Fifteen years later, there still ain’t no party like a Scranton party.
The U.S. version of the workplace mockumentary series The Office premiered on March 24, 2005. Coinciding with the anniversary is the release of a new book titled The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s.
Developed by Rolling Stone senior writer Andy Greene, the book features nearly 90 interviews with crew and ensemble cast. It covers everything from the genesis of the show (which was based on a British series of the same name, created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant) to stories behind the more memorable episodes, like “The Dundies” (Jim and Pam’s first kiss!) and “Casino Night” (Jim and Pam’s first kiss!).
The Office ran on NBC for nine seasons, wrapping in 2013. Over that eight-year period, fans became acquainted with Steve Carell as the bumbling, usually well-meaning-yet-clueless Michael Scott; as well as more relative newcomers like John Krasinski (Jim Halpert), Jenna Fischer (Pam Halpert, née Beesly), Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute), B.J. Novak (Ryan Howard) and Mindy Kaling (Kelly Kapoor). Rounding out the crew of Dunder Mifflin misfits: Angela Kinsey (Angela Martin), Brian Baumgartner (Kevin Malone), Phyllis Smith (Phyllis Lapin Vance), Craig Robinson (Darryl Philbin), Oscar Nunez (Oscar Martinez), Kate Flannery (Meredith Palmer), Leslie David Baker (Stanley Hudson), David Denman (Roy Anderson), Paul Lieberstein (Toby Flenderson), Creed Bratton (Creed Bratton) and Melora Hardin (Jan Levinson).
The casting process was nerve-wracking — but led to many of their big breaks. Read on for the cast and crew’s own memories about the show’s early days and how it came to be such a hit.
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1. Some huge names were considered for the role of Michael Scott.
According to Greene, “an early memo” of those considered to play Michael — the regional manager of Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton, Pennsylvania, branch — included actors who were extremely well-known at the time, like Dan Aykroyd, Steve Buscemi, David Arquette, Stanley Tucci, Matthew Broderick, Cedric the Entertainer, Owen Wilson and even Rick Moranis, who hadn’t appeared onscreen since 1997’s direct-to-video Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves.
“Louis C.K. also came in to read for Michael Scott,” casting director Allison Jones says in the book. “I was so bummed we couldn’t get him ’cause he was great, but he had a deal at CBS at the time. Ben Falcone and Jason Segel tested for Michael too.” (Falcone would become a finalist for the role of Dwight.)
“They made an offer to Paul Giamatti, and that was the days when movie stars did not do TV. So he said no,” recalls Jones, 64. “Then we tried Philip Seymour Hoffman and he said no as well. Back then, actors like that did not touch TV. It was seen as the bottom of the barrel, let me tell you.”
Carell, 57, is now a household name, but most of the movies he starred in before The Office premiered cast him in secondary roles, like Anchorman: The Legend of Rob Burgundy and Bruce Almighty. (The 40-Year-Old Virgin would premiere a few months after The Office in August 2005, rocketing him into full-fledged movie super-stardom.)
The other frontrunner for Michael was Bob Odenkirk, who had a history in comedic roles both on the big and small screen and, according to NBC Entertainment division president Kevin Reilly, “really wanted the part.”
“He was excellent and had a good take on the character,” says Reilly, while Jones notes, “But Bob had an edge to him. His take on Michael was just as funny as Steve’s, but it was darker.”
“It was a bummer to make that call. And I do suspect the show would have worked with Bob Odenkirk,” Jones says, adding that Carell played “a jerk and a douche as opposed to an a—hole,” which worked in terms of what they were going for with Michael’s character. (Odenkirk, 57, went on to guest star in a season 9 episode of The Office titled, “Moving On” — and of course, make waves as Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad and its spin-off, Better Call Saul.)
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2. John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer did many of their audition scenes together — and hit it off immediately.
“Over the course of two days, I was asked to read with John Krasinski a lot, which I thought was a good sign since he was definitely the best Jim,” Fischer, 46, says in the book.
“The moment I sat down with I thought, ‘This girl is going to get it,’ ” says Krasinski, 40. “When we were walking out, I was like, ‘You are going to get it. I know it.’ ”
“It was exactly as sweet and cute and supportive as anything Jim would say to Pam,” she adds. “I smiled really big and said, ‘I’m so glad you said that because you’re my favorite Jim and I don’t think anyone could do it except for you.’ It gave me a big confidence boost to know we were rooting for each other.”
“The first question I asked when I got the part was, ‘Did Jenna get the part?’ said, ‘That’s the first question I asked too,’ ” Krasinski recalls. “So it was this weird thing going already, this chemistry that had already started, which was pretty awesome.”
3. John Krasinski thought he’d bombed his audition before he’d even begun it.
During his first audition for Jim, Krasinski was the last of a group of seven actors to go in. But before he did, during a short break for lunch, “Through the front door came a guy with a salad who sat across from me on the couch and he said, ‘Are you nervous?’ ” he recalls. “And I said, ‘Not so much for the audition, but I’m really nervous for the people who are making this show because so often these translations are just such garbage and I really hope they don’t screw it up because so many people are waiting to kill this show.’ ”
“And Greg Daniels said, ‘I’ll try my best. I’m Greg Daniels. This is my show,’ ” Krasinski says of the horrifying moment, after which “I went into the room and everyone was laughing at me because I was such a moron. Everyone was like, ‘Is this the jackass that told you the show was going to be ruined? Go for it, kid.’ Weirdly, because everyone was already laughing, the room was really warm and ready to go.”
Luckily for Krasinski, “He felt like our Jim immediately,” says producer Ben Silverman, remembering him as “likable and thoughtful” and handsome “but not too handsome,” as well as having “this slightly muted, humble intelligence” that embodied the character well.
“It’s a hard role to cast,” adds Daniels, 56. “Very infrequently, I think, do you find an actor who is very, very good at comedy and extremely sincere and vulnerable, and capable of being like a masculine leading man. And I really felt that when all the different people came through, it was very clear John was the best.”
4. A lot of episode ideas never came to fruition.
Many of the series’ more iconic one-off storylines — like Michael accidentally injuring his foot on a George Foreman grill, for example — ultimately made it to air, but many were left on the writers’ room floor, like an episode called “Pet Day” that would’ve seen Michael bring a parrot named Jim Carrey to the office.
“I wanted to do an episode where in started at the beginning of the lunch break and everybody just went off and we followed everyone, what they did for lunch. It would almost be a real-time episode,” says writer Jen Celotta. “I wanted to see them outside — I mean, we do see them outside of the office, going on a job-related mission, or at a party, but I wanted to see the reality of the everyday lunch.”
Other ideas that the writers’ team threw around were an episode where Michael had clear braces, one where he “gets accidentally crucified” (according to writer Aaron Shure) and one where Phyllis goes through menopause — the latter of which was a story that Celotta, 48, “really wanted to tell.”
“I remember thinking that Phyllis made it so cold in the office that it led to thermostat debates that every office has,” she says. “And maybe Angela actually freezes at her desk for a tiny bit.”
5. The gang has very different opinions on whether they’d be interested in a reboot.
Almost seven years after the show’s finale, many former cast members, like Flannery, 55, are “pro-reboot.” But even though she’s “not banking on it,” the Dancing with the Stars alumna jokes she does hope they can get together for a reunion “before any of us kick the bucket.”
Nunez, 61, and Bratton, 77, are on board for the idea of a Christmas special, while Ed Helms (Andy Bernard) is “open-minded about anything” and Kinsey, 48, “would love to see where these characters are right now.” In fact, she and her real-life best pal Fischer recently started a podcast about the show, titled Office Ladies.
Writer and producer opinions about a reboot are across the board (Jones thinks it’s “a bad idea” and jokes it would be “like getting married to the same guy twice”), but most seem in agreement that despite what the future holds, the first iteration of the American show was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the cast, crew and audience alike.
“In truth, I hope it doesn’t come back. I mean, I hope it is what it was and we get to just live with the beautiful memory of it,” says producer Teri Weinberg. “It was such a special thing and when you get hit by lightning, you just want to get hit once by that thing.”
The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s is available now on amazon.com.