The Office fans were invested in Jim and Pam’s relationship right from the first episode, and the writers and creative team behind the show were very deliberate in the way they approached the couple’s story. Their commitment to getting things just right, however, was also time-consuming, as the podcast An Oral History of The Office uncovered.
Pam and Jim were ‘the heart of the show’
During the July 28 episode of An Oral History of The Office, host Brian Baumgartner chatted with actors Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski, who played Jim and Pam, as well as the showrunner and writers from the series. There was a lot of care in building the relationship between Jim and Pam and the show steered away from the typical TV formulas for the couple’s evolution.
According to writer Mike Schur, “Almost every show in history has had a formula, and the formula is the center of the show is a ‘will they, won’t they’ Sam and Diane romance. And off in the corner is a wacky boss. And occasionally the wacky boss comes in, does something wacky and funny and gets big laughs and then leaves.”
“And very simply the British Office inverted it,” he explained. Instead of the couple being at the center of the show, the focus is on the boss and the romance is “shoved into the corner.”
Approaching Jim and Pam in this way, he shared, “becomes this very delicate gossamer spider web of glances and tiny little moments in the… getting someone a candy bar from the vending machine becomes an enormous emotional moment, right? Then you have changed, you’ve fundamentally changed the way audiences relate to romance, which is they’re like, they’re like on the edge of their seat, like, ‘Oh, I’ve only got eight seconds of the romance this week, I want more.'”
That care for the characters prompted some big discussions
Since the show would have Jim and Pam’s relationship play out in a more organic way, there were a lot of conversations, rewrites, and additional filming that went into getting it right.
Baumgartner explained that “While these magical Jim and Pam moments felt organic and effortless on screen, working on them on a day to day basis was… not.
“Nothing, throughout the entire history of the show brought production to a screeching halt like a big Jim-Pam moment and I say that with love and also with utter frustration,” he explained.
There were discussions about “how to play the relationship just right” and everyone involved had strong feelings, including Fischer and Krasinski.
“Yeah, we really, really cared,” Fischer said. “John and I would fight hard for what we believed in. We were usually on the same page with Jim and Pam, we had like a singular mind when it came to Jim and Pam, for the most part.”
Fischer added, “There was often one Jim/Pam moment per episode and it was either where they’re going to connect in some super special swoony way or they’re going to misstep in some way where one of them gets their feelings hurt. And there was this very fine line that we had to walk all the time.”
Fischer shared some of the small details that went into it, requiring them to shoot a scene “over and over and over again.”
“All of these little ways, how much were they allowed to literally touch one another, look in each other’s eyes, swoon at each other… I mean, we would spend hours debating and shooting alternates of these Jim/Pam scenes,” she explained.
The details slowed things down
Those discussions and alternates could bring things to a grinding halt, with the “Casino Night” episode being debated for weeks with various versions.
The Jim and Pam “simple moment” in the parking lot, where Jim confesses he has feelings for Pam, became “a huge tug of war” behind the scenes, Baumgartner explained. The writers wanted to lean in to the documentary style and the director wanted it filmed in a more straight-forward fashion… so they shot it both ways.