Dunder Mifflin went into business 15 years ago today... the television business, that is.
The pilot episode for the future TV classic The Office, appropriately titled "Pilot," premiered on NBC March 24, 2005 as a midseason replacement, introducing audiences to the scrappy employees of the Scranton, Pa., paper supply company and its clueless boss, Michael Scott (Steve Carell), for the first time as a downsizing scare threatens the branch.
In a Skype interview with Yahoo Entertainment, series creator Greg Daniels (who worked on The Simpsons and King of the Hill prior to The Office — and Parks and Recreation and the upcoming Space Force since) shares his insights into the creation of and evolution of the series, which was a remake of the Ricky Gervais- and Stephen Merchant-created BBC hit (watch above).
While it's often been reported that Paul Giamatti, buzzing from the success of Sideways, was the first choice to play Michael before ultimately passing, Daniels says there was another well-known actor who was in contention for the part. "The big alternative to Steve was Bob Odenkirk, who was also excellent," Daniels says of his fellow former Saturday Night Live writer, who went on to find greater success in dramas like Breaking Bad and the spinoff he currently headlines, Better Call Saul. "But Bob was much more close to Ricky Gervais [who played David Brent, Scott's British predecessor], and Steve was pushing it into a more unique direction."
That's what she said?
Daniels and team were high on Carell the whole time, but the actor, a hot commodity from his work as a correspondent on The Daily Show and scene-stealing turns in Bruce Almighty (2003) and Anchorman (2004), was committed to another NBC replacement comedy called Come to Papa. When that show was quickly spiked, Carell earned his Dunder Mifflin credentials. Odenkirk, meanwhile, did eventually get onboarded. In Season 9, he guest-starred as Mark, who manages a company Pam (Jenna Fischer) interviews with in Philadelphia — and who reminds her way too much of Michael for her to take the job, a clear in-joke on the show's "What could have been?" history. "That was fun for me," Daniels says.
In casting Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam for what would ultimately be one of television's most famous will-they-or-won't-they? pairings, Daniels almost went in a markedly different direction. "There was a time when I thought that maybe in America, Jim and Pam should be an interracial couple," he says. "So I had an actress named Erica Vittina Phillips, who I was kind of interested in for Pam for a while. But Jenna, when she came in, she socked all other thoughts of Pam. I mean, it was insane. She came in... it was like a magic trick. It didn't seem like an actress. It just seemed like, 'Oh, there's the character brought to life. We can stop looking there.'"
Phillips, perhaps best known for a bit part as the liquor store cashier who suspiciously scans the fake ID of Christopher Mintz-Plasse's McLovin in 2007's Superbad and who also costarred with Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin the same year The Office premiered, also eventually made her way to Scranton. In 2011's "The Incentive," she turns up as the ex-wife of Craig Robinson's Darryl Philbin.
The Office was anything but an immediate success after the premiere of its pilot, which hadn't yet introduced main players like Mindy Kaling's Kelly Kapoor, Paul Lieberstein’s Toby and Kate Flannery's Meredith Palmer. (One fun exercise is to re-watch the pilot and pick out the four extras you'll never see in The Office again... the pilot episode was shot a full sixth months before Episode 2, "Diversity Day.")
Critics complained that "Pilot" was essentially a carbon copy of its British counterpart's inaugural episode — right down to Jim's Jell-O prank on Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson). And there were lingering concerns throughout the first season that Michael leaned more toward loathsome than likable. While audiences eventually came to love him for all his social ineptitude, a revisit of the pilot shows some of his actions are best, offensive ("If you think she's cute now, you should've seen her a couple years ago," he says introducing his receptionist Pam for the first time), and at worst, sadistic ("punking" Pam in front of B.J. Novak's newly arrived temp Ryan by telling Pam she's fired for stealing Post-It Notes, with tears ensuing).
After Season 1, Daniels and his team reworked their regional manager. They wanted you to laugh with Michael, not just let him make your skin crawl. "So I had a list of five or six things that I wanted to incorporate and kind of build up his character. So for instance, on the list I said I wanted [him] to give some really good advice to somebody that the audience is really grateful that he did." Thus Michael's heart-to-heart with Jim at the end of Season 2's 11th episode, "Booze Cruise," in which he tells his crestfallen salesman not to give up on Pam.
"Would I rather be feared or loved?" Michael asks himself during one of the mockumentary's signature talking head testimonials in "The Fight," Season 2's sixth episode. "Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me."
It was Michael's fear-inducing mistreatment of Pam in the pilot, though, that ultimately spurred one of The Office's most surprising and profound long cons. Watch the first episode and finale back-to-back, and it could be argued that it's Pam, not Michael, who is truly the show's protagonist. She's the most sympathetic character from the get-go, and seemingly the glue holding the whole paper operation together. In the series farewell, she gets the last word in: "There's a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn't that the point?," she waxes poetically.
"I don't really think it was intentional," admits Daniels, who agrees with the notion that the show was told through Pam's perspective. "I think it has to do with how much growth somebody has, and how much choice somebody has to make. Jim was pretty directed toward her from the beginning. But she had to choose between him and Roy (David Denman) so in a sense the direction was set by what her choice was. So maybe that gave her more centrality.
"And then by the time I was writing the finale, I think I was aware that she to me was the most point-of-view character, so I would give her the last word."
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