‘The Office’: Showrunners Used a ‘Candy Bag’ to Get Ideas for Talking Heads

The Office had a talented team of writers creating comedic gold for the show. But showrunners also relied on the hilarious and talented actors for ideas. Behind the scenes, the cast of The Office contributed some of the best ideas for talking heads in something called a “candy bag.”

Steve Carell as Michael Scott in 'The Office,' a show influenced by writers and the cast alike
Steve Carell | Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank

‘The Office’ cast greatly influenced the show 

As documented on his podcast, The Office Deep Dive, Brian Baumgartner, who played Kevin Malone in the series, says there were countless times showrunners and writers used input from the actors. But the show’s writers weren’t only listening to suggestions.

They were watching the actors, too. As Ed Helms (Andy “The Nard Dog” Bernard) explained to The Off Camera Show, the writers paid “very close attention to everything.” 

“Anything that you improvise or endow your character with, be it a speech pattern or a little nugget of personal history or physicality, the writers are picking up on that and either amplifying it or kind of using more of it in some way,” The Office cast member explained. This collaboration is just one of the many reasons The Office was such a special show. 

‘The Office’ characters’ talking heads inspired by the actors who played them 

During an interview at the Paley CenterOffice writer and star Mike Schur talked about the many ways the cast helped write some of the best scenes in the show. “We have something called a candy bag,” director Greg Daniels explained further. Daniels would often pull ideas the writer’s had come up with from this “candy bag” on set.

The Office script typically included one or two versions of talking heads. Those were the interviews featuring the cast talking directly to the camera. 

The cast and writers alike wanted their ideas for talking heads featured in any given episode. This meant there were always a ton of ideas to work with. To appease everyone, Daniels used this “candy bag” of ideas to randomly generate some of the funniest moments in the show.

Pam from ‘The Office’ was influenced by Jenna Fischer’s childhood 

From the beginning of the show, Jenna Fischer influenced her part as Pam in a lot of ways. During that same conversation at the Paley Center, Fischer mentions one moment from the show that was inspired by a very personal story she told B.J. Novak. 

When Novak asked Fischer for a powerful moment from her childhood that could “lead into a Pam story,” Fischer knew just the one. She remembered a choose-your-own-adventure book about a girl with a tower in her house. 

‘The Office’ talking head inspired by Jenna Fischer

Novak used that story to inspire Pam’s talking head in “Boys and Girls,” an episode from The Office Season 2. “It made me always want a house with a tower,” Fischer explained to the audience.

When Jan (Melora Hardin) hosts a “Women in the Workplace” seminar and suggests Pam attend graphic design classes, Pam hesitates. “There are always a million reasons not to do something,” Jan replies. 

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Later, Pam tells cameras: “Dreams are just…that. They’re dreams.” Her monologue continues: 

They help get you through the day, like the thing about the terrace. It’s nice. But I know it’s just a thing I read in this book when I was 12. 

The girl in the book has a terrace that’s outside of her bedroom, and she planted flowers on it, and I just loved that. It just kind of always stuck with me. It’s impractical; I’m not gonna try to get a house like that. 

“They don’t even make houses like that in Scranton,” Pam concludes as she begins to cry. Pam’s terrace is the tower Fischer always wanted in her bedroom as a child. 

The Office contains so many moments like the one Fischer described. The collaborative environment Daniels and the rest of the showrunners created is something modern comedy shows have yet to recreate.