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[00:00:00]

Why do you think that the office has become now the most watched show in television? Five, six years after we've shot anything? Is that true? The most? Yeah. Well, why is it connecting with people? Maybe even more so now today.

[00:00:17]

Well, I mean, think about this. But why is it become such a phenomena? You know, some things just defy the boundaries of when they were made. My name is Brian Baumgartner. But most of you know me as the guy who played Kevin Malone on the office. I just want to lie on the beach and eat hot dogs. I know. I know. On the show, I sounded a bit different. And at times it seemed like there wasn't much going on in my head.

[00:00:44]

In general, they do not give me much responsibility. But from my little corner in the accounting department, I actually was paying attention and I had a front row seat to it all. Yes, that's what I'm talking about. And over the years, I've been asked a million times why. Why did a show that never should have happened? I mean, we teetered on the brink of cancellation so many times become one of the biggest shows in television history.

[00:01:13]

The Emmy goes to the office. Last year, the office accounted for 52 billion. Yes, well, billion minutes of viewing on Netflix.

[00:01:26]

But the truth is, the answers lie far deeper than I ever could have imagined. There is something really soothing about showing up, hearing that theme song here in that office with these characters that you love.

[00:01:40]

Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam.

[00:01:42]

It's enormously complex and beautiful and familiar all at once. You see people's fears and their wishes and their dreams and their hurts.

[00:01:51]

That's why I started this podcast to answer this simple yet endlessly complex question.

[00:01:59]

Why? Why was this show able to capture people's imagination, make them fall in love, break their hearts, make them laugh, and then want to watch it all over again? It's rare. It's rare. And we all I think we all sensed it. We all knew. Why is a show about mostly middle aged office workers connecting with new and younger audiences? Why are 14 year olds gobbling it up? It didn't. Still doesn't really make sense to me.

[00:02:32]

And most importantly, why exactly do I appear in a Billy Eyelift song?

[00:02:39]

It's like one of the best I've ever seen in my life. Definitely.

[00:02:45]

That's why you can use your voice, which is right.

[00:02:52]

And those are the questions I want to answer.

[00:02:55]

With the help of some of my friends, I'm John Krasinski and I played Jim Halpert. This is Jenna Fischer. I'm Steve Carell. Greg Daniels. Ricky Gervais. Ed Helms. Angela Kinsey. Stephen Merchant. Kate Flannery. Craig Robinson. Oscar Nunez. Hi, I'm Ellie Kemper. My name's Rainn Wilson and I played Dwight Kurt Schrute. In addition to revisiting memories, I'll revisit some places.

[00:03:17]

So it's been almost seven years since we had the wrap party here in Scranton. I haven't been back since.

[00:03:23]

To discuss what the show meant to viewers. The office gave us the amazing gift that is still that sense of family. And I think that's what we feel in Scranton. And I'll have a bit of fun to welcome to the backyard alehouse.

[00:03:37]

These these very.

[00:03:46]

Well, when I'm here in Scranton, I will forever be Kevin Malone.

[00:03:54]

But this is not just a fluff piece for the show. OK. I will ask the tough questions. Are we seriously on? We're seriously on. We're recording. So people want to keep hearing about the office. What are people going to get sick? When does the backlash start? That's my question. Oh, is that what we had when this comes out? Probably. This is an exploration from all of us who were there. Are from the very beginning.

[00:04:21]

My friends. My family.

[00:04:24]

Really. I'll say it here. And this is the only time I've ever really publicly said this.

[00:04:29]

I don't know. I really want to admit this, but you yanked some heartstrings here that I wasn't expecting. But I. I'm grateful for it. I love it.

[00:04:48]

I'm Brian Baumgartner, and this is an oral history of the office. Over the next twelve episodes, we're going to take a journey to discover how the show was created, how it struggled to stay on the air, and how it continues to connect with young fans today. But before any of that, we're going to rewind to before the U.S. version of the show even existed to start things off. I sat down with Ben Silverman, executive producer of the American version of the office and the guy who was there literally from the beginning.

[00:05:29]

I love Ben. I do. I love Ben. He's also terribly frustrating. Is everyone ready for us in the back? Yeah. And the only reason we haven't already begun the interview in a casual fashion is because you were eating a bagel.

[00:05:43]

Thank you for that. All right. Let's go back in time. It's 2001 and the entertainment world looks very different. Netflix is a company that delivers DVD by mail. The first iPhone is six years away. And if a TV show airs at 8:00 p.m. on a Thursday, you're on the couch watching it at eight p.m. on a Thursday. Ben has been working in TV for a few years, most recently at the talent agency William Morris and now at the ripe old age of 31.

[00:06:18]

He has quit that job to strike out on his own and start a TV production company. He's on a work trip to London and he's staying with his friend. Henry had a Conrad.

[00:06:29]

We were watching television and I was literally flipping the channels, Sheffield and they came on plane to the office.

[00:06:39]

This is episode one or two, and I was watching it first, wondering if it was for comedy or for real. Then quickly recognized what it was doing.

[00:06:51]

Always a line. She left yet to say that she has left him or forgot about a single camera.

[00:07:00]

No laugh track faux documentary with people who felt real. I'm a friend.

[00:07:06]

First of both seconds, probably, Einstein said.

[00:07:11]

This was the original British series The Office, created by Ricky Jr. Bass and Stephen Merchant. It looked like a documentary about the everyday life of a needy, narcissistic middle manager named David Brent and his employees at a paper company. But it was actually a scripted comedy and there was basically nothing like it on American television. I kept watching and started laughing, and it's really hard to make me laugh. And I was falling in love with the show right in that moment.

[00:07:46]

I let them. I was moved to the media. I was made. It goes. Let me. That was two Henryetta.

[00:07:54]

As it turns out, also works in TV. So the next morning, Ben naturally says, do you know Ricky Dervaes? And she said, no. But her friend Dan Mazer did. And we organized and had dinner with Dan that night.

[00:08:10]

Waits are 24 hours after you after you see it for the first time on television, you're having dinner with someone who could get you to Ricky. Yes. Wow. And I start peppering them questions about the office. And he gives me Ricky cell phone number. And so the next day I call Ricky around eleven o'clock in the morning. All right. Now hold up. I wanted to get Ricky's side of the story here, too. So I got him on the line.

[00:08:37]

I was walking down the street in London. I think I was going to see my agent and the phone man and I introduced myself on the phone. Hi, Ben Stillman. You don't know me. I want to I want to remake the office for now. I'd love to meet you. Are you in town? And I looked up and I said, right. I'm right outside Starbucks in Waldorf Street.

[00:09:00]

He says, Yes, come meet me in Soho at the Starbucks.

[00:09:04]

And he went white, that I'll be down 50 minutes. And he jumped in a cab.

[00:09:09]

And I spent an hour with Ricky talking about the office. And very quickly, we got along because we both love television. Right. You know, and he truly was making me laugh even in those moments. Right over over the coffee at the Starbucks. So they're talking shop, nerving out about TV and about what had inspired Ricky and his cocreator, Stephen Merchant, to make the show. I called up Stephen to talk more about this process.

[00:09:41]

And he told me they were influenced by a very specific kind of reality TV at the time in the U.K., there had been a number of shows on the BBC and other networks that were fly on the wall documentaries about very everyday subjects like there was there was one about driving school.

[00:10:00]

Marine has already failed to test six times and spent over 5000 pounds on lessons, you know, just following normal people doing driving lessons and driving tests.

[00:10:10]

And this kind of caught a wave of popularity in the U.K. And so when we did our version, we have those sorts of shows in our mind.

[00:10:19]

But these kinds of reality shows, what they called docu soaps, they just weren't a thing in the US. I mean, reality shows were barely a thing. Remember, this was 2001. Survivor was only in its second season. So in that meeting at the Starbucks, Ben was thinking all these verité reality shows set in these workplace environments in the UK clearly had informed Ricky on what he was mocking. And I was explaining to him, we don't yet have those formats to mock.

[00:10:56]

So as we look at the show, we need to ensure where the characters are grounded and where the comedy comes from. Can't just be through the faux documentary lens. Right. So you're pitching him. You're pitching him and you're talking to him about how much you appreciate the work and what inspired him. But you're also saying, is it for sale?

[00:11:14]

No, I'm not saying is it for sale because you don't sell in our business. Like, it's not the shoe business. Okay, well, it was more like he was asking, are you interested in adapting your great work for America? And would you like to collaborate with me on this process?

[00:11:33]

Ben talked a good game, but Ricky and Stephen weren't sure that an American. Adam. Haitian could work. Here's Ricky mostly I've heard of all the Feighan, you know, the last thing to make it before the office were things like, um, and. I mean, was it Sanford and son? And to deficit in part was all in the family, wasn't it, with Archie Bunker. And then since the 70s, you just heard of horror stories where they tried to remake all the towers and it was dreadful.

[00:12:03]

And Stephen just felt like I just remember thinking it was like training for the Olympics or something. You know, there were so many hurdles for you winning the gold medal. Right. And sort of you can train and then you can, but then maybe you don't make it into the team that he gave to the team. But then maybe you get injured and can if you don't get injured, you get to the the line and then you don't get a great star and then, you know, so to actually win the gold medal just seems such a long shot that I was just very I think I was probably, you know, it was like self-protection, you know, let's not get too excited.

[00:12:35]

One of the first hurdles was that some of the rights to the show were held by the BBC.

[00:12:41]

And you're watching Comedy Night on BBC two, the British Broadcasting Corporation.

[00:12:46]

The BBC is a wonderful cultural institution, but they also are a giant government bureaucracy. Got it. And it was literally like dealing with characters from the office about the office. Right. To get them to move.

[00:13:05]

I asked Ricky if he remembered anything about this.

[00:13:08]

It's funny you should say that, because when we were doing our version of the office, John Ploughmen, he said, I've got one question. He said, then this guy is the boss. He's so terrible is job. How does he keep it? And I said, let's take a little walk round the BBC, shall we? And he just started laughing and he went, okay, let's do it.

[00:13:33]

And so to get the BBC to move, Ben dangled the carrot. I said this will make 25 times more episodes than you'll ever make in the UK and it will be far more valuable to you. Right. So maybe that helped get the BBC on board. Who knows? But Ben did manage to get the rights to the show. This is how Stephen saw it.

[00:13:58]

The thing about Ben was he was just he just had a real enthusiasm. He was just really dynamic and energized that he was passionate about the show. And and the idea that this kind of weird Diaby sitcom from the UK would somehow translate to America was his enthusiasm for that was very infectious.

[00:14:17]

And Ben was thinking, you know, you have those moments at that moment. I don't know, like everything was possible. Like, I really saw the transformation of television before it was happening.

[00:14:27]

Now, all he had to do was find a TV network that would produce this new American office, but that would be no small task. That's after the break. At the end of this episode, if you want to hear what happens next. Head over to Spotify. The first three episodes of an oral history of the office are available for you to listen to. Right now, for free. After months of negotiating, Ben finally has the blessing of Ricky, Stephen and the BBC.

[00:15:10]

So he starts reaching out to pretty much everyone he knows in television, trying to drum up excitement and gauge who might be ready for this incredible, groundbreaking television show.

[00:15:25]

I immediately start making phone calls and saying I. Are you aware of this show, The Office? Do you know what it is? Do you think it would interest you? As it turned out, it interested basically nobody.

[00:15:38]

I had gone to Les Moonves, so he passed Gail Berman. She passed immediately. Didn't get it. HBO said we'll never do a remake.

[00:15:48]

Showtime wasn't doing shows like this when it came to TV comedies in the early 2000s. It was all about friends.

[00:15:57]

I even thought of getting back together with you. We are so over fun.

[00:16:06]

It was not just friends. It was friends.

[00:16:07]

And Baywatch now mess.

[00:16:09]

Matt, as I'm calling it, is like it was friends and it was friends and bathing suit. I was like, that was the landscape of TV in that moment.

[00:16:20]

Like, all they wanted was the next friends. They had a tried and true formula that brought in big audiences during primetime and tons of advertising dollars with them. But was there any part of this world in which the office made sense? I asked Emily Vander Werf, Vox's TV critic at large. So the 2000s are often called the golden age of television, but that's because of dramas. You know, that's Sopranos.

[00:16:48]

You can quote the rules. You can fucking obey him. You hear me? That's lost.

[00:16:54]

Deadwood in the wire come at the K best not miss. All these great dark dramas. And that didn't really spread over to comedy. There are certainly good comedies in that era. I think Everybody Loves Raymond. It's a fantastic comedy. It was of I was finding myself.

[00:17:11]

Found yourself on page seven of the Daily News with your boobs out. And you also have things like scrubs.

[00:17:17]

We're not married, dude. We're a little married now.

[00:17:21]

But it certainly was not an arrow. And there was a lot of great TV comedy. This was what Ben was working against while he called all of these TV networks. But Ben kept calling around and finally he did find one network. Well, really, one person who got it?

[00:17:39]

The guy named Nick Grad who worked at Effects. And he knew what the show was. And he loved the show. So Nick brought it to his boss, Kevin Riley. Here's Kevin. I had heard of it, but Nick has always had a good nose for sort of what's next. He was the guy always looked to like, is this cool? Yeah. OK, great. I think it's cool, too. Right. And so it was one of those.

[00:18:01]

Kevin was the president of entertainment at F x Onyx advice. He watched some of the British office and he liked it. It was a perfect Davik show cause the office was a little dark and it had a very different format. And Effect's was known for doing some daring, even experimental shows.

[00:18:21]

It's Tuesday on an old shield Rescue Me and fixed digital series.

[00:18:26]

And this would have fit right in. But there was a hitch.

[00:18:30]

My contract was up. I was in the middle of a lot of negotiations. And it looked like I'm going back to NBC at this point. And NBC. Well, that was your good old fashioned broadcast network television. In other words, much less likely to take a risk on something so unusual.

[00:18:49]

But Kevin gets named head of NBC and I bring it up to him and I say, would you want to do it here? And Kevin says, Absolutely little did he know he was actually my only buyer. By that time, he was the only one who wanted everyone in all of television.

[00:19:07]

Everyone else had passed and now it's been almost 20 years. So I think Kevin should know Ben's secret now. Were you aware Ben shared this with me? Yeah. That at the time you were his only buyer?

[00:19:24]

I am not surprised. But of course, I'm Jared. Ben's way had me believe. I think I can get it to you. I'm going to do my best, buddy. I am covering you here. I mean, it's kicking a lot of it right now. Anyone in the broadcast seats were at that time would say no way.

[00:19:39]

Right. And cable there, you know, SFX was maybe one of the few outside of the premium HBO that would maybe would have done that kind of material. So there really weren't a lot of buyers.

[00:19:49]

Right. Let's examine this for a second. If Kevin Riley in that moment changed his mind, said, nope, not too big a risk for broadcast. Our version of the office might have never existed. But instead, Kevin decides to take a chance and he gives Ben his pilot. Kevin's like, let's do it. Like, let's let's make it.

[00:20:18]

OK, so NBC has given the office a pilot. Amazing. And although Ben found the show, he's not a show runner. The person who basically creates an overseas a television show. Ben needs a partner. Now, given that there were not a lot of TV shows like this, it was hard to envision who would be a perfect fit for the job. Like, do you go for the guy who made Curb Your Enthusiasm?

[00:20:49]

But the. Pretty good. Which was sort of the closest parallel. Or do you go outside the box? Ben set meetings with lots of people. And then he sat down with Greg Daniels. Well. So I had just kind of come off a very intense maybe eight years at King of the Hill, an F in English.

[00:21:14]

Bobby, you speak English.

[00:21:16]

Before that, Greg had written for, oh, just The Simpsons.

[00:21:21]

I got to have my soul back. I'll do anything you want. Well, Milhouse, give him back his soul.

[00:21:28]

I've got work tomorrow. And before that, he was a writer on another little show.

[00:21:34]

Girls do like.

[00:21:39]

But in 2002, after a long stint as show runner on King of the Hill, I started to kind of look for the next thing.

[00:21:47]

And my agent, R. Emmanuel, sent me a VHS cassette and said the office on it. And the show was completely unknown and I didn't watch it. And he called me like after the holidays and he said, hey, I'm going to, you know, send this to the next guy on my list. If you don't watch it. So I said, all right. All right, hold on. I'll try and watch it tonight.

[00:22:10]

So I PopTech set in like at 9:00 p.m. or something.

[00:22:14]

And I stayed up to one watching the show and I absolutely loved it. I thought it was amazing and I couldn't even figure out how it was done. You know, it was it didn't feel like scripted. It was so alive and cool.

[00:22:27]

So Greg called his agent back, who then put him in touch with Ben.

[00:22:32]

I immediately connected with Greg. You know, I just felt his genius and his thoughtfulness in real rigorous approach. Ben is like, you know, Mercury zooms in and but also very able to draw pieces in from all over the place and make a coherent vision.

[00:22:53]

The experience that we both had in connecting on this show was like about the architecture of television and the architecture of the idea, because so much about it was newly conceived. But we kept talking about with a shared love of television. We were not. We were people who love TV and we grew up loving TV.

[00:23:15]

Did you have any concerns with Greg about his extensive experience in the animated world? Partially. Why? It was not a concern for me that he had been so weighted in animation was the characters that he had created in those animated worlds were very accessible and real in a way that the characters in the office were.

[00:23:40]

These are medium rare. What if somebody wants heirs will die? We ask them politely, yet firmly to leave.

[00:23:47]

You know, when I got to The Simpsons, it was season, the end of season four. And the show was getting a little wylder, kind of. And for King of the Hill, I wanted to keep it contained and realistic the whole time. And I was very much of the opinion. And Jeff, to really start slow on the show and just the value of slowness to land the job, Greg needed the blessing of Ricky Dervaes and Stephen Merchant.

[00:24:13]

So Ben invited them to his office to meet at this point. Greg didn't think he would get the job or that the show would even get made. He just wanted an excuse to talk shop with the guys who made this incredible show.

[00:24:29]

So I met him at Ben's office in a little bungalow.

[00:24:32]

And, you know, we had a lot and it turned out that, number one, they loved The Simpsons. Number two, Ricky's favorite Simpsons episode was one that I had written called Homer Bad Man.

[00:24:44]

It's necessary. They wouldn't be if you were willing to sit in a hollowed out wheelchair. So we started vibing nicely. Right. And, you know, and I talk to them about what I saw in the show. And, you know, how I would adapt.

[00:24:59]

It recognized that within a great deal of very talented show runners. And the thing which which kind of shortened to sit by, Greg, was he realized that the beating heart of the show was the romance. And the people tuned in for the David Brent Michael Scott character that they stayed for the love affair. He was the only one that brought up that. He thought it was a love story that was very important to me, that a love story. In a few words he did say, and I think he probably just maybe is not quite right or maybe he was nervous or whatever.

[00:25:32]

But that was the thing I remember really being excited by, that he had dialed into that. That was the rough. The thing that kind of changed it.

[00:25:41]

But now Greg was afraid he wouldn't be able to deliver. Here's Ben. He kept saying to me, well, people love the British one. You know what? I can't make it better. The biggest thing that I was worried about was taking this little jewel of a TV show and messing it up. Right. And I used to have these dreams like, you know, the the kids thing where the wild things are, where the wealth. And I think he goes and he I think he gets like in a court and all the animals, like the animals are judging, judging him.

[00:26:10]

Yeah. Yeah. So I had a dream like that, like a comedy court where all the all the good people in comedy were judging me and, you know, saying I had ruined this thing. And those were is one my anxiety dreams. But Ben was very determined.

[00:26:24]

He was who I now really wanted to do it. And he suddenly was getting some cold feet based on the concern of adapting something. So. So now, like, critically beloved. And I said there are millions of great books that are adapted all the time. You want to adapt the worst piece of shit. Are you trying to adapt a Pulitzer Prize winning novel?

[00:26:49]

I was very skeptical because everything on NBC had was multicamera Will and Grace was the number one show and it did not feel at all like the office.

[00:27:10]

Magic, do you say potato, I say that.

[00:27:14]

So, OK, so I start to convince myself maybe the point of bringing the office. I actually thought this was was move the ship of comedy in a direction toward something I liked more. And even if I just nudged it in that direction, maybe it would be valuable, like flame out to do, you know, on NBC.

[00:27:34]

See, even if it failed miserably. You were doing your part.

[00:27:37]

Yeah, I was going to nudge network comedy or the main ship of comedy. I wanted to nudge it in a different direction.

[00:27:43]

I thought it was kind of funny that Greg had talked himself into believing that NBC was the right place for the show. So I told him a secret. Ben shared with me that he pulled one over on Kevin Riley in typical Ben Way, because ultimately he was the only one who was interested, like CBS really asked and HBO had said, no, we don't want to do a remake. He convinced Kevin that he was getting a you know, he was going to trust Kevin, but no one else ultimately really was interested.

[00:28:13]

Well, that explains why Ben was so adamant that NBC was the proper home.

[00:28:20]

Next up, Greg was fully on board. But how would he take this weird faux documentary, British sitcom and make it work for America?

[00:28:39]

So by summer of 2003, Ben and Greg were officially teamed up. They had their pilot commitment. And Greg started thinking, what is the world of the office? He had this whole Margaret Mead metaphore. Margaret Mead is an anthropologist. Right. And I think she was possibly discredited. There's a funny story about that. She I think. I think she made her reputation going to like Papua New Guinea or some island and bringing back landing tales of the courting and mating rituals of the young people there.

[00:29:13]

And then somebody went to check on them like 30 years later and they went, oh, yeah, that old lady, we were telling her the craziest thing.

[00:29:21]

But what I meant by it was like the spirit of the show should be kind of anthropology. Like offices are a weird place. They have their own unique culture. Like, part of what would be interesting would be to look at it like you're an anthropologist or something. As it turns out, Ricky Dervaes took a similar approach when creating the British office.

[00:29:43]

I worked in an office for like 10 years, and obviously that's the biggest influence. Real nice being part of a working office. And, you know, you start noticing that the fact that you feel thrown together with random people and you have to get along.

[00:29:57]

And he zeroed in on a particular kind of person that you may have encountered, your first boss, who was it was an idea that became the starting point for the show's main character, David Brent.

[00:30:11]

But Ricky had also observed a kind of corporate political correctness on the rise.

[00:30:17]

That was also a p.c culture that I saw come in. People were told what to say and do, but they didn't really mean it. So guys like him, I knew that they couldn't be sexist upstairs because, you know, they get in trouble with a job and they talked a good talk and they talked about sexism, misogyny and racism. But deep down, they hadn't changed and they could get away with that in the warehouse. So Brent was caught between two worlds because he wanted to be loved by everyone.

[00:30:49]

He wanted to be a lad downstairs for the warehouse. But then he had to behave properly in front of his boss.

[00:30:56]

If that sounds at all familiar, it's because David Brent was the model for Dunder Mifflin. Boss Michael Scott and Ben had thoughts on how to connect the dots between Michael and other figures in American television history. I had a perspective on how to adapt it and where the Michael Scott character could be a kind of version of All in the family in that he had that kind of history in American television, similar as well to Homer Simpson.

[00:31:31]

All right. Here you are. Exam's 50 questions. True or false, Drew? Homer, I was just describing the test, Drew, adapting.

[00:31:39]

Some of the other office characters came naturally. That's because they were originally inspired by American TV. Here's Stephen Merchant.

[00:31:48]

I was a big fan and I'm a big fan of American comedy and certainly a big influence on us. It was like cheers. And the idea of, you know, the Cheers bar is this kind of surrogate family, which is very much what the office is like. Guess in many ways.

[00:32:01]

I to know. Oh, for a couple of tunes goes. Take, for example, the character of Jim Halpert and his British counterpart, Temme. We used to refer to Norm from Cheers a lot, actually, for the Chin character of that idea. If you remember, Norm was kind of kind of had some sort of vague accountancy job, but he didn't like it. But it was he kind of had a very sharp, dry sense of humor and quips and one liners and using humor to sort of get through life.

[00:32:30]

And he was an influence on the Tim character, as was Hawkeye from MASH. And so they were these two shows in particular were touchstones for us.

[00:32:38]

So Ben and Greg set about creating their office, taking all of this in and deciding what to bring with them and what to leave behind. They kept core elements of the British version, a single camera faux documentary with the political incorrectness of it, married to the real world of the workplace, like the British version. They set it in a gloomy office park and they found a perfect backdrop in an old coal mining city that was a little past its prime.

[00:33:12]

Scranton, Pennsylvania.

[00:33:14]

It was an adaptation of an English show and something about the north northeast New England kind of mid Atlantic felt more like England in certain ways. And Scranton has like a name that's kind of hard to say. It's a comedy word. It's got a K sound.

[00:33:29]

It's ask your aunt, you know, and the casting choices would be a bit different. It had to be naturally diverse because of the way America is. But the key to success, according to Stephen Merchant, was less about any of that and more about something intangible.

[00:33:47]

It seems sensible to me that if they could rewire the office at all, it would just be to maybe downplay some of those more cynical, sour British elements and just start up a bit more that American can do. Right.

[00:34:02]

Optimism at the end of the day. Ricky and Stephen let Ben and Greg take the wheel.

[00:34:08]

But sensible advice I, I remember giving to Ricky was again for no knowing a lot about American TV history. And the attempts to translate reissues was often they failed when the original British people got involved because the British came over and they thought, well, we're trying to do our thing here in America. And the truth is, they we didn't know enough about America. We didn't know enough about the nuances, the subtleties of American culture, or they were so busy trying to replicate the original that they couldn't find something fresh and new.

[00:34:35]

And they were often the reasons that those shows failed. So I think in a way, Ricky and I think his contribution initially was just taking a step back and sort of trusting Greg to find the formula himself rather than for us to try and kind of metal.

[00:34:49]

So Ben and Greg didn't have to deal with anyone across the pond, but they still had a tough sell to make in the U.S..

[00:34:58]

OK, here's the pitch. You know, it's a unlikable lead, single camera.

[00:35:02]

No one's really attractive in a traditional television sense. They are awkward and slow.

[00:35:08]

Yeah, no laugh track. Right. And a faux documentary. We know documentaries aren't popular. Now, think about a fake documentary. Right. The audience has to keep that in mind. And it's a character by now.

[00:35:20]

It's 2003. Over two years have passed since Ben first fell in love with the office on Henrietta's couch. Pressure was beginning to mount. I wanted to get this thing made. The show is getting bigger and bigger. BBC America had acquired it.

[00:35:37]

It was starting to get a little buzz within the United States as well.

[00:35:42]

And the Golden Globe goes to the office suddenly at 40 years of age.

[00:35:50]

The unknown Ricky Gervais is gone and his awkward character, David Brent will world science in August of 2003.

[00:36:00]

It was officially announced that Ben and Greg were adapting the show.

[00:36:05]

I was telling people it will be the greatest show in the history of America, telling it like I was that aggressive. I was like, there is no comedy like this on in America today. And this harkens back to the comedies of Norman Lear and that time.

[00:36:18]

But not everyone was quite so gung ho. I was skeptical. This is TV critic Emily Vander Wurf again. This brilliant show that literally changed the television landscape is going to come in and be remade by Americans who are gonna make it crass and boorish and whatever. But knowing Greg Daniels was involved. Made me be like, well, give it a shot. Oh, no. I was like, I don't know that even he can do this, but I'll give it a shot.

[00:36:46]

Obviously, he'd worked on Simpsons. He'd worked on a bunch of stuff I loved. But King of the Hill was the show where I was like, oh, this is somebody who's like a great comedic mind, who has an idea of how to build a TV show, but more importantly, a world for a TV show. I mean, the British version is a very slim slice of television. And like that fell like a good. To expand that, and while Kevin Riley had green lit the pilot, he was still facing massive pushback from other executives at NBC.

[00:37:16]

You know, NBC at that point when I went back to then become the president of entertainment. There was still this sort of thing that lived on in the building post, friends of you know. No, no, we weren't funny. But they're going to be sexy, too, right? I mean, we need that. And that had just made its way into comedy, which was never part of comedy. You know, comedy was like funny period.

[00:37:36]

So that was still a little bit in the wind. Like Weinerman. This is a group of misfits. Right. So this kind of just seemed like the opposite of at least what everyone thought we needed.

[00:37:45]

I had to listen to opinions of people saying, you know, Americans associate documentaries with heaviness and non-commercial.

[00:37:56]

It's just an obstructive format to most Americans. And you're doing a comedy through that format by its nature.

[00:38:03]

And I'm just saying, oh, my God, really? And I'm some of these people. They were professionals. But I said, you're going what do you know? And what are you talking about?

[00:38:10]

Right. But how confident were you that it could translate to a broadcast audience? Because, yeah, at the time. Single camera mock documentary. Yeah. No laugh track. Nothing like that was on network television. Yeah.

[00:38:23]

What I felt all along for a minute. One is an office. Comedy is a staple of television. So yeah, the form is different, the tone is certainly different. The Leeds attitude is really different. But at the end of the day, you're not going to look at is why I don't understand. What is it right there in an office. Right. And I always clung to that all the way through.

[00:38:43]

Despite the misgivings of basically everyone at NBC except for Kevin Reilly, they had their pilot order and they were ready to put all of this into action.

[00:38:56]

I started this episode asking why was our adaptation of the office able to find its way onto American television? So here's my question for next time. Why do audiences see themselves in Jim and Pam in Dwight in, God forbid, Michael Scott?

[00:39:18]

And maybe it has something to do with the casting and the fact that we were ordinary looking losers. We looked real and we really felt like these characters belong to us.

[00:39:33]

I believed with my whole heart that this was the part for me. I believed I was the one who should play it. And I thought if they don't pick me, then they're not doing the show. I think they're doing because I am literally the only person who should play this part. This is mine.

[00:39:50]

In the next episode, you'll hear from Jenna Fischer. Steve Carell, John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson. And, of course, yours truly.

[00:40:09]

I'm Brian Baumgartner. And that's next time on an oral history of the office. If you're listening to this episode and you want to hear where the story goes next. Head over to Spotify. It's free to download and free to listen to podcasts. The first three episodes of an oral history of the office are available to you right now only on Spotify.

[00:40:37]

An oral history of the office is hosted and executive produced by me, Brian Baumgartner, alongside our executive producer Lingley. It is a Spotify original podcast produced in partnership with Propagate Content. Executive producers for Propagate are Ben Silverman, Howard Owens and Drew Buckley. Executive producers for Spotify are Liz Gately and Bart Coleman. This episode was written and produced by Tessa Kramer and Alyssa Edes. Senior producers are Joanna Sokolowski and Julia Smith are writer and story producer is Benny Spivack.

[00:41:10]

Assistant editors are Russell We Jiah and Diego Tapia. Our Technical director is Seth Wolanski. The theme song is a story Mechanics' original, composed and performed by Charles Michali and Sheldon Sinak. Additional music was composed and performed by Joe Barry. Special thanks to Margaret Borchert, Christian Bonaventura, Matthew Rosenfield, Alex Modisane, Lucy Savage, Emily Carr and Syeed Lee for production support.