[03/05/07 - 04:37 PM]
Live at the Paley Festival: NBC's "The Office"
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

8:07 p.m.: Pat Mitchell and William C. Paley are back to intro the festival's self-described "largest panel ever" as nearly two dozen cast members and producers are set to appear from the show.

8:13 p.m.: First up - The Hollywood Reporter's Cynthia Littleton, who will moderate the discussion. Pat has left some big shoes to fill.

8:16 p.m.: Cynthia welcomes the participants and turns over the podium to executive producer Greg Daniels. He jokes that he's sorry that - considering the astronomical eBay prices some people paid to be here - he won't be debuting any medical breakthroughs tonight. Alternatively, he's brought with him the J.J. Abrams-directed episode "Cocktails" as well as a 20-minute rough cut from "Labor Negotiations" (the show's next new episode, woohoo!) and a gag reel from this season. I won't spoil much from said installment other than it involves Wikipedia, a woman's suit, a camera phone and the return of Michael's Chris Rock impersonation. In other words, it's as awesome as you'd expect.

8:00 p.m.: Cynthia remerges to formally intro the panel: Ben Silverman (executive producer), Randall Einhorn (director of photography), Craig Robinson (Darryl), Creed Bratton (Creed), Phyllis Smith (Phyllis), Oscar Nunez (Oscar), Brian Baumgartner (Kevin), Ed Helms (Andy), Angela Kinsey (Angela), Jenna Fischer (Pam), Rainn Wilson (Dwight), Steve Carell (Michael), Melora Hardin (Jan)...

8:11 p.m.: ... (After 11 minutes of introductions, it dawns on Cynthia that to speed things up, maybe she shouldn't be reading each actor's complete IMDB profile.) ... David Denman (Roy), Leslie David Baker (Stanley), Rashida Jones (Karen), Kate Flannery (Meredith), B.J. Novak (Ryan), Mindy Kaling (Kelly), Paul Lieberstein (Toby), Michael Schur (co-executive producer), Jennifer Celotta (co-executive producer) and Greg Daniels.

8:16 p.m.: Michael Schur on the show's serialized storytelling: "We try to have some sense of where we're going because it makes writing a lot easier. But there's a lot of emergency 'what the hell is going to happen?' sessions. We spend eight or 10 weeks I think before we start shooting [each season] just sitting around and talking about what's going to happen to Michael, what's going to happen to Jenna and all that stuff. And that gets you to about the middle of the season and then you're screwed... By this point in the year we've got a month left of shooting and we know everything that's going to happen but two weeks ago I don't think we could have said that."

8:18 p.m.: Greg on the show's "talking head" confessionals: "Even from the pilot we had the actors come up with their own stuff a lot of times. I think it's the area that probably has the most original generation of stuff from the actors. And if they are feeling less than inspired, there's a complete script.. but often times some of them enjoy making stuff up." Michael adds, "I don't think Rainn has ever not given [for example] an alternative version."

8:21 p.m.: Jenna chimes in: "I remember when we were shooting the pilot and Greg called me up at home one night before work and I thought he was going to fire me. I really did. Because executive producers don't usually call the actors at home the night before work unless it's bad. But he called up and he said, 'So Jenna, tomorrow we're going to do some of your talking heads and I was just thinking maybe you could talk a little bit about Roy and maybe where you think you guys started your relationship. I don't want to give you any ideas, I just want to see what you can come in with. We'll ask you about that relationship and you can just talk about it.' It was kind of when I knew when I was on a really special show that they valued actors' input. We were brought into the creative process right from the beginning and we still do that."

8:23 p.m.: Greg on why there are so many actor/writers on the show: "I'm a big fan of a lot of English comedy and it seems like over there especially the actors and the writers are the same people, like 'Monthy Python' or the original English show ['The Office'] was based on. So when I looked to hire the writing staff... I was looking for [people] who could do some performing too."

8:24 p.m.: NBC Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly's favorite character: Toby.

8:26 p.m.: Ben Silverman on the genesis of the U.S. version of "The Office": "There's no question if [we] hadn't had that underlying material [from the U.K. original] there was no way this kind of concept of a no laugh track, faux documentary would ever get to air. And the underlying material was fantastic and it had a universality to it in that kind of dead end workplace. But where Greg and I really responded is we saw this opportunity for... an American actor to kind of create a new Archie Bunker, which I think Steve has just owned and brought his own personality and vibe and energy and the whole show lived in this kind of very edgy space around the office and around issues like race and class and sexual orientation and it does it all through comedy very much in the way that Archie Bunker did 35 years ago. And there's not anything else really exploring those themes and both Greg and I just responded to that underlying material. We knew it was a way for a network to buy into something that was totally different and then it started to attract this unbelievable roster of talent both on the writing, directing and performing side."

8:30 p.m.: Greg on Randall Einhorn: "In addition to directing episodes and being the DP, he is the man holding the camera and he becomes a character in the show because Randall has an enormous amount of judgment/leeway about where he's looking. And often [what] adds a tremendous amount of comedy is the choosing to look over there and see what that person thinks and back and forth. He's definitely a hidden character on the show."

8:35 p.m.: Cynthia asks Steve where Michael Scott sits among the "pantheon of doofusness" of characters he's played. "How long did you think about that question?" Steve jokes. "I think he's a man who clearly lacks self-awareness. And I've always said that if he even caught a glimpse of who he really is his head would explode. And someone, Ricky said, about his character that I think that applies to Michael Scott too is that if you don't know [a] Michael Scott, you are [a] Michael Schott... It's really fun to play because he obviously can pretty much get away with saying anything. And the way that the writers have created the dialogue, he can say the most incredibly offensive things yet he in of himself is not an offensive person. The season opener this year was 'Gay Witch Hunt.' I really liked this episode a lot because it spoke to the fact that Michael is not a homophobe he just doesn't understand the world. They are two very different things. It's not that he's intrinsically racist or homophobic or sexist, he just doesn't have a frame of reference. He's not capable of understanding. And once he does gleam some understanding he misinterprets it into something altogether. But I think at least the way I feel about the character is he's a decent heart, a decent person and he's just trying his best."

8:36 p.m.: Greg says the "lip touch" in that episode wasn't in the script, which causes Oscar and Steve to recreate it. I'm not kidding - they made out in front of us. This is why people should come to these things. Oscar adds that in the original moment, he could "feel" Steve through his linen pants. Seriously people, worth every penny to see these.

8:41 p.m.: Cynthia asks a long-winded question to Rainn about how "The Office" relates to class warfare: "I don't know. What was the question? I take great pride in my haircut... someone want to take this?"

8:42 p.m.: Angela Kinsey says she used to answer phones for 1-800-DENTIST. "I definitely relate to that when I'm playing Angela Martin and how serious she takes everything."

8:43 p.m.: Rainn originally worried that Dwight was going to be perceived as a villain to which Greg wrote a page long "ode to Dwight" e-mail describing how he viewed him and his role on "The Office." "I really should find it somewhere and put it on the internets," he adds. "He talked about how Dwight has this adolescent love of hierarchies. And that's always stuck with me. If I ever get a little ungrounded in a scene wondering what I'm playing here, I'll think - 'adolescent love of hierarchies' - and I'm right there. I don't see him as angry at the system, I see him as just loving the system. He would have made an excellent Nazi."

8:44 p.m.: Cynthia asks Steve if Michael really believes the stuff he says: "Again, if he didn't believe it, he would die. He's a shark. He needs to keep swimming forward or he will die. I believe that he goes home at the end of the day and prepares his comedy bits, thinks about what version of the same tie he's going to wear. I think he lives for that yeah. And I think he truly believes it because it's one of the few thing that is tangible to him and that he can hold on to."

8:45 p.m.: Time of audience Q&A. Rainn talks about making a mall appearance in the real Scranton (where the show takes place): "It was extraordinary. I was driven around the city of Scranton in a stretch Hummer by the mayor... they are so ga-ga in that city for our show. I felt like Justin Timberlake. There was a line from the mall stretching down around the street. And I had mentioned on a radio interview that [they should have] $6 Dwight haircuts at the mall. Big banner: Dwight haircuts, $6! There were five guys who all got Dwight haircuts [mimics the hair]. It was crazy but the city of Scranton loves the show. I was made an honorary Sheriff's Deputy. I just have to go pick up my badge. I was made an honorary police officer of the city of Scranton and not to be outdone, I was made an honorary mall security guard."

8:50 p.m.: A fan asks Brian Baumgartner if there will ever be a real Scrantonocity CD. "It really sucks that the Police tried to outdo me," he says referring to their recent Grammy reunion. "Actually Sting gave me a call the other night and asked me to open for them on their tour. We're trying to work out the split at the gate."

8:52 p.m.: Someone confesses that she's on "Team Karen," a remark that warms Rashida Jones' heart: "I was a huge fan of the show before I was on it and like, I was rooting for Pam. It put me in a weird position but because the writers are so good and made me likable - I'm a horrible person in real life - and they did a really good job of making it confusing for viewers too, I think... But the fact that anybody is rooting for me at all makes me so happy."

8:53 p.m.: Rainn asks, "Where the hell is Jim anyway? Oh wait, he's shooting that George Clooney movie."

8:54 p.m.: Leslie David Baker relates his own office experiences: "I've worked in real offices before. And you know how you get to work in the morning and you look around and go, 'Damn, nobody died on the way to work today.' And now I have to play a person who comes to work every day and wonders, 'Damn, nobody died on the way to work today.'"

8:58 p.m.: Jenna talks about how back when they didn't know if they were going to go beyond 12 episodes, she asked Greg if they were going to shoot an extra scene in which Pam and Jim kiss just in case they didn't get picked up. Adding, "and not just because John Krasinski's a hottie." (They never did shoot it.)

8:59 p.m.: Scoop! Greg reveals they'll return with a "supersize" episode (the one they screened for us) and the season finale will be one hour.

9:01 p.m.: Greg says he's brought some prizes along for those who know their "Office" trivia. The questions: "What was Andy's screen name in 'Call of Duty?'" "What is Michael Scott's favorite sandwich?" "What was Dwight's birthday present to Michael and what was written on it?" "What was the name of Michael's screenplay?" "What was Karen's screen name?" "What does the framed certificate behind Michael's desk say?" I knew none of them. I should be flogged.

9:07 p.m.: Lastly, Cynthia asks what exactly Creed does on the show. "My character is Quality Assurance. You call up and ask about the quality of the paper and I assure them that it's good."

9:08 p.m.: That's it folks, see you at the next session.

COMING TUESDAY: ABC's "Brothers & Sisters."

  [march 2007]  


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