I've been on a bit of a Netflix streaming binge in anticipation of tonight's return of Parks and Recreation, and it really struck me how so much of the funniest stuff is about the tortured relationship between government official Leslie Knope and the voracious, 12-hour Pawnee news cycle.
There are lots of ways the charming town of Pawnee, Indiana is behind the times. For instance, if Leslie Knope had tied an opponent for her recently-won City Council seat, as the woman candidate, she'd have gone to jail. Also, as one of my favorite characters (Donna Meagle) discovers while researching Pawnee local laws, technically, black people are still not allowed to walk on the sidewalks.
On its surface, Pawnee is also a town that punches way above its weight, some people say. Two daily print newspapers (when New Orleans is about to have none)? At least three radio stations, and two television stations?
In fact, it's not that bizarre, as you'll see below. And anyway, the show would be a lot less fun without all these people. (How could they sneak in a birther plot line without a screamy local television show to keep pumping it up?)
Herewith my attempt at a guide to the Pawnee media scene. I've probably missed stuff: Put it in the comments or @ me on Twitter (@tmcgev) and I'll add submissions.
Pawnee is home to not one but two daily print newspapers.
The Pawnee Journal
A daily broadsheet, The Pawnee Journal is, in the estimation of Leslie Knope, "Pawnee's own Washington Post." Though in the seventh-largest city in Indiana, it sometimes seems like it's tough to find a local story to hold down the front page.
A full-page takeover was indicated in 1992 when "Pistol Pete" of the high school basketball team (The Drunken Savages, whose emblem is a drunken-looking Native American with a fiendish grin) had his famous dunk, reversing the fortunes of the perennially losing team. When the town mascot, miniature horse Li'l Sebastian, dies, a reverent full-page photo is emblazoned simply with "R.I.P." and "Big Farewell for Li'l Hero." But we've also seen editions that lead with headlines like "Spring arrives!" (with the sleeper-hit subheadline: "Most residents welcome the new season") and "Wanna iguana?"
Like most things in Pawnee, the Journal is owned by the massive candy and cake conglomerate, Sweetums, that has its headquarters in the town.
How absurd is the existence of The Pawnee Journal? Not at all, really: The population of Bloomington, Ind. supports a daily broadsheet (The Herald-Times) with a population about the same as Pawnee, and has a daily circulation of 27,540 and a Sunday circulation of 44,197.
Its only reporter as far as we know is Shawna Malwae-Tweep, who seems smart and not overly credulous, tough with her subjects but fair—but tends to sleep with everyone.
Far less likely is the muckraking tabloid first introduced when city manager Paul Iaresco has a heart attack at a podium and, falling against Leslie, grabs onto her breast. A picture takes up the full front page of the Sun, which is made to look like a combination of the British Sun and a supermarket tabloid. The text: "KNOPE GROPE IS LAST HOPE."
Later, when Leslie is implicated in an affair with married councilman Dexhart, exclusive photos are touted under the headline "SEXY DEXY STRIKES AGAIN!" Alexa Softcastle, the only Sun reporter we meet, gets one question in while the media swarms Leslie: "Some people are saying this isn't the first time you've had sex with a married councilman ..." But Ron Swanson cuts her off and corrals Leslie away.
By way of comparison though, maybe this isn't such a stretch. Pawnee, full as it is of obese, crazy and downright stupid civilians with a corrupt candy factory fueling the economy, isn't the same as Bloomington, home of General Electric and a giant state university; and while Bloomington doesn't have a scandal sheet, it does have a daily newspaper run out of the U and two lifestyle-culture magazines, for a combined circulation of 20,000. I don't see that coming off in Pawnee. But maybe, if they're just unethical enough, they can squeeze out a front page with sex, drugs, violence and scandal every weekday?
Of course, drive time must be an important factor in a town full of obese people that is 80 miles away from Indianapolis. So we expect there to be some radio personalities.
We only get one taste of the style of Wamapoke County Public Radio, when Leslie, promoting her book about Pawnee, appears on the program "Thoughts for Your Thoughts," hosted indefinitely by fill-in host Derry Murbles, because the regular host, David Parker, "took off for eight months to study the migration patterns of our nation's squirrels" and "has not been heard from since."
Since this serves a wider audience (presumably mostly in snobby next-door Eagleton) it's hard to gauge; but I just think it's worth pointing out that Bloomington in the real world supports no fewer than nine radio stations.
93.7, The Groove of Pawnee
Again, we only really get one show, the morning-zoo-style "Crazy Ira and the Douche," featuring sound effects from China Joe (a Vietnamese-American who hates his job). The trio handily beats the competiting morning-drive program, "Tubby Tony and the Papaya." (So there is at least one competing commercial radio station, right?)
Drive time in Wamapoke County must be a drag if everyone loves these guys: Lots of fart noises, that "me so horny" sample, and the line I love the best, which is when they suspect someone of being a lesbian and immediately China Joe cuts in with a sample from Melissa Etheridge's "Come Through My Window."
I'll put aside for now the community access station Leslie uses to stage her telethon.
There's the local station that is the home of WVYS Action 8 News. We've seen the van and sometimes seen the reporters hanging around news events as extras, but unless I'm missing something, that's it. Also: Call letters are oddly the same as the public radio station.
WTNW-4 News is the home of local television personality Perd Hapley, host of Ya Heard, With Perd and The Final Word With Perd. Here's Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson) on Hapley: "Perd Hapley—he's almost an innocent. It makes sense that someone like him would not make it outside of Pawnee. He's a Pawnee-caliber talk-show host."
Enjoy this NBC-produced supercut of Perd with his flat-top and his tendency to alternate between pleonasm and self-contradiction:
I'm not sure which Pawnee station this is supposed to be on; the branding looks like NBC, but surely the real Today show airs there? I'm thinking this is the local extender that comes on right afterward. But whatever it is, the host of this talk show, Joan Callamezzo (Mo Collins), is the queen of all Pawnee media. Her sticker on the front of a book guarantees best-seller status. It's so large it covers most of the book, but it carries so much weight that even a local author's novel, The Time Traveler's Optometrist ("A heartwarming story about a caveman eye doctor who travels to present-day Cincinnati and can see everything but love") became a bestseller with Joan's imprimatur. She's a cougar, and a gotcha journalist of the old school. She's also the prime mover of a local "birther" movement against Leslie:
Tom Haverford and Jean-Ralphio Sapirstein's short-lived 21st-century media conglomerate, named because they go "twice around the world" for their clients, includes services such as public relations, updating your Twitter status, making pet memorial videos, parties, major events, viral marketing and child-star training. Their parties, which look very crowded, must attract every single person in the Pawnee Valley who would ever want to go to a party like that. I'd say that in Pawnee they got market saturation. They just weren't too good on the revenue side.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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