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TCA Tour – “The Office” set visit

During my time at the TCA Press Tour, I was fortunate enough to visit the sets of two CBS series (“NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Three Rivers“), two Fox series (“Bones” and “Dollhouse“), and two ABC series (“Castle” and “Private Practice”), but when you get right down to it, my excitement level about all six of those sets probably still didn’t equal out to how psyched I was to visit the set of just one NBC show: “The Office.”

It was an absolutely surreal experience to pull up in front of a building in Valencia, CA, and see a sign which read, “Scranton Business Park,” but it got even more bizarre as we stepped into the Dunder-Mifflin warehouse and immediately saw members of the cast milling about. We were quickly divided into small groups and taken on a tour of the actual Dunder-Mifflin office by cast members, and I was fortunate enough to be part of the group led by Angela Kinsey, who plays Angela Martin on the show.

My wife and I met Angela in 2007 when we attended our first TCA Awards ceremony, as “The Office” had taken home the award for Best Comedy Series that year, so I was already well aware that her real-life personality is the polar opposite of her character’s. She’s constantly laughing, and you could tell that, although she was no doubt drafted into the task of giving us this tour, she loves her job and doesn’t mind talking about it in the slightest. It was incredibly cool to be able to see the intricacies of the various certificates on the walls of the office, as well as the personal photos on each of the desks, but I think my favorite moment was when she told us that Brian Baumgartner, who plays Kevin, still has a post-it on his desk that was written during the very first episode of the show. No, wait, I take that back: it might’ve been when she recited back to us the way she used to have to answer the phone when she was an operator for 1-800-DENTIST. Well, either way, it was a real treat to have her give us the tour personally. We were also given the opportunity to take our photo at Michael Scott’s desk, which I absolutely took advantage of, but all things considered, I think I actually might like this shot from Pam’s desk better:

After the set visit, we returned to the warehouse, where we were each presented with our own nameplates which declared us to be Assistant to the Regional Manager of Dunder-Mifflin…and you can bet that mine sits on my desk at this very moment. From there, we were offered coffee and pastries as we sat down for a Q&A with the cast (minus Rainn Wilson, who wasn’t feeling well) and producers of the show.

It won’t surprise you to learn that there were many laughs to be had, but few were timed quite as well as the first one. The question at hand was a simple one relating to the fact that the series was celebrating its 100th episode: “Did you expect it to last this long?” Producer Greg Daniels began to answer the question, saying, “I don’t think any of us did. You know…” Suddenly, there was much whispering from Steve Carell. Daniels leaned over to hear what Carell was saying, nodded, then looked back at the critic who’d asked the question and replied, “That’s what she said.”

(Carell also proceeded to get the next laugh, when, after being asked how he keeps finding depth in a character who ultimately is very shallow at the surface, he replied, “I just model it after my own shallow self.”)

If you’re looking for news about the upcoming season, we were able to get a little bit here and there. At various points during the Q&A, the following information was revealed:

* As you might expect from someone who’s preparing to become both a husband and a father, Jim’s going to be going through some changes this year. “I think Jim’s ambition has always been more of an issue than his skill,” said B.J. Novak (Ryan). “I think it seems to most of the writers that he would be great if he tried, and I think one of the themes this year is Jim going for it more and trying and challenging himself, especially with the wedding and the baby on the way. I think that that will be really fun to see.”

* As far as the Pam / Jim relationship goes, most of what we’ll see will take place within Dunder-Mifflin. “I think we’re going to try to see it in the office and how that affects people who work together,” said Paul Lieberstein (Toby). “But we will be going out for the wedding. We’ll meet the family, and it will be fun.”

* Per Jenna Fischer, “Pam is going to be walking down the aisle very soon because she is pregnant, but trying to hide that from certain members of her family. So they’re getting married pretty quickly…in, like, the fourth episode. I actually just had a fitting for Pam’s wedding dresses, like, just right before I walked in here, and that was a really special moment.”

* According to Lieberstein, there will be more romance in the office beyond Pam and Jim. “Andy likes Erin,” he revealed. “Erin isn’t quite aware of that yet, and we’ll play that out for you.”

* Sadly, however, Michael should prepare for a dry spell. “I guess it might be a rough year for Michael Scott,” said Lieberstein. “There’s no one on his horizon.”

* After being prompted for further information about the season, Lieberstein and Daniels had a brief huddle before the former gave up an upcoming storyline which takes place at Dunder-Mifflin while Pam and Jim are on their honeymoon. “Michael is meeting with an Italian gentleman, and it comes to everyone’s belief that Michael has just met with the mafia, and they’re extorting him for insurance money,” he said. “The coalition of reason is a little weak in the office.”

* Also in the cards for an upcoming episode: a Dunder-Mifflin shareholders meeting.

There was also considerable talk during the Q&A about the changes that have gone on with the characters of “The Office” since the series began. Two of the most notable: Steve Carell’s hair and weight.

“Part of the evolution was between that pilot and Season Two, I lost about 25 pounds, in part because of ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin,’” explained Carell. “That sort of formed the look partially there. I think that first year, the look was really scary. I don’t know if there was any word from the hierarchy at NBC that he needed to be at least reasonably watchable, but there wasn’t any big conscious decision. The hair just changed a little bit and got a little fluffy.”

“Part of the character changed, though,” noted Daniels. “Michael was more an antagonist in the first season, and, you know, became much more a person that you rooted for. So you had to root for somebody with less hair gel.”

“I’ve always sort of seen him as a sympathetic character,” Carell observed. “You know, even people who are obnoxious and in-your-face or unlikable to most, I believe that there are other sides and other gray areas to everybody, and I always felt that he was a kind of guy whose intentions were good and his heart was in the right place, but he just has a disconnect socially, and sort of that emotional blind spot. So that’s kind of how I’ve proceeded with the character.”

In the first season, the computers of the supporting characters didn’t even work. “My agent actually told me that we were required to bring paperwork to look busy,” said Kate Flannery (Meredith).

“I thought I was going to a temp job,” said Oscar Nunez. “It was a great gig. Basically, you just want to get on with your work and not be filmed. So as an actor, it’s weird, because you’re like, ‘Oh, the camera.’ And you just don’t want to be filmed.”

“My memory of the first year or two was Oscar and Angela and I in the corner deciding that our show was better,” said Brian Baumgartner (Kevin). “And we were just going to make up bits and force people to film them whenever we could.”

“We also said that we could maybe pitch it to Telemundo,” said Angela. “‘Los Contadores‘!”

The evolution of the Jim & Pam relationship was also a topic of conversation, which John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer were more than happy to discuss.

“You know, when the relationship started and it was kind of an unrequited love relationship, I would get a lot of fan mail from people who were also pining away for someone else in their office, and they were enjoying watching that,” said Fischer. “And then when we finally got together, we’d get mail like thatwe’re expecting.” So I feel like we’re sort of growing up with our fans, and we’re going through those same life stages as the people who have been watching us from the beginning. I think maybe that’s one of the reasons why the relationship has continued to be successful: it’s been growing realistically.”

“I definitely would attribute it all to the writers,” said Krasinski. “I think that we’ve had a great time doing it, but I think there’s very little credit that we can take for the ideas and what it is to go ahead and do. And I think that to write such incredibly real moments has always been my favorite part of the relationship. Probably my favorite episode is ‘Booze Cruise,’ and that moment on the top of the boat where they allowed silence to play at the moment that I was supposed to tell her that I loved her. I knew from then that I’d just sort of do whatever they told me to do with this relationship, and I think that they followed that. I loved when they said that we would find out that we were pregnant before we got married. And I just thought, ‘That’s real, and it’s gutsy.’ And you kind of would follow people anywhere if they choose to be that gutsy.”

Lastly, if you’ve been sticking with the show in hopes that the documentary that’s been filmed in Dunder-Mifflin for all of these years will finally be released (as was the premise of the concluding special for the British “Office”), I hate to break it to you, but you’ve been wasting your time.

“Well, in the beginning, we always said that, if we ran out of ideas for the way the show was being produced, we would see the documentary,” admitted Daniels. “And having said that now, we might not be ever able to see the documentary, since it will be a mission of defeat in some way.”

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