How One Tiny Change Made ‘The Office’ A Success!
There’s no doubt that The Office is one of the greatest sitcoms ever to grace American television. But, people had a very different opinion of it at the start. In fact, it was very close to being dropped by NBC. But, this little tweak by the writers completely changed the show, and made it a success!
‘The Office’ started on a low
There’s no secret that after season 1, ‘The Office’ was in a bit of a pickle. Ratings were down, and the show was on the verge of cancelation. But, NBC decided to give the show a chance with a limited number of episodes for season 2. And that was enough for creator and showrunner Greg Daniels and others to turn the tables in favor of the show.
In Brian Baumgartner’s An Oral History of The Office podcast, Daniels shared how he rescued ‘The Office’ from low ratings. And NBC executive Kevin Reilly fought for the show a lot because of his firm belief in it. Greg Daniels was famous making these small tweaks and changes to the show to make it more appealing. And the revolutionary idea he had to save ‘The Office’ was to end every episode with some positivity. And the best way to do that was through Michael Scott.
Michael Scott had to change
Steve Carell, after his success in the 40-year-old Virgin, became a superstar. And it was his name that gave ‘The Office’ some attention. But, that wasn’t enough. Baumgartner explained that:
It all hung on Greg being able to find a way to transform the show in its second season. He needed to come up with a plan for (NBC Executive) Kevin Reilly.
Now, Daniels had some amazing ideas on how to change ‘The Office’ through its main character. But, it did not sit well with the other staff. However, Daniels did find a solution, and for that, he revisited Steve Carell’s breakthrough film. Mike Schur recalls Daniels saying:
I tried to come up with things that would rehabilitate Michael… I watched The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the reason we’re back is largely because of The 40-Year-Old Virgin. We need to take 20% of what is so endearing and likable about that character and swirl it into Michael Scott and we need to take 20% of the optimism of that movie and swirl it into the show. And I want every episode end with a little upswing.
And it worked!
Even though there was a lot of resistance from the rest of ‘The Office’ staff, but it ended up working. And that became the charm of Michael Scott. Michael did some really horrible and dumb things, but only because he was completely “oblivious”, not because he had harmful intentions. And that was the redeemable characteristic about him in ‘The Office’.
He did a lot of stupid things, but at the heart, his intentions were always pure. He just wasn’t aware of the intricate realities of the office space and the times. And that is what made Michael acceptable for ‘The Office’ and ended up becoming the reason for the show’s success. Schur explains:
He can still be terrible and offensive and oblivious, but at the end of every episode, we’re going to have a little upswing, just a little tiny little positive thing… At the very end, you’re sent away from the half-hour of TV with a little bit of happiness in your heart that things aren’t so terrible.
A purity of intension goes a long way towards making an unbearable character lovable. And that is what made ‘The Office’ so loving as a whole for viewers. As Daniels said:
If you can have a purity of intention, he can do the worst things in the world for comedy but as an audience you sense that he didn’t do it in order to be cruel or to be a jerk. He’s trying.
And so, this is how NBC and Greg Daniels were able to bring ‘The Office’ at the very top of other sitcoms. And Michael Scott was at the very heart of that one change that made it all possible.