UK: Comedy Central
The Office was originally a British series written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. The US version was adapted by Greg Daniels. Daniels, an experienced writer for SNL and The Simpsons researched office life before working on the series. He also decided to make the pilot a direct adaption from the first British episode. From then on the show got its own scripts and began to diverge considerably from the original. The show is unusual in casting a group of actors known for their improv skills along with several members of the writing staff.
The show debuted after The Apprentice on a Thursday (in April 2005) but was then moved to Tuesdays where half the original audience didn't follow. However buzz about the show was strong and Steve Carell's profile was raised through his role in The 40 Year Old Virgin. The show returned with around eight million viewers and was eventually promoted to NBC's Thursday's where it has remained the highest rated show of that block.
While I recognised the genius behind Ricky Gervais' creation I wasn't a big fan of the British Office. I found it to be cold and focussing on human embarrassment and misery in a way which turned me off. That emotion continued to be exploited in the American version but Steve Carell turned out to be an inspired piece of casting. The writing followed his childish enthusiasm for his work and by season four Michael had actually become something of a beloved figure.
During seasons two and three the fledgling romance between Jim and Pam carried much of the emotion on the show. However by seasons four and five Michael's stories had come to dominate and generate much sympathy for him. The show's quality began to dip in season six and worrying signs grew throughout season seven. However the writers gave Michael a memorable season-worth of closure as they prepared for Steve Carell's departure in May 2011.
By now Greg Daniels had moved on to Parks and Recreation and Paul Lieberstein (Toby from the show) was in charge. He made the decision to promote Andy Bernard into Michael's role both within the show (he became manager) and structurally (the focus on the office manager remained the same).
As I said above I didn't warm to the dark direction The Office seemed to be taking comedy. I did recognise though the addictive quality of seeing comedy presented as real life rather than having actors performing for a live audience. To some extent the show got around this limitation by writing Michael as a man who thought work was meant to be fun and he was a master entertainer.
As time went on The Office slowly became far more like a traditional sit com and became funnier as a result. Seasons four and five produced some fantastic comic television and genuinely turned Michael into one of the best comedy characters around. The slow decline from there was sad to see and after Michael left the show there was no change in direction. For now the show seems set to continue for some time as NBC's struggles to find success continue.
While not quite a spin off Parks and Recreation (2009) was shot in the exact same style as The Office and mimicked many of the successful qualities of its parent show. Then came ABC's Modern Family (2009), a huge mainstream hit comedy which also aped the mockumentary format without any actual explanation for why cameras would be following the characters around. This was undoubtedly influenced by the success of The Office where the cameras presence increasingly just became a fact of the shows life which went uncommented upon.
The success of a show based around an unlikeable or abrasive character was influential as was the focus on scene intended to make the audience uncomfortable. While not originating with The Office these ideas were given greater exposure and came to have an effect on future commissioning of comedy shows.
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