Have you ever seen that show on NBC, The Office? The place where I work is just like that.
I play Ryan, the temp, on the The Office. I'm also one of nine writers who come up with ideas for the show and take turns turning them into scripts.
If you've seen the show before, you'll know that Ryan is the new guy, sort of an observer in the office. He's a character who exists to provide a crucial, impartial point of perspective with which the audience can identify. This is a nice way to say that I don't have that many lines.
Sometimes I'm doing amazingly exciting things like improvising scenes with Steve Carell and revising scripts that we can't believe the network censors are actually going to allow on television. And other times, I'm just sitting in the background for hours, staring at my computer, "in character." For all the excitement of this job, I wind up spending a surprising amount of time actually doing what a lot of people do at their offices — sitting quietly in a suit, at a desk, in front of a computer, trying hard to look busy.
Starting today, I'm going to add to the list of things I do when I'm pretending to be hard at work. Recently, I've gotten through these less-exciting hours talking to people on IM, forming lifelong friends on MySpace, and, giving in to the recent craze on set, staring in fury at empty sudoku boxes. But starting today I'm going to do what a number of my friends do while they're trying to look busy at their own 9-to-5 jobs: keep a blog — in my case for TVGuide.com. We'll see how it goes.
Hmmm. OK. I got it. Here's something that I'm (hopefully) allowed to write about: the backstory of this week's episode. Tonight (at 9:30 pm/ET) is the season premiere of The Office. The episode, "The Dundees," is about the office's annual awards ceremony, which the boss thinks is everyone's favorite night. Because it's an episode that really allows Steve Carell's character to cut loose — performing, among other things, horrendously misguided versions of the songs "O.P.P." and "Mambo No. 5" — we always thought it would make the best season premiere.
And we know that the premiere is likely to be a major episode, especially because it's also going to be one of our most-watched episodes to date: It's the first new episode since Steve won new fans in his movie, The 40 Year Old Virgin, and it follows the premiere of the much-hyped My Name Is Earl. So... yeah, I made my point. We cared a lot about doing this episode the way we wanted to do it.
Anyway, in the show, the awards ceremony takes place at a local Chili's restaurant, which we thought would be fun and true to the show. We didn't want to invent a fake, similar-sounding restaurant, like "Peppers," or "T.G.I. Wednesday's." Since this is supposed to be a realistic show, about realistic offices, we thought setting a place like Chili's would be refreshing. We got permission from Chili's and spent weeks, with their help, reconstructing with painstaking detail a Chili's restaurant in an empty abandoned building. On the first day of shooting, it turned out that Chili's hadn't read the script, which involved, at a crucial moment, a drunk woman vomiting and a character responding by running through the Chili's yelling, "A woman has vomited!"
Well, for some reason, a vomit-filled pit of inebriation not how the Chili's people wanted their restaurant to be portrayed on television. They said they wouldn't allow us to use the set. We wrung our hands for a couple of hours while we figured out other ways to tell the story without forever linking our corporate sponsor to graphic images of public regurgitation. Eventually, we came up with a compromise that we felt was at least as funny, dramatic, and realistic.
Here's another story about tonight's episode. John Krasinski, who plays Jim, will be mad at me for writing, this but it's worth it. The extras playing the waitstaff at Chili's are all actual Chili's workers from around the state. One of them, a pretty, friendly blonde, appeared to have a crush on John. She told people that John reminded her of the comedian Dane Cook, and went out of her way to strike up conversations with him. John is a single guy but, understandably, didn't feel all that comfortable with the situation; the more she talked to him, the more uncomfortable he got. One day toward the end of the week, John freaked out and showed me a letter that the girl had handed to Steve Carell for him to pass on to John:
A dinner, a movie... maybe a dance?
The whole thing rhymed. It wasn't a letter; it was a poem. John was freaking out.
Hours later, Kim from the hair department confided to me that she had written the note, and Steve had been her accomplice in convincing John that he had graduated to a new level of fame: the target of an obsessed fan.
Anyway, if you catch The Office tonight, that's some back story for you to keep in mind. When you see the Chili's, know that we fought hard for it; if you see a pretty waitress in the background, maybe that's the one who practically gave John a heart attack.
And if you notice a guy in a blue shirt, seemingly oblivious to the action, typing away in the background... you'll know a little more about what I'm actually doing.
OK, now I really have to run. [Series cocreators] Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant just showed up on set unannounced. They just watched "The Dundees" and they have feedback. Everyone is dying to hear what they say and desperate to not seem like we're dying to hear what they say.
Until next week...