Sitcom king Michael Schur canceled his own show.
Well, sort of.
Schur made a name for himself as the ultimate purveyor of workplace comedies with “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” He also created NBC’s “The Good Place,” which uses the universe as the ultimate workplace — and that’s why he decided to end the Kristen Bell/Ted Danson sitcom after four seasons.
“I’ve never created a show before that had an enormous concept behind it,” Schur says. “The design of the show suggested to me that you had to establish a status quo for the audience and then blow it up every so often. There’s only so many times you can do that before you run out of things to do.
“So it was just sort of engendered in the premise from the very beginning,” he says. “After Season 1 … based on the pace we had set, I thought [it can last] ‘maybe 50 episodes,’ which would be roughly four years.”
Bell stars in the Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated comedy (9 p.m. Thursdays) as Eleanor Shellstrop, a dead woman who wakes up in a version of heaven presided over by Michael (Danson). When it becomes clear that all is not what it seems, the rest of the series follows Eleanor and her pals Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Jason (Manny Jacinto) and Tahani (Jameela Jamil) as they try to navigate their afterlives.
Schur says to expect a few more twists and turns before the series finale, which doesn’t yet have an airdate.
“The last season stays true to the course of the first three, and by that I mean there’s a lot of revelation and upending and big changes,” he says. “We’re not going to stay in one place for more than, say, six episodes.”
Awards and critical acclaim aside, “The Good Place” has been a surprise hit. Its same-day viewership is not high, usually under 3 million viewers, but that grows to 10 million once delayed viewership is added — a factor that’s helped sustain many low-rated shows in this digital age.
Even so, its weighty themes aren’t typical for a show with such a loyal core audience.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the subject matter underlying the whole show — moral philosophy and a discussion of ethics and essential human goodness — didn’t turn people off,” says Schur. “It certainly could have! That was a weird bet to make. It seems like it’s had the opposite effect. The people who like the show seem to like it because of that discussion instead of in spite of it. That has been really nice.
“It’s also true that a lot of kids like it, and I don’t think that’s necessarily because we’re talking about … [philosopher] Immanuel Kant,” he says. “I think they like it because Manny Jacinto is really funny. And that’s also fine. In this day and age, any reason anybody likes anything you ever make is a great reason.”
Although “The Good Place” is more overtly philosophical than his previous work, human goodness is a topic that’s appeared in all of Schur’s shows.
“There’s nothing wrong with sour or bitter comedy … I can appreciate it, and I like to watch it sometimes, but I don’t want to write it,” he says. “It just seems so reductive at times in a world that I think we can all agree is in rough shape right now. I didn’t want to write something that says ‘the world is in rough shape.’ I don’t see the point of that. I just prefer personally to have comedy come from more upbeat character relationships and scenarios and silliness.
“I think you can write a show with that tone and still be saying something about the world,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be frivolous.”