Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Successful adaptation of U.K. comedy series finally gets pink slip

  • Print
Ed Helms as Andy Bernard


Ed Helms as Andy Bernard

At first glance, it seemed like a pretty bad idea.

Making a U.S.-network adaptation of the beloved BBC comedy The Office -- a short-run series (only 15 episodes were produced) whose squirm-inducing brilliance was the product of the unique comic vision of creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant -- was an endeavour with very limited chance of succeeding.

Hollywood, after all, has had a rather checkered history when it comes to creating American versions of British TV shows. And the better the Brit original, it seems, the worse the U.S.-produced spinoff usually turns out to be.

Sure, there have been successes, like the adaptations of Till Death Us Do Part into All in the Family, Steptoe and Son into Sanford and Son and Man About the House into Three's Company, but for every winning across-the-pond spinoff, there has been a handful of New World losers along the lines of Coupling, Men Behaving Badly, Prime Suspect and, heaven forbid, Payne and Amanda's (both of which were short-lived attempts to re-create Fawlty Towers).

The track record is so laughably bad, in fact, that there's actually a series (the clever Showtime-cable comedy Episodes, starring Friends alumnus Matt LeBlanc) that lampoons Hollywood's ham-handed approach to importing and adapting Britcoms. It's funny because it is, on many levels, true.

The original Brit version of The Office ran for only two seasons, and then Gervais and Merchant shuttered the Wernham Hogg plant and moved on to other projects. If NBC's spinoff turned out to be successful beyond its initial six-episode run, its writers would be expected to churn out more scripts per season (22) than Gervais and Merchant did for their entire series.

The smart money was on a disastrous outcome. But then something happened. The U.S. version's producer, Greg Daniels, whose previous TV success was in animated comedies (The Simpsons, King of the Hill), did a remarkable job of casting the new NBC project.

Steve Carell, fresh off a five-year stint as a fake-news correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, was hired to play Michael Scott, the office manager at the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company's branch in Scranton, Pa.

And he did what nobody thought was possible: he immediately made the role originated by Gervais (as Wernham Hogg's creepy Slough-branch boss, David Brent) his own, and gained the respect of even the Brit version's most staunch defenders.

Carell, as Scott, offered a more comfortably direct form of stupidity than the skin-crawly type exhibited by Brent, and because of that, he created a character more palatable to viewers for the long run.

Daniels and company surrounded Carell with a great supporting cast, led by Rainn Wilson as hyper-efficiently inept second-in-command Dwight Schrute, and John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer as headed-for-romance officemates Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly. Over time, many others in the ensemble cast would be elevated to equal-player status.

But it was Carell who drove NBC's version of The Office, and by the time he departed the series after Season 7, most of its momentum -- both creative and commercial -- had been lost. The diminished importance of the series as a ratings/revenue driver is evident in the fact it's been a couple of seasons since a Canadian network saw fit to simulcast it in this country.

Most observers believe it would have been wise to end the series a couple of years ago with Michael Scott's departure, but ratings-starved NBC -- which has very little success launching new comedies in recent years -- simply could not afford to shut down a series that was still producing a positive bottom line.

And now, as The Office bids farewell with a super-sized 75-minute finale (Thursday at 8 p.m. on NBC), it's a goodbye that not all that many people will even notice. The episode, in which it has been widely reported that Carell will make at least a cameo appearance, will involve the Dunder Mifflin gang gathering at a local tavern to watch the PBS broadcast of the documentary whose filming they've been part of for the past nine years.

It's a smart way to bring closure to the series, and those who tune in the finale will likely be well rewarded for the effort. It won't be remembered as one of TV's greatest-ever sitcoms, but the U.S. version of The Office accomplished something pretty spectacular just by being pretty darned good. Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 11, 2013 G4

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Selinger addresses stadium lawsuit

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A monarch butterfly looks for nectar in Mexican sunflowers at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Monday afternoon-Monarch butterflys start their annual migration usually in late August with the first sign of frost- Standup photo– August 22, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local/Weather Standup- Catching rays. Prairie Dog stretches out at Fort Whyte Centre. Fort Whyte has a Prairie Dog enclosure with aprox. 20 dogs young and old. 060607.

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google