Netflix set off a wave of panic Tuesday evening when it announced “The Office” would be leaving in 2021 for NBCUniversal’s planned streaming service, a move the latter’s parent company has hinted at for months. “No! God! Please! No!” Michael Scott yelled in a widely shared GIF. Pam Beesly shed many a tear.
Adapted from a BBC series of the same name, “The Office” landed a whopping 42 Emmy nominations throughout its nine seasons, winning a total of five. Its cast won the Screen Actors Guild Award for best comedy ensemble twice in a row, and the sitcom itself earned a Peabody Award. It performed relatively well for NBC in its eight years, at one point ranking as the network’s highest-rated scripted series.
It appears most would agree that “The Office” is a good show. Great, even.
But if you were to survey the social media of our younger generations, that characterization might rise to the greatest show of all time. A good chunk of millennials and Gen Zers, the oldest of whom would have been in grade school when the sitcom premiered in 2005, quote it on Instagram, on Twitter and even on dating apps, where heterosexual men are often “just a Jim looking for their Pam.”
“The Office” wasn’t always on track to become the pop culture behemoth that it is today. While mind-boggling in 2019, the Hollywood Reporter’s Tuesday description of the sitcom as a “cult favorite” might have been apt in 2005, when the show still risked cancellation. It wasn’t until iTunes (R.I.P.) came to the rescue that the show gained enough of an audience to get renewed for a third season. In 2012, John Krasinski recalled how “people would stop me on the street with buds in their ears and go, ‘Oh, my God!’ And I’d say, ‘What?’ And then they’d turn their iPod around and say, ‘You’re on my iPod!’”
Today, they might say the same in regard to the Netflix app on their iPhones. Pulling from data compiled and analyzed by Nielsen, the Wall Street Journal reported in April that “The Office” was the most-watched show on Netflix during a 12-month period that concluded last summer. It attracted almost 3 percent of total user minutes, meaning that Netflix users spent 45.8 billion minutes basking in Dunder Mifflin’s chaotic energy. This even bests “Friends,” a fellow NBC comedy that attracted 31.8 billion minutes of attention and cost Netflix $100 million to keep through 2019.
Netflix, in a way, has given “The Office” a third life (the second being traditional syndication, which began in 2009). Instead of watching reruns on live television, generations of cord-cutters and cord-never-havers can binge however many episodes they want and whichever episodes they want with the click of a few buttons. It drones on in the background as they make dinner at night. It seeps into their subconscious.
It made perfect sense, then, that Billie Eilish, Gen Z’s most prominent goth-pop star, used to open her concerts with the “Office” theme song. She also ripped Netflix audio from the Season 7 episode “Threat Level Midnight,” in which the Dunder Mifflin employees watch an amateur movie they made themselves, for her chart-topping debut album, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”
“No, Billie, I haven’t done that dance since my wife died,” Michael Scott, as his action movie alter-ego Michael Scarn, says at the start of “My Strange Addiction.” Samples from “Threat Level Midnight” appear throughout the track, and Eilish wound up having to ask all the cast members who appeared in that scene for permission to use the audio. The professed superfan claims to have seen all nine seasons of “The Office” 12 times through, and has referred to watching the show as a form of therapy.
“When I wake up, I put on ‘The Office.’ If I’m making a burrito, I turn on ‘The Office,’ ” she once told Elle magazine. “I need the distraction so I don’t think. It’s like therapy for me.”
It’s no wonder that NBCUniversal would offer Universal Television $100 million per year, for a five-year period, to bring the beloved NBC sitcom home. Netflix tweeted Tuesday, “We’re sad that NBC has decided to take The Office back for its own streaming platform — but members can binge watch the show to their hearts’ content ad-free on Netflix until January 2021.”