‘The Office’: Was The Iconic Show Scripted or Improvised?

We could live a thousand lifetimes and never deserve the comedic brilliance that is The Office. Spanning nine seasons and eight years, the show premiered on NBC back in March of 2005. Filled with office romances, ridiculous situations, outlandish characters, and plenty of laugh out loud moments the show is a real riot. A documentary-style show, so much of the series feels natural and true to life. Which begs the question, is The Office even scripted, or is it 100% improvised?

The Office was scripted
The Office Cast | Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

Scripted or Improvised

With comedic legend Steve Carell (who played the infamous Michael Scott) at the forefront of the series, it’s no wonder fans believe that the show is improvised. Carell has a long-standing career with Improv and got his start working at Second City in Chicago. The actor is famed for his ability to create great characters and think on his feet, and there were quite a few moments where he used his improvisational skills on the set of The Office.

The Michael/Oscar Kiss

One of Carell’s most memorable improvised moments comes from the episode “Gay Witch Hunt.” In this episode, Michael discovers that his employee, Oscar, is a gay man. In an effort to prove his tolerance and acceptance he embraces Oscar in front of the entire office before kissing him on the mouth. What makes this scene so incredible is not only the level of discomfort between both characters, but also Oscar’s sheer disbelief at what is occurring.

It would seem that the disbelief wasn’t feigned at all. While the hug was a scripted moment, the kiss was something that Carell improvised on the spot. In an interview, Oscar Nunez (who played Oscar Martinez on the show) reflected on what he was experiencing throughout that incredibly awkward kiss.

“I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe he did it.’ And then I was thinking, right after that, ‘Of course he did it!’ And then I was thinking ‘I hope no one laughs. I hope we can use this. I hope no one laughs out loud.’ Because I know there’s a bunch of gigglers out there, and I thought, ‘I hope it’s not a ruined take that we can’t use.’ But thankfully the cameras were on us, so it worked out okay,” Nunez confessed.

The cast improvised elements of the show

But although parts of the show were definitely enhanced with improvisation by Carell and other talented members of the cast, the show was absolutely scripted. However, the cast did have the opportunity to play a bit and put their own spin on things. Jenna Fischer, who played Pam, wrote a blog which provided more clarity about how the show was run.

THE OFFICE — Pilot — Pictured: (l-r) John Krasinski as Jim Halpert, Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute, Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly, and Steve Carell as Michael Scott– Photo by: Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank

Jenna Fischer weighs in

“Our shows are 100 percent scripted. They put everything down on paper. Our glances to camera, our hesitations… everything. It is the actor’s job to make it seem fresh and natural. But we get to play around a little bit, too. Steve (Carell) and Rainn (Wilson) are brilliant improvisers. They often come up with funny alternate jokes within a scene,” Fischer wrote at a time when the show was still recording.

Episodes that utilize improv

Fischer continued on to give more insight into some of the ways that improv was used on the show and the impact that it had. “Some of Steve’s stuff on the streets of NYC in the “Valentine’s Day” episode was improvised. And in “Sexual Harassment,” when Dwight is asking Toby about the female body, Rainn improvised that. It makes working with them very fun. But the writers are great at writing dialogue that sounds real” the actress wrote.

The Office
‘The Office’ | Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

The Office Will Leave Netflix

So while The Office is absolutely scripted, there is a fair amount of improvisation that builds on the beauty of each script. What’s wonderful is that even though the show is scripted, it flows so naturally and organically. The Office is such a great show to watch and we’ll be bingeing it from now until Netflix takes it down in 2021.