Greg Daniels turned a British hit, The Office, into a legendary comedy on NBC.
After it left the network, The Office became a big cannon in the streaming wars, topping the charts for years for Netflix and, since Jan. 1, leading the charge for Peacock, the streaming service launched by NBC parent companies Comcast and NBCUniversal.
Daniels, whose writing credits also include Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, knows a few things about TV, whether it’s old-fashioned broadcast or this newfangled streaming stuff.
He’s got another show on Netflix, Space Force, starring the world’s best boss from The Office, Steve Carell, and Upload on Amazon Prime Video.
He spent the summer re-editing The Office to create “superfan” episodes for the shows with restored deleted scenes. And he’s now in Vancouver shooting Upload.
Daniels talked about the state of TV in this interview with Multichannel News. An edited transcript follows.
MCN: The Office is a hit in streaming. Was that a surprise to you that this is the No. 1 show in this supposedly new medium of streaming?
Greg Daniels: Yes. It’s interesting because I was just on my computer and something was just released saying that we were the No. 1 streamed show in 2020. And as I put it in a little folder I saw that I had clipped something that said the same thing in 2017. I think it might have been for four years, which is pretty amazing. Obviously, we were the No. 1 show on NBC at one point when we were being aired, so it wasn’t like we never were successful before. But this was unexpected and, yeah, pretty cool.
MCN: How involved were you in the decision to move The Office over to Peacock?
GD: Well, frankly, I wasn’t, because I would have probably left it on Netflix just because it was doing so well there. If all you’re worried about is the show, why would you risk it? But Peacock really wanted it and we’ve been working with everybody over there. There’s something very appropriate and great about it being back on Peacock since it’s an NBC show, and they really understand it very well and they’re committed to making the most comprehensive fan experience. And so they’re very good about trying to provide extra content, and make it fun, and kind of make it the very best experience for a super fan you could possibly want. I’ve gone back with the original editors, and we had access to all of the footage, because it’s NBC, and all of the marketing and all of the interviews with the cast. It’s just been really fun this summer, while we were all locked up, that we could go back and look at dailies and go, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember that,’ ‘Oh my God, I haven’t seen that since we were on the set,’ or stuff like that.
MCN: Was there a lot of stuff that you didn't remember and just thought was terrific? Or was there more stuff that was on the cutting room floor that belonged on the cutting room floor?
GD: Well, there was stuff that is still on the cutting-room floor. We didn’t use every piece of scrap. And some of these long ones don’t play the same, because when we’re putting in a lot more material [into an episode] they’re not as tight. I don’t want to compare ourselves to the Beatles, which I’m about to do, because it gets a little hairy, but I have friends who are so into the Beatles and they have these bootleg tapes and it’ll be them just sort of tuning the guitars and chatting with the engineers and you’re just like, ‘Wow.’ And if you’re really into it, even that is fun. So I think some of this stuff, it’s just fun to see, like that moment when they return from Beach Games when they’re singing The Flintstones. We’ve seen that, but it was an hour drive and we had them sing a lot of other songs, so it's just fun to see them doing different ones.
MCN: Are you getting much feedback yet from people watching The Office on Peacock?
GD: Well, I’m getting feedback from Peacock that they’re very happy with the amount of consumption of the extended cuts. I’ve heard from them that it exceeded their expectations and they had high expectations, so that’s good.
MCN: If you were producing The Office for streaming, is there any way you would have done it differently?
GD: Well you know what’s so funny about that is, I have a show on Netflix now with Steve Carell, Space Force, and I have a show on Amazon that I’m in Vancouver producing right now called Upload. In both of those instances, I will be talking with the streaming executives and they will say stuff to me like ‘Well, as you know with streaming there’s all these differences and you know, we are a special case and when people are binge-watching it’s not like network and all this stuff,’ and in the back of my head, I keep thinking, ‘Yeah, but this show that we did on NBC is the No. 1 show on streaming. So, is it really that different?’
MCN: You used to get notes from NBC execs like Kevin Reilly and Ben Silverman based on watching the show. Theoretically, the streaming guys are giving you notes based on data. Is data more intelligent than the average network executive?
GD: Well, we were in a marketing meeting for Space Force very early on at Netflix and they said, ‘Let us tell you what we found works on our platforms.’ And they said, ‘We found that workplace ensembles with a large, diverse cast of funny people that include romantic entanglements and have very relatable humor work really well on our platforms.’ And you know, Steve and I looked at them and we were like, ‘Yeah you’re talking about The Office. We’re aware of that.’
MCN: Are you more comfortable releasing seasons in batches, like you do on the streaming services? Or do you think there was a merit to the weekly drip, drip of a series over 22 weeks?
GD: Well, from the standpoint of somebody who's producing, the old system was good because you had a writing staff that was there the entire year. We would sometimes do 28 episodes a season and that provided enough employment for the writers to just be there year after year, the same people. So you were able to go, ‘OK. I know who’s good at this and is good at that, and you go cover the set and I’ll sit in the editing room and you do this.’ But with these eight- or 10-episode seasons, the writing staffs disappear, because they are only on for 2.4 weeks per episode. So they’re gone usually by the time you start shooting and then you’re all by yourself in post and it’s actually harder to do these small seasons because you end up doing more of it yourself.
I think from the standpoint of the audience, the other thing is you could lose yourself in one of these old TV shows that have 100 episodes or 200 episodes in a way that it’s harder to do if you’re only if you’re doing 10 episodes every 18 months. By the time you get 30, 40 episodes it’s, you know, it’s been
six years. I don’t know. I do think it’s a different experience.
MCN: Has there been any discussion about having a reunion show for The Office?
GD: Well, I hate to talk about that because every time I say anything about that you know if that’s the only thing that anybody pays any attention to. So no comment on that.
MCN: What are you watching that’s good out there in the television world?
GD: I loved I May Destroy You. I thought that was terrific. And what else have I been watching? This is one of those weird things about Netflix. I just got into this Korean cop show called Bad Guys. You probably have not heard about this. And it’s affected my stream. I watched so much of this Korean cop show that the only thing that they are offering me are either Korean shows or other international cop shows. I’ve gone down this rabbit hole of Korean cop shows. But I really like Bad Guys.
MCN: What’s the status of Space Force and Upload?
GD: We’re writing season two of Space Force. The room is writing and we are going to shoot it in Vancouver starting in May. And we are shooting Upload starting next week. So right now, I’m just finishing doing all the production meetings and stuff like that.
MCN: Would you go back into doing a broadcast show again?
GD: Yeah, I would, actually. Because of what I said about the fun of being able to have a large staff around again. I think there’s something good about that. But so much depends on who you’re doing the show for, both the executives and who the audience is and what they’re going to want.
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Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.