The Turbulent Early Days of The Office
Years after the final episode of The Office, fans still can't get enough of the hilarious mockumentary. In 2018, it ranked on Netflix as the most-watched television series of the year, with a total of 52 million minutes streamed.
This alone illustrates how successful the show is, but did the actors know in the beginning that they were destined for greatness? Check out these behind-the-scenes facts about the early days of The Office.
Who Knew It Would Explode?
As they filmed the first episode, no one on the cast knew it would become such an immense hit. They didn't know what would happen, period. As many know, The Office is an adaptation of a British show, and the pilot episode was met with some criticism because of this.
Following the British Version
The Office didn't try to hide the fact that it was an adaptation. The pilot episode closely follows the pilot of the British version starring Ricky Gervais (pictured), only varying in the smallest ways. For example, they tweaked some jokes to make them more "American" and changed the substance of certain scenes.
Despite some mixed reviews, the pilot episode was generally received positively. About 11 million people sat down to watch it, which is no small figure — it ranked first among its competitors that night and was the third-most-watched show for the entire evening. With these numbers, "Pilot" remains the second-most-watched episode in the series.
An Unlikely Casting Decision
Phyllis Smith (the actress who plays Phyllis Vance on the show) wasn't originally trying out for the part. She had a job as a casting associate and spent her days reading lines with the other actors during auditions. She did so well reading scenes with actors that they decided to write her character into the show.
Pam's Audition Tapes
There's a part in the first episode when Michael Scott makes Pam cry by way of "jokingly" firing her. This clip was actually a part of Jenna Fischer's audition tapes for the part of Pam. According to Fischer, they had to film this scene about 30 times — she simply couldn't keep a straight face.
The Role of Michael Scott
It's hard to imagine The Office with anyone else but Steve Carell at the forefront, but there were a couple other contenders for his role. Carell almost had to forfeit the show entirely due to scheduling problems, which would have left Bob Odenkirk at the helm. In the end, though, Carell made it work.
Steve Carell's Careful Planning
Because The Office was an adaptation, the actors had to get familiar with the original British Office. John Krasinski (a.k.a. Jim Halpert) was a big fan of the British version of the show, but Steve Carell took a different approach.
The Cast Couldn't Keep It Together
Often, the cast cracked each other up so much that they couldn't get through a scene. Jenna Fischer says Steve Carell's "6-million-dollar man" dance in the pilot episode made her laugh so much that they had to film her stone-faced reaction separately. They even had to kick Carell out of the room!
A True Mockumentary
It was crucial for The Office to truly feel like an office building and for the mockumentary to closely resemble a real documentary. To do this, they kept the people on set to a minimum — only the actors, director, cameraman and boom operator were allowed.
The OG Cast
When they filmed the first episode, producers thought the main cast would consist of Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer and B.J. Novak. Clearly, things were shifted around throughout the seasons, but these actors remained largely in the forefront (with the exception of B.J. Novak).
The Auditioning Process
Jenna Fischer describes the auditioning process as a rather unusual one. Instead of using pre-written scripts, actors were asked various questions and expected to respond as their characters. For some actors this was ideal — several had backgrounds in improv, including Angela Kinsey (Angela) and Kate Flannery (Meredith).
Actors Who Turned Down Roles
During the casting process, there were several well-known actors who turned down roles or simply didn't get the parts. Paul Giamatti turned down an offer to play Michael Scott, while Hank Azaria and Martin Short auditioned but didn't make the cut. Seth Rogen and Patton Oswalt also auditioned for Dwight but weren't the right fit.
Some Thought It Was Their Last Chance
Given that many of the cast members were lesser-known actors, some of them saw The Office as their last-ditch effort. Years of acting and improv hadn't propelled them to success, and it looked like things simply weren't going to come together. After all, many people believe you can't "make it" acting if you're already past a certain age.
Angela as Pam?
It's hard to imagine actors in The Office playing any other roles than the ones they were given, but some of them were hoping to fill different shoes. Angela Kinsey, for example, who played Angela on the show, originally auditioned for the part of Pam Beesly.
A Small World
Surprisingly, some of the actors had known each other for a long time before being cast in the same show. Angela Kinsey and Oscar Nunez had done improv together in a comedy show called Hot Towel. Neither of them knew the other would be a part of the show, but both were pleasantly surprised to find out.
In an attempt to make the set feel more realistic, the cast was asked to bring in photographs from home. These could’ve been any older images of the actors or something close to them that would fit in with their characters. These were left on their desks, as people do in real-life office buildings.
If you re-watch the first episode, there are some subtle Easter eggs hidden in the dialogue for the most attentive of fans. At one point, Michael asks Ryan Howard (B.J. Novak) if he's familiar with the show Punk'd. This is funny because Novak had actually been on that show.
On-screen Enemies, Real-life BFFs?
As any viewer of The Office knows, Angela and Pam have some real beef on the show. They rarely get along and are often arguing about party decorations or birthday gifts while sharing withering glances across their cubicles. Ironically, these women are the best of friends off-screen.
Krasinski Visits Scranton
You know that iconic Office opening sequence — a few shots of buildings, the street and a "Welcome to Scranton" road sign? Well, these clips were actually shot by John Krasinski in the real-life town of Scranton, Pennsylvania. After he got the part of Jim, he traveled to Scranton to get a feel for the place.
Working Hard or Hardly Working?
The computers on set weren't simply props — they were really hooked up to the internet. In all those scenes with Meredith, Stanley, Creed or Phyllis in the background working away, the actors were actually surfing the internet or playing solitaire. This helped them pass the time.
The Central Relationship
It may seem like Jim and Pam's budding romance is the centerpiece of the show — after all, they're set up as flirtatious friends in the very first episode — but there's another relationship that's just as important to The Office. This is the relationship between Michael and Pam.
Staying in Character
Some of the crew met each other in interesting ways. Jenna Fischer, for example, met Rainn Wilson while he was in character for his audition as Dwight Schrute. Fischer says she thought he was the strangest person she'd ever met and only learned his true personality later on.
John Krasinski Almost Blew It
Another person in the running for the part of Jim was Adam Scott, an actor many now know from his success on Parks and Recreation. He might have landed the role, too, if the executive producer hadn't been so forgiving of John Krasinski.
Krasinski Did His Research
Once John Krasinski got the role of Jim, he didn't hesitate to conduct research. Not only did he travel out to Scranton to see the town the show was set in, but he also interviewed paper salesmen to hear what the job was like.
They Didn't Think the Show Would Last
During the first season, the attitude surrounding The Office was that it probably wouldn't last for long. This was when the show still closely followed the British version and before the cast members really found their voices on set. According to the actors, NBC executives often showed up with negative attitudes.
The Opening Theme
Greg Daniels, the showrunner for the first four seasons, sometimes took a democratic approach to making decisions. When it came to the theme song, for instance, he let the cast vote on the final version. The crew presented four different options to each actor and had them pick their favorite.
Some of the actors had real-life experience in office buildings to inform their acting. Angela Kinsey, for example, had been working as a phone operator for 1-800-DENTIST when she got her part on The Office. This job prepared her well for her role as an accountant.
The Truth Behind the Characters
The character of Creed is one of the most mysterious on The Office. He always references a crazy history and complicated backstory, but not everything he says is untrue. In fact, the man who plays Creed (also named Creed) was truly in a band called The Grass Roots.
Carell Saved the Show
As most fans know, the first season didn't go over so well with the people running the show. Even though they may have found the episodes funny, it wasn't doing well enough with fans to survive for very long. In fact, they almost ended it after the first season.
The Truth About Jim and Dwight
Just like Pam and Angela, Jim and Dwight are rivals on the show. Their pranks and hijinks were a constant source of amusement for viewers, and they created a favorite dynamic for many fans. When they aren't on screen, however, the two actors are very close friends.