*That’s what she said.
NBC’s long-running sitcom The Office has left a fascinating cultural impact. It put the industrial town of Scranton, Pa., on the map; spawned an office products line based on the fictional Dunder Miffiin paper company; forged a new market for bobble-head dolls; and popularized the oftrepeated catchphrase “that’s what she said.”
But the series, which wraps its ninth and final season this week, had perhaps a greater effect on the TV business. Though The Office was never a mass hit (it peaked at 9 million viewers in season five), its influence can be seen in the comedies it paved the way for and careers it launched.
Ahead of The Office’s 75-minute swan song on May 16, B&C chatted with the series’ executive producers past and present and came away with three ways the show’s legacy will be felt long after the Dunder Miffiin crew punches the clock for the last time.
Proliferation of Single-Cam Comedies
When The Office debuted in March 2005, the top-rated comedy was CBS’ multi-camera Everybody Loves Raymond and NBC was coming off its Must-See TV run of Friends, Frasier and Will & Grace. Fast-forward five years, and a laugh track was hard to find outside of CBS.
Greg Daniels (showrunner/executive producer): “I think it’s so good for comedy and creativity that I would love to have it not just be, ‘Oh, you’re imitating The Office’ if you do a mockumentary; I would love it to be a genre that’s just out there. I think this was a nice sustained example of a ‘poignant and comedic at the same time’ show. For people who like their comedy that way, we will be a flag on a hill, which hopefully will be inspirational for people with that sensibility.”
Michael Schur (writer/producer, The Office, 2005-08, now cocreator/executive producer, Parks and Recreation): “The storytelling style, the mockumentary style, didn’t really exist in American TV before The Office….It’s fair to say without The Office, there’s no Parks & Rec. I think without The Office, there’s no Modern Family. A lot of very big, important shows are really only possible because of that show in terms of the way that it put a new spin on single-camera comedy.”
Rise of International Adaptations
The Office star John Krasinski recalled unknowingly remarking to Daniels during his audition, “I am nervous for the people making it, because we have a tendency in America to screw up all the good shows that come over from England, and I don’t see how you’re going to make this work.”
Ben Silverman kicked off a wave of international formats jumping the pond when he packaged British shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire for American audiences as a TV agent. Now, foreign adaptations litter the television landscape, from The Killing to Homeland.
Ben Silverman (executive producer; cochairman of NBC Entertainment, 2007-09): “It gave people confidence to bet on formats from abroad where it made sense. The real key and the real learning curve is it’s not as much about just the underlying material, but the team adapting it.”
Daniels: “I’m one of the first stops for British formats as a producer. I get to see a lot of great British formats because of the fact that I was successful with TheOffice. The way other countries’ TV businesses are organized sometimes makes them great incubators. In England, it’s OK to have a six-episode season. And two six-episode seasons is enough and you’re done, and there isn’t an economic pressure to go 100 episodes.”
Shift to On-Demand Viewing
Not only was The Office a big seller on iTunes, but it was among the top 10 most time-shifted shows among viewers 18-49 for six of its seven seasons in which DVR viewing was measured by Nielsen. Though it never did a huge overnight ratings number, it was successful in attracting desirable audiences with a young median age and a high concentration of male viewers.
Brad Adgate: (senior VP, research at Horizon Media): “NBC kind of moved with the times—a lower threshold, a focus on a younger viewer, smaller show that had a very attractive audience profile. They saw that as the way that broadcast TV was heading, and I think they were right.”
Silverman: “Even though it could be found on multiple platforms, its value on the network was really high because the advertiser couldn’t reach that audience in many places. I don’t know if it demonstrated that you could make money on other platforms, but it demonstrated that the right content could play on many platforms.”
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