How Steve Carell Saved ‘The Office’
During 2007, the Writers Guild of America went on strike, putting dozens of shows at a standstill — including The Office. It took several weeks for the industry to see change, but Steve Carell made a bold move that forced networks to pay attention. In a way, his courage saved The Office.
The Writers Guild Strike of 2007
In 2007, writers who worked on movies and television went on strike after feeling like they were paid unfairly for streamable content.
“On November 5, 2007, the Writers Guild of America went on strike,” Brian Baumgartner explained on his podcast, An Oral History of The Office. “They were fighting over compensation for new media, like web originals and streaming.”
Mike Schur spoke to the webisodes starring Baumgartner, Angela Kinsey, and Oscar Nuñez called The Accountants.
“Those webisodes were shot with union labor, and no one got paid,” Schur explained. That was just one example of content being produced at the time that creators weren’t being paid for.
“[Networks were] basically trying to grandfather in the internet as something they don’t pay for,” Schur said.
But Carell wouldn’t have it.
The cast and crew of ‘The Office’ stood in solidarity with the writers during the strike
Together, the writers and the actors picketed their own series.
The head of the network The Office was on also happened to be the executive producer of the series — Ben Silverman.
Equipped with their own union, the actors were still expected to show up to work. Ed Helms remembered not feeling so great having to work while his friends and coworkers were being mistreated.
“I remember everyone felt a lot of tension,” Helms said. “Obviously, I support the writers, but it’s scary a little bit. It just felt so baffling. I think in hindsight, I really appreciate how courageous that was [for the writers to fight that battle on behalf of The Office].”
Steve Carell refused to work on the ‘Dinner Party’ episode during the strike
While the Writers Guild strike was happening, showrunners had a script ready to go for the iconic “Dinner Party” episode of The Office.
“Steve Carell said, ‘No, the way we make this show is collaborative,'” Schur recalled. Carell tried to explained to executives how the writers and producers would all work together to pitch new jokes and create some of the most memorable moments on the show. But to no avail.
“‘I don’t think I’m going to make the show without the writers,'” Schur recalled Carell saying. “And he didn’t show up.”
After shooting the scenes they could that didn’t feature Michael Scott, production for The Office shut down.
“That was such a heroic thing — he just stayed home,” Schur said.
Steve Carell told showrunners to fire him
In remembering Carell’s brave move, Schur said Carell essentially told Greg Daniels to fire him. Carell felt that without the writers on set, The Office wasn’t the same show — and he didn’t want to make whatever show that was.
“We were all very protective of the show,” Carell said. “I was just in a position more often than not to say something and not just let things transpire.”
Without Steve Carell, production shut down, putting the actors in the same boat as the writers
During the strike, Mindy Kaling created a sign for Carell’s trailer that read: “Steve Carell American Hero.” Ultimately, Carell’s actions inspired many other people in the industry to do the same — step down from their roles until things changed. But that ended up putting many people out of work.
After 100 days of striking, the guild and studios reached an agreement and went back to work. According to Baumgartner, many people came out of the strike stronger. Fortunately, the strike made some positive changes to the way the industry paid for streamable content. But there’s still work to be done.
Still, Baumgartner said he was proud of the part The Office played in making progressive change in the industry. “Everyone on our show was a team,” he said. “They were superheroes.”