The Office has become arguably the most popular workplace comedy to ever hit the airwaves. While it was plenty popular on its initial run on NBC, the series eventually found a massive second wind while streaming on Netflix. Though it's one of the most-watched sitcoms in television history, one of the lead writers of the show recently revealed it was a surprising inspiration.
In a new interview on Andy Cohen's Watch What Happens Live, The Office writer and star BJ Novak revealed the show's comedy was largely inspired by that of HBO's The Sopranos and its lead man James Gandolfini.
"He was shy and intrigued," Novak said. "I just thought it would be great, because, to me, The Sopranos was actually the biggest influence on The Office because of the way that comedy and drama and character were all completely indistinguishable."\
The scribe added, "In fact, the way Michael Scott will say something very serious but mispronounce a word I feel is a direct descendant of the Tony Soprano sense of humor. So I thought he would've been an incredible replacement. I really, really wanted to work with him."
Not only that, but Novak said Gandolfini himself was in the running to take over as the boss at Dunder-Mifflin Scranton after Steve Carell departed the show in its seventh season. Novak and the rest of the writer's room were hoping Gandolfini was on board to play a white-collar executive to contrast from the blue-collar workers of the branch. The Sopranos star, however, had different ideas.
"We suggested a white-collar character for him to play against type," Novak explained. "And he said something I'll never forget, which is, 'I feel as an actor, whoever comes out at 3 a.m., that's who you should be playing. And at 3 a.m., what comes out of me is a blue-collar guy.' I thought that was so interesting."
The white-collar role ended up going to James Spader, who played the eccentric Robert California in the last two seasons of the show. Gandolfini returned to HBO to finish out his run on The Sopranos.
All nine seasons of The Office are now streaming on Peacock while The Sopranos and its prequel film — Many Saints of Newark — are streaming on HBO Max.