelerate that expansion in one giant, goofy 240-page comedy book,” Mr. Schur told the Hollywood Reporter.
The book, from NBC Universal and Hyperion Books, will explore fictional events in the fictional town’s fictional history, such as the time all of Pawnee was on fire, or the brief period in the 1970s when the town was taken over by a cult leader named Zorp, or its ongoing raccoon infestation (all fictional).
If you’re noticing a trend here, you’re not alone.
NBC (the undisputed leader in this trend) has mastered the art of building extensive (fictional) fantasy worlds around its hit shows.
There’s the Dunder Mifflin Inc. Scranton Newsletter, on the website of the hit NBC series, “The Office,” the latest issue of which includes employee Pam Halpert (played by Jenna Fischer) sharing big news, Dunder Mifflin-style: “Hi everyone! I have a very important, exciting announcement. I hope you're sitting down... Are you ready? I, Pamela Halpert, will be taking over ... the Dunder Mifflin newsletter!!”
Fans can also follow Creed, Dunder Mifflin’s offbeat quality assurance representative, on Twitter; check out the amateur film masterpiece “Threat Level Midnight” made by former boss Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell); and even join the Dunder Mifflin Sabre team, climb the corporate ladder, and earn Schrute bucks (Sb$) to use on merchandise like a stapler suspended in Jell-O.
You can also get a Kabletown swag set (courtesy of NBC’s “30 Rock”), collegiate tees and gear emblazoned with the Greendale Community College logo (NBC’s “Community,”), or an assortment of gag gifts like a toilet bowl mug from the catalogue Mid-American Novelties (the fictional company outsourced to India in NBC’s “Outsourced”).
Not Getting it? You have to see the show to join the club (8,209,686 strong at this point, judging by Office ‘likes’ on Facebook.
That is, of course, NBC’s point, whether it’s a Dunder Mifflin newsletter or a book celebrating Pawnee – which, as Leslie Knope likes to point out, has gone through a number of slogans in its storied past: "Pawnee, the Paris of America"; "Pawnee, the Akron of Southwest Indiana"; "Pawnee, the factory fire capital of America"; "Pawnee: Welcome, German soldiers"; and "Pawnee: first in friendship, fourth in obesity."
“Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America” is particularly unique in that it combines what the best of television and (fictional) literature can do in one goofy, tongue-in-cheek (supposedly nonfiction) book: build a fictional place in our imaginations, populate it with fictional characters so vivid that we think they’re real, and then invite us inside.
Sounds like the makings of a good book. Or a good TV show. Or a good book about a good TV show.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.