From staplers in Jello to paintings of office buildings, The Office has delighted us, warmed our hearts, and made us all cringe. Here are the most interesting stories and facts going on behind the scenes at Dunder Mifflin.
That’s what we said.
It’s based on a British sitcom
In 2001, English comedians, actors, writers, and directors Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant began their two-season, two-Christmas special run of The Office, a mockumentary about the trials and tribulations in a small-town paper company — WAIT A MINUTE! Are we in some kind of parallel universe?
Nope — the American Office is based on a BBC-aired Office. The original was low-rated at first, but grew to popularity as it was broadcast worldwide. The US isn’t the only market to adapt it — there are also versions in France, Germany, Canada, India, Chile, Israel, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and Finland.
Everyone hated the first season
The first season tried to emulate the British version closely, with characters behaving despicably and dark, grimy photography. Critics hated it, with the New York Daily News calling it “so diluted there’s little left but muddy water.”
So creator/showrunner Greg Daniels knew he had to make some adjustments.
For season two, the crew made Michael Scott more likeable and optimistic. They brightened the lights of the photography. And they drilled down on the supporting characters, giving them definitive, unique personalities.
Additionally, Steve Carell starred in The 40-Year-Old Virgin in between the two seasons, making the whole thing pop more.
Lots of famous people auditioned for roles
Before Carell nabbed the role of Michael Scott, other notable actors up for the role included Paul Giamatti, Bob Odenkirk, Martin Short, Hank Azaria, Paul F. Tompkins, and Alan Tudyk. Also, Rainn Wilson auditioned for Michael Scott originally, before getting Dwight.
And speaking of Dwight…
People up for Dwight included Seth Rogen, Patton Oswalt, Judah Friedlander, and Matt Besser. Wilson was very familiar with the original British series, to the point where his Michael Scott audition was self-admittedly a poor impression of Gervais.
Additionally, John Cho and Adam Scott auditioned for Jim.
The audition process was unique
Instead of a traditional audition, where actors perform written pieces of dialogue as a character, Jenna Fischer said producers would ask actors random questions, and they would have to improvise answers in character. Fischer said her main goal in these responses was to be boring.
This process comes in part from Daniels’ commitment to the truth. He and his team visited lots of offices in preparation, researching how people behaved — a similar process to his previous show King of the Hill, where they visited propane salesmen in Texas.
John Krasinski seriously put his foot in his mouth
Ever auditioned for something? It’s a nerve-wracking process, one that can make anyone reasonable act out of sorts. When John Krasinski was waiting to audition for Jim, someone asked him what he thought of the show.
Krasinski answered honestly: he was worried they were going to screw up the British version.
Moments later, Krasinski was called in. And who was sitting, ready to watch the audition? The same person to whom he had just insulted the show: Greg Daniels, the creator and showrunner. Luckily, Krasinski’s performance spoke for itself, and he got the part despite his faux pas.
One supporting actor got her role in an unexpected way
During auditions, casting associates read scenes opposite actors. Generally, their job is to deliver the lines for the actor auditioning and not draw attention to themselves. But one casting associate was so impressive people had to take notice.
Her name? Phyllis Smith.
And if you’re thinking, “Hey, there’s a notable character named Phyllis on The Office,” you’re right.
Smith’s work in the audition room impressed pilot director Ken Kwapis so much, they cast and rewrote the role that became Phyllis just for her. Dress for the job you want, you know?
The Office has changed the real-life Scranton
Scranton, Pennsylvania, where The Office takes place, was known for being a working-class railroads-and-coal town. Now, after nine seasons of the iconic show, they’ve seen a bump in national interest and have embraced it.
As a mayoral assistant put it, “We’re really hip now.”
Scranton’s city hall has added a Dunder Mifflin logo to a lamppost in front of the building. Local newspapers put out tour guides for locations featured in the show. And an Office convention is held every year, featuring appearances by people like Ed Helms and Craig Robinson.
One episode was originally produced as a spinoff pilot
In 2012, before the show’s final season, producers worked with Wilson to develop The Farm, a spinoff that would center on Dwight’s beet farm. They filmed the pilot episode and announced the show publicly. However, NBC wound up not picking it up.
But The Office turned their beets into… beet-lemonade?
Episode 17 of the ninth season is also called “The Farm.” And it is, indeed, made up primarily of the pilot episode they shot for the spinoff, with some new footage to make it more Office-y. The episode got bad reviews, with many critics able to see the seams.
Another famous NBC sitcom was planned as an Office spinoff
In 2008, Office writers planned an episode where a copier in their Scranton branch breaks, and they have to send it to Pawnee, Indiana to get it fixed. This would naturally lead to the beginning of a directly related spinoff called Parks and Recreation, starring Amy Poehler.
But things changed.
Michael Schur, creator of Parks who started on The Office, thought it would be confusing to have Rashida Jones play two separate characters in each show. And he was interested in exploring a slightly different tone and filmmaking style. So, it was made to be its own delightful, waffle-filled show.
One shot was weirdly expensive
In the season five premiere, “Weight Loss,” we see Jim finally propose to Pam at a gas station directly in between New York and Pennsylvania. It’s all staged in one shot, during a rainy day, with an ugly food mart behind them.
And it cost everyone SO MUCH MONEY.
$250,000, to be exact.
The shot required the building of a fake rest stop and drenching the actors in tons of fake rain. The original plan was to not feature the actors’ dialogue, telling the whole thing visually. But Daniels included it at the last minute.
One actor needed a strange requirement on set
Steve Carell is the star of The Office. His floundering, bungling, yet oddly sympathetic Michael Scott is one of our great TV creations — so much so that when he left the show, its later seasons were seen as suffering.
But Carell needed something pretty strange to do his best work.
Carell sweats quite easily. His glands, as reported by Wilson in his book Bassoon King, are unusually active.
So on set, the temperature was kept at a downright frosty 64 degrees, chilling the heck out of everyone. Eventually, production sprung for space heaters for some of the less-sweaty cast members.
One episode was particularly miserable to film
Season three’s “Beach Games” is seen as one of the best in the series’ run. It has impeccable physical comedy, stakes-raising decisions, and an incredible final moment with Pam.
It was also an absolute nightmare for its poor cast and crew to produce.
They purposefully shot at the worst lake they could find, an area that was miserably hot during the day and aggressively cold at night. The copious amount of hot dogs eaten made everyone sick. And Wilson accidentally sent Leslie David Baker to the hospital with a scratched cornea.
Some of your favorite moments are completely improvised
The Office boasted some of the best comedy writers in the game. But with such a stacked cast, you know they would occasionally be let off the leash and allowed to improvise. Jones even thought she was going to be fired because she kept laughing at Carell’s improvisations.
The Emmy-winning season three premiere, “Gay Witch Hunt,” finds Michael discovering that Oscar is gay. In an overbearing attempt to show his acceptance, Michael forces Oscar into a supremely awkward, public kiss. That moment was completely improvised, and everyone’s reactions were edge-of-their-seat genuine.
Many cast members had personal connections with each other
Early in the series run, Michael dates a real estate agent named Carole. Their relationship implodes when Michael invites her to a trip to Jamaica over Christmas. And she is played by Steve Carell’s real-life wife, Nancy Carell. The two have since created Angie Tribeca together.
B.J. Novak and Krasinski also grew up together in Boston, even playing little league together. Helms and Brian Baumgartner went to the same high school together in Atlanta. And Krasinski, Mindy Kaling, and Ellie Kemper all worked as interns for Conan O’Brien.
One cast member was supposed to leave early
Ed Helms was introduced as Andy Bernard, an a capella dork with a heart of equal parts love and rage, in season three. He worked for the Stamford branch of Dunder Mifflin alongside Jim, before being transferred to Scranton. Originally, his character was supposed to get frustrated and quit.
However, Helms’ performance was so well-liked by the crew, they made him a series regular the following season, and had him stick around until the series finale. Helms wound up becoming a producer and director of the show, even as his character received mixed reviews from critics.
Dwight and Jim are real life BFFs
While their in-character interactions are usually fraught with prankish energy (literally), Krasinski and Wilson love each other as their real selves. They would even give each other pointers and pitches on-set — a generally forbidden thing for actors to do — to make their scenes as funny as possible.
In “Lecture Circuit,” which gave us the memorable banner “IT IS YOUR BIRTHDAY,” Krasinski and Wilson were laughing at each other so hard, the entire production had to shut down until they could keep it together.
If you haven’t watched any Office blooper reels, do yourself a favor.
One key line of dialogue will never be revealed
In Carell’s final episode as a series regular, “Goodbye Michael,” Michael tries to keep his exit a secret. But when Pam finds out the truth, she bombards him at the airport right before he leaves. And they whisper, with no microphone recording, to each other.
What do they say?
We… will never know. Fischer has vowed to secrecy. She did reveal that her direction was to “say whatever you would want to say to Steve. Just say goodbye and we’ll tape it and when you’re finished, just give each other a hug and go your separate ways.”
The Office’s office was more realistic than you think
To capture as much realism as possible, producers had actors who weren’t in principal scenes come to set to always be working in the background. Unfortunately, at first, their computers were just props, not connected to the internet. So actors brought their own paper-based work to occupy the time.
Eventually, the computers were connected to the Internet, and the actors killed time more efficiently. Some started an online chat thread, while others played chess with each other. Oscar Nunez had the only computer with a working speaker, and played lots of videos of people hurting themselves.
Krasinski made a couple of onscreen goofs
In “Launch Party,” the season four episode with the greatest cold open in the entire series (that DVD logo bouncing in the corner? Classic), Jim signs Meredith’s inappropriately placed cast.
But if you look closely, you’ll see that actor John Krasinski accidentally signed his own name, not Jim’s.
Also, during the middle of season three, Krasinski booked the George Clooney movie Leatherheads, about the beginnings of football. He had to cut his trademark shaggy hair for the role, meaning Jim’s look in the last couple of episodes are courtesy of some wigs.
One actor hated acting
Toby Flenderson, Dunder Mifflin’s HR rep, is Michael Scott’s inexplicable archenemy. He’s quiet, shy, mild-mannered, and often put in the impossible position of keeping Michael in check. And Michael unloads on him with regular intensity.
Maybe that’s why Paul Lieberstein hated playing him so much.
Lieberstein was also one of the show’s regular writers, producers, and directors since the beginning, even becoming its showrunner in the latter years. And while his peers all loved his performance work as Toby (especially Kaling), Lieberstein preferred staying behind the camera as much as possible.
There are various sneaky references to real things
In season seven, Timothy Olyphant began a recurring arc as Danny Cordray, a charismatic, handsome salesman who immediately earns the jealousy of Michael. Cordray’s name comes from an Office producer, Randy Cordray, who also made an onscreen cameo as a ship captain in “Niagara.”
Season five introduced Idris Elba as new boss Charles Miner, after Michael leaves to start his own paper company. Charles says he used to work at Saticoy Steel — a nod to the real-life shooting location of The Office, a Los Angeles street called Saticoy.
Kelly and Ryan’s relationship came from a real place
Producers initially hired Kaling and Novak as writers, before they seamlessly transitioned into performers. And they also underwent a sometimes-volatile, sometimes-sweet, always-unpredictable on-again-off-again relationship. Many of the wild things their characters go through were based on real occurrences.
Art imitating life never happened so efficiently.
Once, Kaling lied to Novak just to mess with him. She told him that one of the guest stars in an episode used to date showrunner Daniels, which made Novak afraid to give proper notes on the episode’s edits for fear of making his boss upset.
Its original title was a bit wordy
The Office, in addition to being the British show’s name, is simple. But it wasn’t the original title.
Producers originally opted for the longer, more flowery The American Workplace. In fact, when it airs in Britain, they call it by that name to differentiate between the original.
To pay homage to this original title, the final season features the release of the documentary the off-screen (and sometimes on-screen) crew has been making the entire time. Its in-universe title? “The Office: An American Workplace.” Maybe in a spinoff, a rival British documentary crew can release “The Office”?
The real reason Steve Carell left the show
When the dreadful day of Michael Scott’s resignation occurred, fans were left to assume that Steve Carell desired to break free from the constraints of a broadcast sitcom. However, recent revelations have exposed the true circumstances of Carell’s exit from his beloved role as Michael Scott.
Interviews in Andy Greene’s new book The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s claim that Carell’s decision to leave The Office had more to do with network ambivalence as Carell originally intended to stay on the show for a longer time. Believe it or not, the character of Michael would have continued for a few more seasons if it weren’t for NBC production.
The show originally planned to split Jim and Pam up in Season 9
John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer were one of TV’s most beloved couples on The Office as Jim and Pam, becoming definitive fan favorites throughout the nine season sitcom.
However, the writers on the show originally planned the couple splitting in Season 9. The Office creator, Greg Daniels sat down with all the actors before starting Season 9 to discuss where their characters should go, and Krasinski insisted on portraying Jim and Pam’s relationship on shaky ground.
After planning to have Jim and Pam split in the middle of the season and wait until the final reunion episode to reunite the couple, fan responses did not play out the way the writers originally envisioned. As a result, The Office had to re-edit episodes that were already shot to erase any idea that Jim and Pam had split up completely.
There was a lot of football going on behind the scenes
You might remember the first season’s basketball episode. But you might not know how much football permeated through the show’s veins.
Phyllis Smith, before getting into show biz, was a cheerleader for the St. Louis Cardinals. We even see her dance a bit in season five’s “Cafe Disco.”
Also, to pass the time while at work, Krasinski and Baumgartner would play John Madden Football together. They also began a fantasy league with Wilson and various other members of the crew. In the six years they ran the league, Wilson had the lowest record, only winning once.
The title sequence’s origins might surprise you
In the opening titles, we drive through a wintry Scranton, Pennsylvania, seeing simple, snow-swept buildings through a windshield. It’s quiet, melancholy, and weirdly optimistic.
And it was all shot by series star John Krasinski, who was visiting Scranton to interview office workers to get more into character.
And how about that theme song? That came from a long process to try and find the right music. Producers almost used Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky”, but another show already used the tune. Eventually, composer Jay Ferguson wrote the original theme we all know.
You didn’t know you knew the most productive writer
Kelly Kapoor is a wild character. She loves drama, fashion, and sometimes Ryan. Mindy Kaling plays Kelly — she also happens to have written 24 episodes, the most of any one writer during the series.
You don’t mess with Kelly.
Kaling has gone on to have a very successful career. She created and starred in The Mindy Project, wrote and starred in the movie Late Night, and has performed high-earning voice roles in Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph and Pixar’s Inside Out.
There have been lots of famous guest directors
In television, different directors usually direct each episode. And The Office has seen its share of notable filmmakers come through the door, including J. J. Abrams, Harold Ramis, Jason Reitman, Jon Favreau, and Joss Whedon.
Whedon directed “Business School,” considered one of the best of the series.
Beyond famous directors, many actors on the show got a chance to helm episodes, including Carell, Kaling, Krasinski (who’s now a famous director himself), Wilson, Helms, and Baumgartner.
Carell also wrote arguably the greatest episode in the entire run: “Casino Night.”
They took the “documentary” format seriously
While completely fictional, The Office plays as a real documentary. Its characters “know” they’re “being filmed.” And the crew made sure they played by the rules of documentary filmmaking, even hiring Survivor director Randall Einhorn as a director of photography.
During season four episode “Did I Stutter?”, there was a planned sequence where Michael tries to go to the bathroom without passing Stanley. Einhorn walked through with a camera several times to make sure the sequence was possible for an average “documentary filmmaker” — thankfully, it was.
The British creators wrote an episode of the American version
In season three, Gervais and Merchant wrote “The Convict” for the American version of their show. A new employee has previously been in prison, and Pam jokes that prison sounds better than Dunder-Mifflin. So Michael tries to prove the opposite, using the character of Prison Mike.
Gervais and Merchant were fans of the American Office, but didn’t believe they should ever write an episode because they weren’t American. But once they started, Gervais said the process went “remarkably fast. I suppose that’s because we’d been away from those characters for two or three years.”
It has a curious relationship with product placement
Many companies pay shows and movies to feature their products. In The Office, producers wrote in companies without being paid to do so, accurately depicting America’s reliance on corporations. Sometimes it went well, like with a TripAdvisor page for Dwight’s B&B.
A few different episodes feature characters going to Chili’s, which is a completely typical place Pennsylvania business people would go to. For the most part, the restaurant enjoyed the publicity. But when they objected to content in “The Dundies,” producers had to rewrite the script at the last minute.
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