As the last call for tears and laughs slowly fades away, The Office becomes another generational NBC program. The media giant is home to some of the most preeminent television series in history, including Cheers, Seinfeld, Frasier, The Cosby Show and Friends. The reaction to whether The Office will take its seat among these bannermen is nothing short of complicated.
Out of a cannon, The Office immediately falls short in rating comparisons. Sure, it won plenty of award show metal, but where Friends could pull between 22-26 million viewers in its final five seasons, The Office could only haul in 4-7 million viewers. Though Nielsen ratings are a bane to creativity in the television medium, similar to standardized tests in schools, and they may be remorsefully inaccurate on many levels, they are the agreed upon baseline.
Historically, it’s important to note that even NBC’s Cheers was never a ratings darling until middle age. It premiered as the lowest rated show its first season. The Office found its roots sooner than the Boston barroom, thanks in part to Steve Carell’s score with The 40 Year-Old Virgin.
What numbers won’t gauge is the writing and production that came from The Office. Reinventing Ricky Gervais’ BBC comedy of the same name was incredibly difficult at the time. It only takes a quick listen to commentary on the first season’s DVD to realize that much of the first few episodes were primarily focused on making the jokes American and translating the original show’s British humor for its new audience.
The Office does share many of the same themes as its original counterpart - the banality of reality exemplified by the show’s format. It provided a look at the stagnating life of office workers, particularly those denying fate in a dying industry like paper. Though the show degenerated in its final seasons, the core of The Office is a masterful addition for NBC.
The Friends and Cheers finales were a Super Bowl-like affair, gathering groups of people together to stuff popcorn in their face and joke about the intolerable pastries so-and-so brought. A large crowd even formed outside the Boston Common location prior to the Cheers finale. The Office was less striking in its end amongst viewers, but faithfully endured with the cast and creators’ farewell visit to the town they made all too famous, and where the publishing HQ of The Current can be found, Scranton, PA.
A television show can be a ratings darling but hold little in the hearts of its audience - I’m looking at you Law and Order, CSI and all your spin-offs. Where The Office finds its place on the NBC mantelpiece is in the characters it brought to its viewers. Jim and Pam are among the greats in television couples, right next to Ross and Rachel. Michael Scott is just as nostalgic as Seinfeld, Bill Cosby and Sam Malone.
We are often callous and disinterested in much of the shows we initially approach today. We want to be wooed in the first episodes, having the show’s blueprint laid out on the table for our approval. But when a series can transcend this deplorable approach, when characters can outlive their actors, something like The Office can create what is truly magical about television.