Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dispatch from NBC: Daniels, Poehler and company talk 'The Office,' the non-spin-off and an actual spin-off

NBC's executive session was so bizarre that I feel like I need to take some time and let it simmer in my head and make sure of what it was that I saw and heard. The session after it, though, was a lot of fun, as Greg Daniels, Mike Schur, Amy Poehler and company came out to talk about her upcoming, still-untitled comedy. And afterwards, I talked to Schur, Daniels and current "The Office" showrunner Paul Lieberstein about the possibility of an actual "Office" spin-off, the awesome casting of another "Wire" alum, and some other developments in the world of Dunder-Mifflin.

• First, while the Poehler show hasn't filmed yet, NBC gave us a look at the pilot script, a mockumentary in which Poehler and Aziz Ansari play a mid-level bureaucrats in a parks and recreation department in a small town in Indiana, and Rashida Jones plays a local woman pressing them to put together a new public works project in an open pit next to her apartment building. It's pretty funny on the page (which isn't as easy as you'd think), and though Poehler's character shares a few traits with Michael Scott -- an emotional neediness and lack of self-awareness -- she pointed out during the session that half the lead characters in comedies suffer from a severe case of obliviousness. When I asked how they'd be different, Daniels said, "It might be hard to tell right now, but she's a big reader, and Michael Scott's not much of a reader." To which Poehler replied, "There are going to be a lot of scenes where I just read."

• Daniels said he had no problem doing another mockumentary, and that the form was so useful for comedy that "I think half the comedies on TV should be mockumentaries." (Poehler: "And the other half should be nature documentaries.")

• Daniels and Schur were, in fact, originally working on an "Office" spin-off, but as they batted different ideas about involving current characters from the show, Poehler got involved and they decided to go in a different direction. But NBC still wants an actual spin-off, and Daniels said it will likely happen at some point -- albeit without him or Schur being heavily involved, because he just doesn't have the time. "I am talking to people at 'The Office' about another idea," he said. "Some combination of other 'Office' people could do that."

• In addition to being a longtime "Office" writer (and awesome sports blogger in retirement), Schur also plays the role of Mose Schrute. I asked if running the new show would prevent any return appearances by Mose, and Schur smiled and said yes, that he hates being on camera and is glad to never have to play the character again. I noted that Lieberstein, who plays Toby in addition to running the show, also hates acting but keeps doing it. "Paul has a contract!" Schur said. "I'm not under contract!" But when I asked Lieberstein about what Schur had said, he got an evil look on his face and started cackling demonically before explaining that Mose would absolutely be back on the show, and soon. "I love writing for Mose," he said. "If I have to be miserable, Mike has to be miserable."

• In the most exciting development of the day, "The Office" has cast Idris Elba -- aka Stringer Bell from "The Wire" -- as Michael's new rival from Dunder-Mifflin corporate. Elba's character will take the job previously held by Jan and Ryan, and Lieberstein -- like every other "Office" writer, a huge "Wire" geek -- seemed giddy to talk about him. "Like you might guess," he said, "he's a strong, intimidating force in the office, he's a different energy than we've had in there. It's something we found very exciting." I asked whether Elba might attempt to introduce Michael to the concept of elastic vs. inelastic products, or the undesirable properties of a 40-degree day (link NSFW), but Lieberstein said Elba didn't want to just do a rehash of Stringer. He also said that, between Elba and the fabulous Amy Ryan, this would be it for the show casting "Wire" alums, but as he said this, fellow showrunner Jen Celotta walked by and said, "Except for Bubbles. We love him."

• Speaking of Ryan, he hasn't been on the show lately because BJ Novak is filming a movie with Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino, but Lieberstein said he'd be back later this season, probably in late March or early April, depending on how the episodes are scheduled. I asked if the show has dealt with why David Wallace would allow Michael to re-hire a guy who had gotten the company into a big legal mess, and he said -- as is often the explanation for unanswered "Office" mysteries -- the scene that explained it (where Michael begged and begged until Wallace relented and said Ryan was Michael's responsibility) was shot and then cut. "We should probably go back and explain that at some point," he admitted.


isaac_spaceman said...

Geez, Alan -- I can't believe you're going to make me go on the web to find spoilers about the NBC executive panel.

Melanie said...

Rats. I told my Wire-loving, Office-averse husband (who knows not the name Idris Elba) that "Stringer Bell" was going to be Michael's new boss, and he said I might actually be able to get him to watch that, but it would have to really be the Stringer character (fresh from business school, presumably.)

Joel said...

Will Poehler be too busy to continue work on the funniest non-30-Rock show on TV, The Mighty B? If you haven't watched it on Nickelodeon (Sat. morning, 10:30 am in LA), then please do so. It's Poehler's best work, by far, and features some of the best voice-acting of any cartoon on television (Andy Richter, as well).

Omagus said...

At some point they HAVE to bring back Amy Ryan so that she and Idris Elba can share just a split second scene together.

Sister T said...

Will Idris be playing his office role with a British or American accent?

JP said...

Will Idris appear this season, or do we have to wait until fall?

Phillip J Phillipson IV said...

They really should have left this cut-out Ryan scene intact.

I love The Office, and I am loving this season, but the thing that just wasn't working for me was Ryan's return. It just seemed to stretch way too much credibility to buy that a corporate executive fired for engaging in illegal acts would be re-hired by that same company as a's just too unrealistic. I could buy something like that on 30 Rock which has a history of absurdism, but it was a bit much for me to believe in The Office.

I don't know how else they could have brought back his character though, I suppose. He is a great character...the episode where Michael and Dwight went to the club with him is one of my two favorites of season 4 (the other is the dinner party episode).

I'm looking forward to Stringer Bell.

Alan, if you talk to the writers again, please tell them to get Holly back next season!

zodin2008 said...

Prediction: Dwight & Andy "bond" when Elba decides to have a relationship with Angela! :)

Alan Sepinwall said...

Will Idris appear this season, or do we have to wait until fall?

Yes, he'll be on later this season. Another one of those essential-type details that my late-stage press tour brain forgot to include.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alan, if you talk to the writers again, please tell them to get Holly back next season!

Oh, I talked to them, and believe me, they want her back ASAP. Paul Lieberstein told me that she was definitely open to coming back in the same way Rashida Jones did in the episode about the Utica branch, and Greg Daniels told Ausiello that they hope to get Amy back for this season's finale, if possible.

WWWeaves said...

So no love for L&O or Life at this thing?