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20 Surprising Facts About The Office

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If your only experience with The Office is via NBC’s long-running American adaptation of the BBC series, you’re missing out. While the original series, which was created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, falls firmly into the “comedy” genre, it’s that very specific—and unnerving—brand of cringe comedy that separates the series from its straight-up comedy competitors (think: The Larry Sanders Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, or The Comeback).

More than 15 years after the Golden Globe-winning series made its debut, fans still can’t get enough of David Brent (Gervais) and his team of office drones at Wernham Hogg. (Just last month, Netflix dropped David Brent: Life on the Road, a feature-length spinoff of the original series.) Here are 20 things you might not have known about The Office.

1. A SHORT VIDEO HELPED SELL THE SHOW TO THE BBC.

Because The Office’s co-creators, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, had never written or directed anything before, they decided to both show and tell what they could do by making “a short video showing off David Brent, so the BBC got an idea of what to expect,” the collaborators told the BBC. “If we'd had only a script to show people, it may never have happened.”

2. SOME OF THE STORYLINES CAME FROM RICKY GERVAIS’S PAST LIFE IN MIDDLE MANAGEMENT.

In an interview with NPR, Gervais explained that the environment at Wernham Hogg was one that was very familiar to him. “I worked in an office for eight years,” Gervais said. “That's where I got it all from. I was a middle manager. I went to management training seminars where the speakers talked rubbish for two days … Episode four in series one, where we had the guy come in to train people, I remember the first training session I went to, and I remember they did role-playing. And I remember at the time thinking, 'This is ridiculous.'”

3. STEPHEN MERCHANT’S DAD PLAYED A KEY ROLE.

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One of The Office’s most unique characters is Gordon, the janitor who pops up in a few episodes and silently stares into the camera for an uncomfortable amount of time. In real life, Gordon is Ron Merchant—Stephen’s dad. “Yes, he is my dad and we put him in because we thought he had a funny face,” Merchant explained.

4. IT DIDN’T FARE WELL WITH FOCUS GROUPS.

According to Gervais, when the series was first shown to focus groups, it didn’t play so well. In fact, he says it scored one of the lowest scores in BBC’s history. “It was the joint lowest, [tied] with women's bowls,” Gervais told the Chicago Tribune. “And that's not [American] bowling; bowling is exciting compared with women's bowls. This is women rolling a little white ball at a big black ball, somewhere in the north of England.”

Though the series became a massive hit around the world, the early reviews were not great. Over the years, Gervais has regularly reminded people that one critic even called it “a summer stinker.” The ratings were so poor that The Office was nearly cancelled in its first season. (Eventually, that wrong righted itself.)

5. BBC LEFT GERVAIS AND MERCHANT TO THEIR OWN DEVICES.

Despite the poor audience reaction, the BBC trusted Gervais and Merchant enough to allow them to proceed with the show as is. “We didn’t change a thing,” Gervais told the Sun. “We knew how good it was, but that doesn’t guarantee success. For us ‘success’ just meant getting our own way and having it turn out exactly as we wanted. It may still be unheard of in British TV to get left alone like we were as first-time directors. But we didn’t just pitch a script, we made a pilot. I mean—how do you describe David Brent in writing? ‘A man does a bad joke, touches his tie, and looks at the camera?’ Brilliant!”

6. DAVID BRENT IS THE MOST FUN CHARACTER GERVAIS HAS EVER PLAYED.

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When asked about the experience of playing David Brent, Gervais admitted to the Sun that, “None of my characters have been as much fun to play as David Brent. People say he was … the ‘boss from hell,’ but he wasn’t. He was just a twit. He was a man whose biggest mistake was confusing popularity with respect.”

7. IT WAS ONE OF LUCY DAVIS’S FAVORITE JOBS, TOO.

“I don’t think it could ever be possible to enjoy a job more than The Office,” Lucy Davis, who played Dawn Tinsley—Werham Hogg’s receptionist (and the object of Tim’s affection)—told the Express. In fact, Davis said that not working with Freeman was one of the toughest parts of her post-Office life. “When The Office finished I was sad to think I’d never work with Martin again because they’d never cast us together—to the public we’d always be Tim and Dawn.”

8. GERVAIS DESCRIBED THE ENSEMBLE CAST AS “A ROOM FULL OF LAURELS AND ONE HARDY.”

When talking about the ensemble nature of the show, Gervais said that, “The Office is basically a room full of Laurels and one Hardy, which is Tim. Tim’s character is pretty common in comedy—that person who thinks they’re better than everyone else, but it doesn’t seem to get them anywhere … Lisa Simpson, Woody Allen, Bob Hope—they’re all Tims.”

9. DAVID BRENT SHOT SOME TRAINING VIDEOS FOR MICROSOFT.

In 2004, Microsoft UK convinced Gervais and Merchant to shoot a couple of training videos for the company, with Gervais in character as Brent. (A guitar was involved.) It didn’t take long for the clips to be leaked online, which irked the tech giant, who said that they "were never intended to be viewed by the public.”

10. MARTIN FREEMAN ORIGINALLY AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF GARETH.

Though it’s hard to imagine The Office’s resident romantic being the butt of everyone’s jokes, Martin Freeman—who played Tim—originally auditioned for the role of Gareth. “I was a well-respected actor before The Office and there's lots of other work I've been proud of that is less well known,” Freeman told Beyond the Joke. “I consider myself primarily a stage actor and if people were only giving me work now because of Tim I'd feel a bit of a fraud. It's funny because until I became the nicest man in Britain I tended to be cast as villains, drug dealers, rent boys, and bare-knuckle fighters." When he auditioned for The Office, “I originally read for the part of Gareth [that went to Mackenzie Crook]. It was only as I was leaving that Ricky asked me to read for Tim.”

11. GARETH IS BASED ON A REAL PERSON.

When asked whether any of the show’s characters were based on real people, Gervais told the Sun that, “Gareth—played by Mackenzie Crook—is based on a bloke I went to school with. He once said, ‘If you get captured by cannibals, they show you pornographic pictures so you get an erection and there’s more meat’. I used his gems for Gareth.”

12. THE ACTOR WHO PLAYED FINCHY WOULD PROBABLY PUNCH FINCHY.

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Ralph Ineson, who played Finchy, Brent’s piggish BFF, is very much aware that his character was obnoxious. "Finchy is foul," Ineson told the Mirror. "And there is no way I would be mates with him. I think he could offend me to the point of violence."

The character was so unlikable that Ineson actually worried about whether or not he’d be able to escape out from under him. "Finchy is so over the top, I really did think it would ruin my career,” Ineson admitted. "After filming it I kept saying 'Why did I do it?' I was worried how people would react to his ways and I thought I had done a bad job. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy being in the show. On the contrary, it was fantastic and there was a real buzz about it.”

13. THERE WASN’T A LOT OF IMPROVISATION.

Though the show has a very naturalistic style, similar to Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm (which is mostly improvised), Gervais and Merchant said The Office “was 95 percent scripted, with some improvisation here and there.”

14. MERCHANT DOESN’T THINK THE SHOW COULD’VE BEEN MADE TODAY.

In a 2015 interview, Merchant admitted that he doesn’t know that the series would have been made had they pitched it today. “I feel like we’re living in an age now where everyone is constantly apologizing for everything they say,” Merchant told The Telegraph. “This idea that we have to police ourselves, that we might say the wrong thing and upset someone or something. It’s not fun. It’s just not fun. I don’t think The Office would have got off the ground if we’d made it now. I think it would have been shut down. I think the BBC would have been too jumpy.”

15. BRENT’S NOW-INFAMOUS DANCE WAS NOT REHEARSED.

In a series full of uncomfortable moments, one of the most cringe-worthy might very well be when Brent shows off his dance moves. If you think that routine was choreographed, think again. “It wasn't rehearsed,” Gervais said. “I just went berserk for 30 seconds, then had to have a sit down for 30 minutes.”

16. THE SCRIPTS FOR THE CHRISTMAS EPISODES WERE LEAKED.

An unfortunate accident led to the scripts for the Christmas specials being sold to the Mail on Sunday, which shared them with readers. “Someone at the BBC accidentally sent a script or a schedule or something to the wrong address,” Gervais and Merchant explained of the mix-up. “The woman who mistakenly received it did what any thoughtful, law-abiding citizen would do and sold it to the Mail On Sunday.”

17. IT’S THE FIRST BRITISH SITCOM TO WIN A GOLDEN GLOBE.

In 2004, The Office became the first British sitcom in more than 25 years to be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Television Series - Comedy or Musical. When it won the award, it became the first British series to ever do so. (Ricky Gervais also took home a statue for Best Actor.)

18. SHOOTING TIM’S APPRAISAL REQUIRED 74 TAKES.

When asked about any memorably difficult scenes to shoot, Gervais and Merchant told the BBC that it was the scene in which Brent gives Tim an appraisal—which required 74 takes. “We kept laughing and couldn't get through the dialogue,” Gervais said.

19. THE AMERICAN VERSION OF THE OFFICE ISN’T THE ONLY ADAPTATION.

In addition to the UK and America, The Office has made its way onto television screens around the world. More than 80 countries have broadcast the original series, from Canada to Hong Kong.

The series has also been adapted for audiences around the world. Among the international updates are versions in France (Le Bureau), Germany (Stromberg), Canada (La Job), Chile (La Ofis), Israel (HaMisrad), and Sweden (Kontoret).

20. MERCHANT AND GERVAIS SHARE A FAVORITE MOMENT FROM THE SERIES.

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When asked about their favorite scene from the series, both Gervais and Merchant’s answer is the same. “We both like the bit where Tim takes his microphone off at the end of series two,” they told the BBC. Merchant referenced this scene again when he was asked the same question during a Reddit AMA, saying that his favorite thing was, “Shooting the moment when Tim unhooks his mic and tells Dawn how he feels and we never hear what is said. I thought it was a perfect way of using the fake documentary style and telling our story.”

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The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
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Shout! Factory

For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at ShoutFactoryTV.com, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)

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11 Bite-Sized Facts About Cannibal! The Musical
Troma Entertainment
Troma Entertainment

Back in their film school days, the creators of South Park made a twisted tribute to Rogers and Hammerstein. Cannibal! The Musical is (very) loosely based on the life of Alfred "Alferd" Packer, an American prospector who resorted to eating his travel companions in the harsh winter of 1874. Below, you’ll find a buffet of bite-sized facts about this weirdly upbeat black comedy. Bon appétit!

1. IT ALL STARTED WITH A GAG TRAILER.

In 1992, Trey Parker was studying film at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where pretty much everyone knows all about the legend of Alfred "Alferd" Packer. Indeed, when a new restaurant opened up on campus in 1968, the student body chose to name it after this famous man-eater. The restaurant’s slogan? “Have a friend for lunch.” As a joke, Parker rounded up some of his fellow film majors and spent three days shooting a phony trailer for a nonexistent movie called Alferd Packer: The Musical. Included in the ensemble was Matt Stone, with whom Parker would go on to create South Park.

Once the Alferd Packer promo was finished, those who worked on it weren’t sure if they could turn this concept into a feature-length picture. Fortunately, the trailer was a huge hit. “People thought it was really funny,” Parker told The Denver Post, “so we went around … and said, ‘So do you want to invest?’” Thanks (for the most part) to donations from a few CU grads with wealthy parents, Parker and his co-stars amassed a $100,000 budget.

2. LIANE THE HORSE WAS NAMED AFTER TREY PARKER’S EX-FIANCÉE.

At age 21, Parker was all set to marry his high school sweetheart. “We had plane tickets, the dress was bought, the church was paid for,” Parker shared on the DVD commentary. Then, about a month before the wedding, he caught his bride-to-be with another man. Devastated, Parker broke off the engagement and came up with an unusual way to get even. “I really wrote this movie for her,” he said.

A major character in Cannibal is Liane, Packer’s beloved horse, who leaves him for another rider. The two-timing equine was named after Parker’s former fiancée. Some artistic license was taken here, as there’s no proof that the real Packer ever owned a horse named Liane—or that he ever wistfully sang about being on top of her.

3. AN AVANT-GARDE LEGEND WAS CAST IN A MINOR ROLE.

World-renowned for his experimental filmmaking, the late Stan Brakhage taught off and on at the University of Colorado, where he met Parker and Stone. The two convinced him to appear in Cannibal! as George Noon’s father, who gets about two minutes’ worth of screen time.

4. PARKER’S DAD WAS IN IT, TOO.

Just like Stan Marsh’s dad in South Park, Trey Parker’s father, Randy, is a geologist. In Cannibal! The Musical, he portrays the Breckenridge judge who sentences Packer (played by Trey) to death.

5. “SHPADOINKLE” WAS MEANT AS A FILLER WORD.

In addition to penning the Cannibal! script, Parker also wrote the film’s musical numbers. The first of these is “Shpadoinkle Day,” an offbeat tribute to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Parker knew that the first verse had to include a positive, three-syllable word, but couldn’t think of any that fit. So he used the made-up term “Shpadoinkle” to plug the gap until he could come up with an alternative. However, the creative team liked “shpadoinkle” so much that it stayed put and became one of Cannibal’s running jokes.

6. THEY SHOT IN THE COURTROOM IN WHICH PACKER WAS ACTUALLY TRIED.

On April 6, 1883, Packer was put on trial at the Hinsdale County Courthouse in Lake City, Colorado. Over the next few days, he admitted to dining on two of his dead travel companions—one of whom he supposedly killed in self-defense (the other died of natural causes). Packer was found guilty of murder, but avoided the hangman’s noose by fighting for a second trial, which took place 30 miles away in Gunnison. This time, he was charged with five counts of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison. However, while Packer languished behind bars, public opinion slowly turned in the cannibal’s favor. Under near-constant pressure from The Denver Post, Governor Charles S. Thomas pardoned Packer in 1901.

More than 90 years later, Parker filmed the trial scenes of Cannibal! The Musical at the still-standing Hinsdale County Courthouse. About halfway through the movie, the judge delivers a big speech in which he sentences Packer to death. His on-screen monologue was copied word-for-word from the court transcript of that 1883 Lake City trial.

7. AS THE MINERS SING “THAT’S ALL I’M ASKING FOR,” YOU CAN SEE PARKER MOUTH THE WORD “CUT.”

It goes by fast, but you can see Parker call "cut" to end the shot at the 3:06 mark in the clip above.

8. PARKER USED A PSEUDONYM FOR THE OPENING CREDITS.

Parker billed himself as "Juan Schwartz" in the cast of Cannibal because, according to the movie's website, "Trey doesn't like seeing one person's name plastered all over a movie's credits." Since he is properly credited as writer and director, he likely felt the additional acting credit was a bit too much. Incidentally, Packer called himself “John Shwartze” while evading the law before his arrest.

9. A FEW SONGS WERE DELETED.

The original cut of Cannibal! The Musical ran for two and a half hours, but thanks to some major-league editing, the runtime was reduced to a breezy 93 minutes. “There were fights about that from the get-go, but I give credit to Trey for being the toughest critic,” producer Jason McHugh told MovieMaker Magazine. “He had the maturity to know that a musical comedy about cannibals can’t be two and a half hours long.”

In the streamlining process, two musical numbers got the axe. The first was a quick little dirge called “Don’t Be Stupid,” wherein some nameless miners tell Packer’s group to postpone their journey until springtime. The other was “I’m Shatterproof,” a rap/funk song that Packer, hardened by his recent ordeals, delivers during a bar fight. Also deleted was a reprise of “When I Was On Top of You.”

10. COMEDY CENTRAL WOULDN’T BROADCAST IT.

Cannibal! was distributed by Troma Entertainment, an independent production company best known for creating The Toxic Avenger series. When South Park began to emerge as a major player on cable TV, Troma’s co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, assumed that Comedy Central would jump at the chance to air some of Parker and Stone’s earlier work. Instead, the channel flatly refused to air Cannibal.

Kaufman was sent a rejection letter from Comedy Central, which read: “Thank you for submitting and re-submitting Cannibal! The Musical, but it is simply not up to our standards for broadcasting.” Troma forwarded a copy of this dispatch to Parker. Today, it’s prominently displayed in his office—at Comedy Central!

11. IT HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A STAGE MUSICAL ON MANY OCCASIONS.

Can’t get tickets to The Book of Mormon? Perhaps you can catch a live reenactment of Cannibal! The Musical instead. Since 1998, the movie has been seen more than 60 stage adaptations. There’s no “official” version of the theatrical show. As such, acting troupes that might be interested in performing Cannibal! have to write their own scripts based on the original movie. 

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