The Office hasn’t aired new episodes since 2013. Still, it’s one of the most-watched shows, even amongst generations who were born after the series ended.
Television’s landscape was a lot different when ‘The Office’ got started
Before The Office came to America, it was a popular show in the United Kingdon. When Ben Silverman discovered the series and wanted to bring it to the United States, the entertainment world looked different.
In episode 1 of Baumgartner’s podcast, Silverman explained how he left his job at William Morris to start his own television production company. This was during the early days of Netflix, when the company was still delivering DVDs in the mail.
On a work trip to London, Silverman discovered the British version of The Office. “Single camera, no laugh track,” Silverman recalled of the “faux-documentary with people who felt real.” Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s brainchild mesmerized Silverman because there was nothing like it on American television — yet.
‘The Office’ initially didn’t interest anyone
When showrunners first attempted to pitch The Office to American broadcasting companies, there weren’t many people interested. HBO said they would never do a remake and Showtime wasn’t “doing shows like this,” Silverman recalled.
At the time, Friends was wildly popular, as was Baywatch. “It was Friends, and it was Friends in bathing suits,” Silverman joked. “That was the landscape of TV in that moment.”
Eventually, Silverman connected with Nick Grad, who worked for FX at the time. “He knew what [The Office] was, and he loved the show,” Silverman said.
So, Grad presented it to his boss, Kevin Reilly, who liked the show because “it was a little dark and had a very different format.” According to Baumgartner, The Office was a perfect fit for FX.
Sadly, Reilly’s contract with the network was up, and he was making a move to NBC — a national broadcast network that was less likely to pick up a show as unconventional as The Office.
Silverman pitched Reilly anyway — who was his only buyer at the time — and he bought it.
People watch ‘The Office’ for Michael Scott, but stay for Jim and Pam
What works in American comedy is a lot different than what works in British comedy. At least, that’s how it used to be.
Making The Office work in America was like a study in anthropology. Almost everyone has experienced a terrible boss at some point in their lives. For Gervias, the role of David Brent/Michael Scott (Gervais/Steve Carell) was inspired by those horrible bosses.
The rise of PC culture also inspired the role many people have come to love. “Guys like him, they knew that they couldn’t be sexist upstairs because they knew they’d get in trouble with HR,” Gervais said. “They talked about sexism and misogyny and racism, but deep down, they hadn’t changed and could get away with that in the warehouse.”
David Brent/Michael Scott’s awkwardly unconventional sense of humor is what captivated audiences, but for Merchant, it was the love affair on the series that kept people coming back for more.
For Merchant, the romance between Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) and Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer) was an important element. He met with Daniels and was charmed by the fact that he realized “the beating heart of the show was the romance.”
“People tuned in for the David Brent/Michael Scott character, but they stayed for the love affair,” Merchant said. Daniels was the only showrunner who saw this aspect as the backbone of the show. Merchant thought the love story was paramount in the story, so letting Daniels take on the project made sense.
Without the awkward Michael Scott or the relationship between Jim and Pam, The Office wouldn’t be as popular in America as it has become.
Fortunately, the series had a brilliant team behind it who made The Office the classic television series that it is.