‘The Office’: The Genius Way the Writers Made Michael Scott’s Character Lovable and ‘Pure’ After Season 1
It’s no secret that The Office was on the brink of cancelation during its first season. Thankfully, the show was picked up for a limited number of episodes in season two so that it could prove itself. Some tweaks that were made to the Michael Scott character and “a billion things” that needed to go right all helped the show gain a huge fan following and a successful nine-season run.
‘The Office’ might not have made it beyond its first season
During Brian Baumgartner’s An Oral History of The Office podcast on July 21, the host talked with some of the cast and creative folks behind The Office to find out how the show had such longevity, despite those early days when it almost didn’t make it.
Baumgartner discussed how NBC executive Kevin Reilly really fought for the show to succeed. It was an uphill battle since the first season was such a ratings disaster, however. The show got picked up for six episodes for season 2, but they were told they had to do it for half the price.
‘The Office’ had to make some changes for season 2
Despite the show’s pitiful ratings, there were some things that fell into place and gave the show a boost — including the success of Steve Carell’s movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Everyone wanted a piece of Carell and The Office was in the enviable position of having him as a star on the show.
Having a star from a hit film was helpful, but some changes were necessary because the network wasn’t behind the show. Creator Greg Daniels was tasked with transforming and fundamentally changing main character Michael Scott.
Mike Schur and the other writers were concerned that making Michael more likable would ruin the show, fearing it would take away the comedy edge.
Schur recalled Daniels’ pitch to the writers: “I watched The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the reason we’re back is largely because of The 40-Year-Old Virgin. 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.”
How they changed Michael Scott
For season 2 of The Office, the idea was to give viewers a better understanding of the Michael Scott character and the tiny positive upswing at the end of every episode would make him redeemable. The writers didn’t have to sacrifice the stories they wanted to tell but had some of the psychology of the character play into the storytelling.
In discussing “The Dundies” episode, Schur explained how Michael thinks he’s hilarious but bombs during the awards ceremony and Pam (Jenna Fischer) stands up for him when he’s heckled. Schur explained, “The only difference between what it ended up being and what the version would have been in season 1 is Pam sticks up for him and is like ‘Hey, we can make fun of him, but you guys can’t.'”
The show’s creators and writers found some redeeming qualities in Michael; for example, the way he gave Jim really good advice about Pam, how he wasn’t good at his job as a manager, but he was a good salesperson, and the way Michael has such an ease with kids.
“All of these moments begin to show us how Michael is redeemable and therefore lovable,” Baumgartner explained.
Carell explained, “It’s like, he would put his foot in his mouth all the time but in a lot of ways I don’t think he ever valued one type of person over any other.”
“And in that way, I think he was a very pure character because he was very dumb in terms of political correctness and being appropriate in public but at the same time I just don’t think there was hardness in his heart towards anyone,” he added.