At first glance, The Office Spin-Off is a terrible idea. That’s the initial, visceral reaction Office fans appeared to have at the recent news that NBC is going ahead with the proposed spin-off, with a tentative February premiere date. NBC is saying all the right things (it has the US Office creator Greg Daniels’ blessing, he is the one heading the show up, the series won’t hit the air until everyone is happy with it, etc.), but the fact remains that this looks like a shameless maneuver by NBC to cash in on its greatest comedy franchise. The dual fear is that the Office spin-off 1) will dilute the original and 2) will pale in comparison to the original. It’s hard to argue with the second point, though NBC has assured fans that the first won’t happen. I would argue that neither of these points are particularly important issues, especially now when the details for The Office Spin-Off are exceptionally murky. Until we know what the spin-off will be, who is in the cast and who is creatively in charge, making a value judgment is impossible and foolish.
Spin-offs are a common enough occurrence in the television world, so no one has really stepped back and taken a gander at exactly what NBC is doing here with The Office. But we should, because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. There’s a bizarre ingenuity, bordering on insanity, brewing here. Before we get into why, let’s consider modern TV spin-offs in a general sense. Procedural dramas tend to be the most prevalent spin-offs, and for good reason – they are based on repeatable and easy to write formulas. CSI: and Law and Order have been successful (in a ratings sense; creatively, it’s arguable) in spinning off different versions of similar premises. But, again, the formula thing is the key. Melodramatic spin-offs are more rare, and are less often aired concurrently with the original show. Private Practice, from Grey’s Anatomy, is an example, though Practice is an entirely different series – it’s more of a character spin-off than anything.
Comedy spin-offs are more difficult. You have your success stories (Frasier) and you have your utter flops (Joey). The difference between those two spin-offs and the proposed second Office series, completely aside from their creative merits, is that the spin-offs had absolutely nothing to do with the original shows. Cheers and Frasier have only thing in common: Frasier Crane. Thematically, structurally – totally different. I assume the same case can be made for Joey and Friends, but I never watched Joey. Because it sucked.
Which brings us to The Office. What NBC is going to do with the spin-off is, as far as I can tell, completely unprecedented. The Office Spin-Off is going to be the exact same show as The Office. Same concept, same setting, new characters. And, not only will the two shows run concurrently on the same channel, the spin-off is probably going to air immediately after the original. This is both galling and immensely intriguing.
It’s galling because it just feels like it shouldn’t work. I trust that Greg Daniels and company will fill the spin-off with great new characters and actors and situations, but I don’t think they’ll veer far from the concept of the original show: An inept boss and his employees in a small office. No one’s ever done it before, because it’s insane. The Office has such a specific and unique concept, and to air two versions of the same show in a row is plain weird. The only comparison I can think of is this: It’d be like if NBC, during the early 90’s, aired Saved By the Bell every Saturday morning, followed immediately by Saved By the Bell: The New Class. The discrepancy in quality could be similar, the character retention seems possible (The Office spin-off will use characters from the original, just like Belding and Screech stayed on for The New Class) and the specificity of the concept is dead on. If you look at it like this, The Office Spin-Off is a terribly stupid idea. No one wants to watch one of their favorite shows followed by a lesser knock off of that same show.
Or, at least that’s what I thought at first. I’m intrigued by the possibilities of the world which the new second Office will inhabit. How eerily similar will the spin-off be? While some characters will be on both versions, and the two could interact if the spin-off focuses on another Dunder-Mifflin branch, I’d prefer if the two shows existed in totally separate universes. And, I have an idea of how to do it.
Why not, instead of resisting the urge to be different from the original, the spin-off embraces the similarities. I’m of the opinion that The Office has taken their concept and utilized it in the best ways possible. With the basic idea being that you have an inept boss and a group of colorful employees and hilarity ensues, the original Office nailed it. So, why would you change the formula for the spin-off? Why not be the exact same show in a different universe? I say build a near-replica set, openly say that this is the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin, and have an Office 2.0. Critics and viewers are going to relentlessly compare the spin-off to the original anyway, so don’t worry about changing anything up.
Of course, that is not likely to happen. Greg Daniels and team will try to make The Office Spin-Off different enough from the original to quell cries of “Why do we need this show again?” and close enough to the original to retain their fans. But, the point I was trying to make above is that there are myriad ways to accomplish this. The Office started notoriously slow in its first season – Will NBC allow the spin-off to weather a similar storm? How will audiences react to the same basic show if it airs back to back? NBC experimented with hour Offices last Fall, and will do it again this Fall, so they obviously believe that the Office brand can keep viewers happy for an hour.
I, and you, don’t know if The Office Spin-Off will be a success. I don’t even know if it’s a good idea, because it’s never been done. However, I’ve never been this weirdly excited by the prospect of a new show. I can envision myself despising it, loving it, not watching it, watching it religiously but finding myself constantly underwhelmed, proclaiming it’s better than the original, calling for its immediate cancellation or debating the merits of an eventual one hour merge between the original and the spin-off. Whatever ends up happening, I’m glad NBC decided to give this little experiment a go, even if it’s a train wreck.
-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image Courtesy of NBC)