If your only experience with The Office is via NBC’s long-running American adaptation of the BBC series, you’re missing out. While the original series, which was created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, falls firmly into the “comedy” genre, it’s that very specific—and unnerving—brand of cringe comedy that separates the series from its straight-up comedy competitors (think: The Larry Sanders Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, or The Comeback).
More than 15 years after the Golden Globe-winning series made its debut, fans still can’t get enough of David Brent (Gervais) and his team of office drones at Wernham Hogg. (Just last month, Netflix dropped David Brent: Life on the Road, a feature-length spinoff of the original series.) Here are 20 things you might not have known about The Office.
1. A SHORT VIDEO HELPED SELL THE SHOW TO THE BBC.
Because The Office’s co-creators, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, had never written or directed anything before, they decided to both show and tell what they could do by making “a short video showing off David Brent, so the BBC got an idea of what to expect,” the collaborators told the BBC. “If we'd had only a script to show people, it may never have happened.”
2. SOME OF THE STORYLINES CAME FROM RICKY GERVAIS’S PAST LIFE IN MIDDLE MANAGEMENT.
In an interview with NPR, Gervais explained that the environment at Wernham Hogg was one that was very familiar to him. “I worked in an office for eight years,” Gervais said. “That's where I got it all from. I was a middle manager. I went to management training seminars where the speakers talked rubbish for two days … Episode four in series one, where we had the guy come in to train people, I remember the first training session I went to, and I remember they did role-playing. And I remember at the time thinking, 'This is ridiculous.'”
3. STEPHEN MERCHANT’S DAD PLAYED A KEY ROLE.
One of The Office’s most unique characters is Gordon, the janitor who pops up in a few episodes and silently stares into the camera for an uncomfortable amount of time. In real life, Gordon is Ron Merchant—Stephen’s dad. “Yes, he is my dad and we put him in because we thought he had a funny face,” Merchant explained.
4. IT DIDN’T FARE WELL WITH FOCUS GROUPS.
According to Gervais, when the series was first shown to focus groups, it didn’t play so well. In fact, he says it scored one of the lowest scores in BBC’s history. “It was the joint lowest, [tied] with women's bowls,” Gervais told the Chicago Tribune. “And that's not [American] bowling; bowling is exciting compared with women's bowls. This is women rolling a little white ball at a big black ball, somewhere in the north of England.”
Though the series became a massive hit around the world, the early reviews were not great. Over the years, Gervais has regularly reminded people that one critic even called it “a summer stinker.” The ratings were so poor that The Office was nearly cancelled in its first season. (Eventually, that wrong righted itself.)
5. THE BBC LEFT GERVAIS AND MERCHANT TO THEIR OWN DEVICES.
Despite the poor audience reaction, the BBC trusted Gervais and Merchant enough to allow them to proceed with the show as is. “We didn’t change a thing,” Gervais told the Sun. “We knew how good it was, but that doesn’t guarantee success. For us ‘success’ just meant getting our own way and having it turn out exactly as we wanted. It may still be unheard of in British TV to get left alone like we were as first-time directors. But we didn’t just pitch a script, we made a pilot. I mean—how do you describe David Brent in writing? ‘A man does a bad joke, touches his tie, and looks at the camera?’ Brilliant!”
6. DAVID BRENT IS THE MOST FUN CHARACTER GERVAIS HAS EVER PLAYED.
When asked about the experience of playing David Brent, Gervais admitted to the Sun that, “None of my characters have been as much fun to play as David Brent. People say he was … the ‘boss from hell,’ but he wasn’t. He was just a twit. He was a man whose biggest mistake was confusing popularity with respect.”
7. IT WAS ONE OF LUCY DAVIS’S FAVORITE JOBS, TOO.
“I don’t think it could ever be possible to enjoy a job more than The Office,” Lucy Davis, who played Dawn Tinsley—Werham Hogg’s receptionist (and the object of Tim’s affection)—told the Express. In fact, Davis said that not working with Freeman was one of the toughest parts of her post-Office life. “When The Office finished I was sad to think I’d never work with Martin again because they’d never cast us together—to the public we’d always be Tim and Dawn.”
8. GERVAIS DESCRIBED THE ENSEMBLE CAST AS “A ROOM FULL OF LAURELS AND ONE HARDY.”
When talking about the ensemble nature of the show, Gervais said that, “The Office is basically a room full of Laurels and one Hardy, which is Tim. Tim’s character is pretty common in comedy—that person who thinks they’re better than everyone else, but it doesn’t seem to get them anywhere … Lisa Simpson, Woody Allen, Bob Hope—they’re all Tims.”
9. DAVID BRENT SHOT SOME TRAINING VIDEOS FOR MICROSOFT.
In 2004, Microsoft UK convinced Gervais and Merchant to shoot a couple of training videos for the company, with Gervais in character as Brent. (A guitar was involved.) It didn’t take long for the clips to be leaked online, which irked the tech giant, who said that they "were never intended to be viewed by the public.”
10. MARTIN FREEMAN ORIGINALLY AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF GARETH.
Though it’s hard to imagine The Office’s resident romantic being the butt of everyone’s jokes, Martin Freeman—who played Tim—originally auditioned for the role of Gareth. “I was a well-respected actor before The Office and there's lots of other work I've been proud of that is less well known,” Freeman told Beyond the Joke. “I consider myself primarily a stage actor and if people were only giving me work now because of Tim I'd feel a bit of a fraud. It's funny because until I became the nicest man in Britain I tended to be cast as villains, drug dealers, rent boys, and bare-knuckle fighters." When he auditioned for The Office, “I originally read for the part of Gareth [that went to Mackenzie Crook]. It was only as I was leaving that Ricky asked me to read for Tim.”
11. GARETH IS BASED ON A REAL PERSON.
When asked whether any of the show’s characters were based on real people, Gervais told the Sun that, “Gareth—played by Mackenzie Crook—is based on a bloke I went to school with. He once said, ‘If you get captured by cannibals, they show you pornographic pictures so you get an erection and there’s more meat’. I used his gems for Gareth.”
12. THE ACTOR WHO PLAYED FINCHY WOULD PROBABLY PUNCH FINCHY.
Ralph Ineson, who played Finchy, Brent’s piggish BFF, is very much aware that his character was obnoxious. "Finchy is foul," Ineson told the Mirror. "And there is no way I would be mates with him. I think he could offend me to the point of violence."
The character was so unlikable that Ineson actually worried about whether or not he’d be able to escape out from under him. "Finchy is so over the top, I really did think it would ruin my career,” Ineson admitted. "After filming it I kept saying 'Why did I do it?' I was worried how people would react to his ways and I thought I had done a bad job. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy being in the show. On the contrary, it was fantastic and there was a real buzz about it.”
13. THERE WASN’T A LOT OF IMPROVISATION.
Though the show has a very naturalistic style, similar to Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm (which is mostly improvised), Gervais and Merchant said The Office “was 95 percent scripted, with some improvisation here and there.”
14. MERCHANT DOESN’T THINK THE SHOW COULD’VE BEEN MADE TODAY.
In a 2015 interview, Merchant admitted that he doesn’t know that the series would have been made had they pitched it today. “I feel like we’re living in an age now where everyone is constantly apologizing for everything they say,” Merchant told The Telegraph. “This idea that we have to police ourselves, that we might say the wrong thing and upset someone or something. It’s not fun. It’s just not fun. I don’t think The Office would have got off the ground if we’d made it now. I think it would have been shut down. I think the BBC would have been too jumpy.”
15. BRENT’S NOW-INFAMOUS DANCE WAS NOT REHEARSED.
In a series full of uncomfortable moments, one of the most cringe-worthy might very well be when Brent shows off his dance moves. If you think that routine was choreographed, think again. “It wasn't rehearsed,” Gervais said. “I just went berserk for 30 seconds, then had to have a sit down for 30 minutes.”
16. THE SCRIPTS FOR THE CHRISTMAS EPISODES WERE LEAKED.
An unfortunate accident led to the scripts for the Christmas specials being sold to the Mail on Sunday, which shared them with readers. “Someone at the BBC accidentally sent a script or a schedule or something to the wrong address,” Gervais and Merchant explained of the mix-up. “The woman who mistakenly received it did what any thoughtful, law-abiding citizen would do and sold it to the Mail On Sunday.”
17. IT’S THE FIRST BRITISH SITCOM TO WIN A GOLDEN GLOBE.
In 2004, The Office became the first British sitcom in more than 25 years to be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Television Series - Comedy or Musical. When it won the award, it became the first British series to ever do so. (Ricky Gervais also took home a statue for Best Actor.)
18. SHOOTING TIM’S APPRAISAL REQUIRED 74 TAKES.
When asked about any memorably difficult scenes to shoot, Gervais and Merchant told the BBC that it was the scene in which Brent gives Tim an appraisal—which required 74 takes. “We kept laughing and couldn't get through the dialogue,” Gervais said.
19. THE AMERICAN VERSION OF THE OFFICE ISN’T THE ONLY ADAPTATION.
In addition to the UK and America, The Office has made its way onto television screens around the world. More than 80 countries have broadcast the original series, from Canada to Hong Kong.
The series has also been adapted for audiences around the world. Among the international updates are versions in France (Le Bureau), Germany (Stromberg), Canada (La Job), Chile (La Ofis), Israel (HaMisrad), and Sweden (Kontoret).
20. MERCHANT AND GERVAIS SHARE A FAVORITE MOMENT FROM THE SERIES.
When asked about their favorite scene from the series, both Gervais and Merchant’s answer is the same. “We both like the bit where Tim takes his microphone off at the end of series two,” they told the BBC. Merchant referenced this scene again when he was asked the same question during a Reddit AMA, saying that his favorite thing was, “Shooting the moment when Tim unhooks his mic and tells Dawn how he feels and we never hear what is said. I thought it was a perfect way of using the fake documentary style and telling our story.”
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