Mike Schur has become a bit of a go-to voice for those of us who cover TV and are looking for a smart, well-reasoned take on the business. And it’s easy to see why: Not only is Schur thankfully accessible and willing to share his thoughts with those of us in the fourth estate, but he also happens to be one of the most successful small-screen producers in Hollywood.
Schur — who recently sealed a megadeal to remain at his longtime studio home, Universal Television — is behind some of the most-watched comedies in off-net streaming, including “Parks and Recreation,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “The Good Place.” And, of course, he worked under another hugely successful comedy producer, Greg Daniels, on “The Office” (where Schur also played Dwight’s cousin Mose) — believed to be the No. 1 most-binged show on Netflix.
In other words, Schur has chops. So much so that his stable of comedies has even been given an unofficial title: the Schur-iverse. (Next up: He’s an executive producer on NBC’s freshman series “Sunnyside,” starring Kal Penn.)
What I admire about Schur is his love for TV comedies and the whole sitcom form. As an executive producer on the recently canceled “Abby’s,” he worked with creator Josh Malmuth to plot the first-ever multi-camera sitcom shot outdoors with a full studio audience. I got a chance to visit the set last fall to witness firsthand how this slice of TV history was being made.
In February, I met up again with Schur and couldn’t resist grilling him on a topic he wasn’t expecting: the Emmy race. And Schur, just as I described, didn’t disappoint.
For one thing, he has an idea that should also probably be considered for political elections as well: “Federal law passed that says you cannot campaign for the Emmys before the Oscars are over,” he says. “Let’s start there.”
Schur isn’t a big fan of awards for art in general, though. “It’s so distasteful,” he says. “The envelope ripping, the weird prurient gaze upon the losers and see how they react.”
But he does have a soft spot for the AFI Awards: “Here’s 10 TV shows and 10 movies. Come have lunch at a hotel. Lunch! It’s so civilized. And they say, ‘OK everyone, great job. Goodbye!’ They give you a certificate, and it’s so lovely and there are no losers, and there’s no prurient gaze upon the loser who has to pretend in that moment that it was worth it to wake up at two in the morning to get their hair and makeup done and sit in an uncomfortable chair for three hours.”
Like many awards observers, Schur says the biggest problem with the Emmys may be that the “comedy” and “drama” classifications may have outlived their usefulness. In an age when programming has become more sophisticated, and most series defy classification, it’s truly difficult to figure out how to pit shows against one another.
“Everybody knows it, everyone talks about it all the time, but no one does anything about it,” he laments. “They tried to address it. They were like, ‘Orange Is the New Black’ is entered in the comedy category this year. All right, that’s fine. But then they were like, ‘No, that’s not good.’ William H. Macy is entered in comedy one year and drama another year. What? Can’t happen. So then they say, ‘Here’s the deal. If a show is a half-hour, it’s a comedy. If it’s an hourlong, it’s a drama.’ That’s so much worse. That’s crazy. It’s also not true.”
Schur is also amused by series that weren’t intended to be a limited series but got canceled after one year — and so they enter in that category. “There should be a category called ‘best limited series’ and then ‘best unintentional limited series.’”
All that aside, Schur probably has the most reasonable idea for figuring out the comedy/drama conundrum: “If you want to do that in my opinion, call it best half-hour show and best hour-long show,” he says.
To that, I’d add one more distinction: Split “half-hour show” into multi-camera and single-camera subcategories. In a Schur-iverse future, perhaps this will one day come true.