‘The Office’: How Changing the Show in 1 Small Way Made It a Huge Success

The Office almost didn’t make it beyond its first season, but thankfully there were some people involved with the show who didn’t want to give up without a fight. It’s an amazing television success story and one that creator and showrunner Greg Daniels admits needed so many things to go right — and somehow things all fell into place.

The Office The Dundies Steve Carell as Michael Scott and Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute
Steve Carell as Michael Scott and Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute on ‘The Office’ | Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

‘The Office’ made a small change that had a huge impact

When the show got picked up for an initial six episodes for season 2, it was clear The Office creator and writers had to make some changes for the show to have any success.

During Brian Baumgartner’s An Oral History of The Office podcast on July 21, he shared the story behind how The Office overcame low ratings and being on the chopping block to survive for nine seasons. NBC executive Kevin Reilly fought for the show because he believed in it, which was no easy task.

Creator and showrunner Greg Daniels was instrumental in making small tweaks to change the show — changes that ended up having a huge impact. One of his requests of the writers was to find a way to interject some positivity into each episode.

Daniels wanted every episode of The Office to end with an upswing, an idea that wasn’t embraced by the writers. He had a method to his madness and finding a way to transform the Michael Scott character was key to the show’s success.

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Steve Carell’s star was on the rise

Steve Carell, who played Michael Scott, had just become a huge star with the movie The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, which got The Office some attention.

The network still wasn’t behind the show, however, with Baumgartner explaining, “It all hung on Greg being able to find a way to transform the show in its second season. He needed to come up with a plan for [NBC executive] Kevin Reilly.”

Daniels had some ideas how to “fundamentally change its main character,” Baumgartner explained, “which did not go over well.” The show’s staff, it turns out, thought Daniels was “ruining the show,” according to writer Mike Schur.

Daniels had an idea to reinvent the show and keep it on the air. “I tried to come up with things that would rehabilitate Michael,” he explained.

Schur recalled a speech Daniels gave to the writers pitching this idea of an “upswing” in every episode. “I watched The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the reason we’re back is largely because of The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” Schur recalled Daniels said. “We need to take 20% of what is so endearing and likable about that character and swirl it into Michael Scott and we need to take 20% of the optimism of that movie and swirl it into the show. And I want every episode end with a little upswing.”

The writers thought Daniels was “totally blowing it” with his pitch.

They explored Michael’s ‘intention’

Michael Scott did some dumb things and was “oblivious,” Schur explained, but they found a way to make him redeemable and in the process, won over viewers.

“He can still be terrible and offensive and oblivious, but at the end of every episode we’re going to have a little upswing, just a little tiny little positive thing,” Schur explained.

They were able to break the same stories but, in the case of the Dundies episode, for example, Schur said, “At the very end, you’re sent away from the half hour of TV with a little bit of happiness in your heart that things aren’t so terrible.”

“If you can have a purity of intention, he can do the worst things in the world for comedy but as an audience you sense that he didn’t do it in order to be cruel or to be a jerk. He’s trying.” Daniels said.