This day fifteen years ago, NBC aired the pilot episode of The Office. At the time, over 11 millions Americans tuned in live to see the birth of the popular workplace sitcom. Adapted for American television by The Simpsons and King of the Hill alumnus Greg Daniels, The Office went on to run for a total of nine seasons and a whopping 201 episodes. Now, nearly seven years after the show's last episode debuted, the series has gotten a second breath of life thanks to perpetually stellar streaming numbers from its current licensing deal with Netflix.
To celebrate the milestone anniversary of the fan-favorite show, we spoke with Daniels about his development of the show from the tape of the Ricky Gervais original series he nearly passed over to the use of real-life bats in production and any potential for a return to the show.
Keep scrolling to see our chat with the Emmy-winning screenwriter, including all sorts of The Office goodies and a thing or two for long-time fans of King of the Hill!
ComicBook.com: 15 years or so ago, you're watching the original version of the show, the British series created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. I think I read somewhere you got a tape and kind of threw it to the side because thought the title was a little boring. What was the pinnacle moment while watching the original series that you decided, "Man, I really need to bring this to the States?"
Greg Daniel: Oh well, basically, I was supposed to watch it over the Christmas holiday, I don't know, 2005 or something like that. And I put it off, you're right, because it seemed boring. I didn't know anything at all about it. Then I popped it in. It was the VHS tape. That's how long ago it was.
I just got drawn into the story, the characters. I watched the first season, all in one sitting. So was there a particular moment? Gosh. I mean, it probably was around the second episode, maybe. Once the Jim and Pam story kicked in ... or the, what was it called? Tim and Dawn story. Yeah, I was hooked.
You get the pilot and eventually five additional episodes, right? Six episodes total. Not counting the premiere, the ratings weren't super great. After the first season wrapped, there was one headline that said, "It's time for NBC to turn the lights off, on the show." As a creator and writer, after you see something like this, was there a point you and your team started getting really nervous or had you already been in the process of developing Season Rqo and onward?
No, no. We didn't get an order for Season 2 for a while. I had to go in and make a big presentation to Kevin Reilly about how I was going to change the show before he would give us a Season 2 pick up. But yeah, it was a little bit nerve-racking. I also feel like they switched nights. All of the marketing was, "Come see The Office," and I think the pilot was on a Thursday. And then all the rest of the episodes aired on a Tuesday.
So I kind of feel like people were not properly told about it moving to Tuesday, but I mean, that's neither here nor there. As you were describing it, I suddenly had this flash of anger, about the fact that we were on a different night. I remember that from back then. But yeah, it was very touch and go. All my favorite shows that were on NBC, like Cheers and Seinfeld, had started off very weak in the ratings, and it built.
So I was furiously making this argument, to anyone who would listen at NBC, that that's what was going to happen, that the show was a character comedy and they take a while to build. I would point to The Mary Tyler Moore Show as another great show that started off very slow. The only problem was that every TV producer, of a show that didn't get good ratings, was making the same argument. I mean, we eventually got to pick up Season 2, as you know, and then we made some slight adjustments, and then it started to work better.
...Into a Certified Hit
It sure did. It exploded into eight more seasons afterward. Again, was there a single moment you guys really knew you were onto something special? When did you recognize you had helped create something that had suddenly become one of the threads that make of the very fabric of pop culture.
Well, I always thought it was very special when it wasn't successful either, and I believe all the cast did. So when we did the pilot, for instance. After the pilot, I gave a little speech to the cast, and I basically said, "Look, if this is all we get to do, it was super fun. We all did good work, and that could be enough. But if that's all we get, that's enough."
After the first season, I made the same comment, I was like, "Well that was a great first season. We had so much fun. It's a different type of show and it will have to air now, because they picked episodes and can't wait to have America see this weird show." So we definitely felt like that for a while. And then, by the end of Season 2, with "Casino Night" and everything, it was much clearer that the audience was very much into the show.
I mean, it was NBC's number-one show for a while, so now to see it as successful — it was on NBC — but the sort of phenomenon happened, I think, with Netflix, maybe more recently, just the people who watched the entire season, and then start over watching the entire season, and then start over again. Yeah, that part, I mean, who could have seen that coming?
Right, right. I know, personally, I stopped at counting and keeping track around 20 watch-throughs. It's certainly a phenomenon, you got that right. This is probably asking you to pick a favorite child or pet. Is there one particular episode, you're very fond of how it translated from script to screen?
It is like asking about a child. I love so many of them, but I got to say that the one, I think it's called "Business School," where Pam has an art show and only Michael shows up and gives her some compliments and buys her watercolor. I think that's a pretty perfect episode. I actually think "Diversity Day," the second episode, but there was so much good stuff in that "Business School" episode. I might pick that. I don't know.
I love the Vampire Story too. The Vampire Story was fun. It was so fun to try to accomplish that and with that bat, in the office, just from a production standpoint. We had three different ways to shoot the bat. There was an actual bat for some of the shots, there was a dummy bat, and then there was an audio-animatronic robot bat, that was under the plastic garbage bag. There were a lot of interesting, good stories behind the bat.
A Real Bat?!
How'd the cast interact having a real bat on-set. What particular instances was the real bat used?
There was a real bat. I believe when it flew around inside the room, I think that it was a real bat, for some shots.I guess, maybe it was when it was top of the ceiling. I know we had three different means of shooting a bat, but definitely, Kate Flannery did not want a real bat on her head while covered garbage bag.
So, About That Reboot...
Totally understandable. I know Bonnie Hammer at one point, said a continuation was...I think she said, a priority, at the time. I know Matt Strauss has since taken over when it comes to all things streaming at NBC. I know you've said you won't want to disappoint fans with a relaunch or reboot. That said, have you had any conversation with the NBC direct-to-consumer people, at all?
Oh, Peacock. I haven't spoken to anybody at Peacock, no. I mean, I think that the talk really came up when they did Will and Grace. They rebooted that show. But I don't think that we would either be able to get all the cast together, because a lot of them are doing different things, or whether we'd really need to do that because I feel like we had our finale.
We knew we were going to end the show for that last season, and then we wrote towards particular endings. I mean, I don't know. Sometimes, it seems like people want something, but I don't know if they really do want it, or just means that they really liked the original. It's hard to say.
King of the Hill Reboot & The Office Babies
Shifting to a quick King of the Hill question — I know Mike Judge just wrapped Silicon Valley not too long ago. Bless the Harts is going on now. Any chance at all we see a return to the proper King of the Hill, or has that ship sailed?
Well, Mike and I got together a couple of years ago, and came up with a reboot for King of the Hill. At the time, I think that Fox didn't want to go ahead with this, at the level that it probably deserved. We thought that they would be excited to just order it. At the moment, there is no plan for it. The studio was sold to Disney now, I guess, so it would be a Disney show, I think, in the future. But we do have a plan for it and it's pretty funny. So maybe one day.
So you're saying there's a chance, I'm totally on board for it.
Yeah, me too. Me too. I mean, that was a wonderful show to work on. Yeah, that would be a super fun reboot. I feel like that is easier to reboot because you can get all the characters and they all look the same. It would be something that you could decide what happens to them, and you wouldn't have to be going, "Oh well, that guy's not available." I mean, they're all available because they're cartoon characters.
Well, in that vein, do you think it would almost be easier to do an Office or Parks and Rec animated show at all?
Well, I mean, I think you could, but I don't know how much of a feeling of reboot that would be. I mean, you certainly could. We used to joke around. The Office writers and I would joke around, about doing Office Babies, like they would do Muppet Babies or The Animaniacs or something. We always said, "We'll do Office Babies with all of the characters in preschool, and it'll be a cartoon." But I think that was just a joke.
What's your favorite moment on The Office? Think it over and let us know your thoughts in the comments section or by hitting me up on Twitter at @AdamBarnhardt!
Cover photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
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