‘The Office:’ A weirdly addictive interview with foremost Dunder Mifflin scholar Andy Greene
Pen-pusher Andy Greene holds court on debut tome ‘The Office:’ The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s — An Oral History, deemed Vulture’s Best Comedy Book of 2020. A senior writer at Rolling Stone by trade, Greene’s voluminous interview examines the oddball paper company whose resurgence on Netflix shows no signs of abating and the parent whose “tenaciousness was my guiding light during the many setbacks I faced while researching the book.”
The Andy Greene Interview
How did you emerge at Rolling Stone?
I’m from Cleveland, and I worked at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for my senior project in high school in 2000 and then got hired that summer as a human resources assistant. In subsequent college breaks, I worked all over the museum, but mainly in curatorial. I became very close to curator Howard Kramer. It was head curator James “Jim” Henke, who used to work at Rolling Stone, who got me a six-month internship with the magazine straight out of college in 2004.
I wrote little Random Notes things on the very first day of my internship. My debut byline was in October 2004 when I covered a Dave Matthews Band Vote for Change concert in Florida. It appeared inside the John Kerry cover story issue [the Democratic senator from Massachusetts was vying for president versus incumbent George W. Bush]. My first interview was Brenda Lee [e.g. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”] when Hank Garland died, and I did a little obituary for him [“Sugarfoot” was an innovative jazz-pop guitarist who enhanced Elvis Presley’s “Little Sister” and scores of other Nashville A-Team sessions for the Everly Brothers, Patsy Cline, and Roy Orbison before a car collision permanently scarred his playing]. RS hired me as an editorial assistant in early 2005, and I just stuck around and worked my way up.
What prompted your transition into a die-hard Office aficionado?
I’m rather ashamed to admit that I didn’t get into The Office until season five [2008–2009]. I just assumed that any network show would be garbage by that point in time, especially a remake of a celebrated British show [starring Ricky Gervais and Mackenzie Crook, 2001–2003].
But I watched “Frame Toby” and developed the zeal of a convert. I mainlined the entire series and watched the new ones until the bitter end [201 episodes over nine seasons resolved with the two-part Finale in 2013]. I then went back and re-watched the whole thing at least three times, and that was before I considered doing a book.
Did you zero in on a specific scene or character in “Frame Toby?”
I was confused when I first saw “Frame Toby” since I didn’t know any of the characters. I remember the real cops showing up — instigated by Michael and Dwight — and finding the fake weed in Toby’s drawer. That made me laugh, and I became intrigued about the broader world I was witnessing. I wanted to know more. That was my in.
Why is the series more in demand today than when it originally aired?
Netflix played a huge role in The Office’s renewed popularity [in January 2021 NBCUniversal moved the series to its exclusive Peacock streaming service]. Young people can binge and binge, and the show is a lot more fun when you watch a bunch in a row. It’s also just so damn funny. Truly hilarious TV shows, especially ones that hold up to repeat viewings, are very rare. Peak TV has so many amazing offerings, but not a lot of amazing sitcoms. It makes The Office shine even brighter.
After publishing the “Dinner Party” episode oral history for Rolling Stone in 2018, did the book idea manifest pretty rapidly?
I didn’t start the “Dinner Party” article with the slightest notion of turning it into a full-blown book. I just saw that the 10-year anniversary of its original air date was coming, and it felt like a fun project to take on. It wasn’t until I started racking up interviews and realizing I had way, way more than I needed did it start coming together in my mind. At that same time, a literary agent named Rick Richter e-mailed me out of the blue. He had read a bunch of my stuff and had an idea for a music book. As soon as I told him my Office idea, that idea was abandoned. The fact that nobody had done an Office book made it impossible to resist.
What manuscript[s] inspired The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s?
Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s Live From New York: An Uncensored History of ‘Saturday Night Live’, As Told by Its Stars, Writers and Guests  and Chris Smith’s The Daily Show [The Book]: An Oral History As Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests  were guiding lights for me. Those authors both did amazing jobs.
I also read the books by Office alums Mindy Kaling [Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), 2011, and Why Not Me?, 2015], Rainn Wilson [The Bassoon King, 2015], Jenna Fischer [The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide, 2017], and Ellie Kemper [My Squirrel Days, 2018] during my research. All of them were very helpful and gave me invaluable insights.
What was the genesis of the book’s cover depicting one of Jim’s classic Dwight pranks, and were there other contenders?
I knew Dutton wanted a single striking image. I thought about the World’s Best Boss mug or the Dunder Mifflin Building, but I kept coming back to the stapler in the jello. It’s from the U.K. pilot and the U.S. pilot. It’s two everyday items coming together in an absurd way — actually the entire premise of The Office — so it always felt perfect to me. Anyone that knows the show will recognize it instantly.
Why is season two [2005–2006] your favorite?
It’s the best for a lot of reasons. The Office was picked up for six episodes at first. They knew everything was on the line, and they went for it. I mean, Jim and Pam kiss in the first episode [“The Dundies,” scripted by Mindy Kaling]. Michael’s character problems were fixed. They brought in Jen Celotta along with Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg [e.g. “The Fight,” “The Secret,” and “Michael’s Birthday”]. The Dream Team of the writers’ room was together, including Larry Wilmore [i.e. “Performance Review”]. They worked like maniacs to build an audience and keep it. It was a magic time that could never be replicated, although seasons three and four are nearly as great.
How invested were you in Jim and Pam’s epic romantic struggle? And when Jim bursts back into Dunder Mifflin during the third season finale [“The Job”] and asks Pam for a date, should the writers have delayed that moment? Once they tied the knot, the will-they-or-won’t-they anticipation obviously ceased.
As a fan early on, Jim and Pam’s arc is certainly what sucked me in first. As many said to me, John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer could convey so much with a single glance at each other. It was masterfully done. I still love watching those early episodes. Everyone can relate to those feelings.
The writers had an unsolvable problem. Keeping them apart for longer than three seasons would have felt contrived. Bringing them together takes away a core component of the show. They took a leap of faith. A nine-year will-they-or-won’t-they would have gotten very old. But it definitely ruined the magic. That said, I don’t know how they could have done it differently.
What kind of a host was Creed Bratton when you visited his home? And how did his sushi taste?
Creed was a great host. I told him I only eat shellfish sushi. I don’t like regular fish. He showed up with bags of delicious crab, shrimp, and lobster sushi. We sat around his house for hours and talked. He was very supportive of the whole project. Creed is my buddy.
Is Creed remotely similar to his mockumentary character?
I profiled Creed in 2010. That was the first time I interviewed anyone from the show. For that piece, I spoke with Ed Helms and Greg Daniels as well. Real life Creed is a normal guy. Truth be told, he’s not even that weird even though he’s had a very weird life. He’s very sweet and humble. TV Creed is a murderous, brain-damaged psycho. It’s fun to draw comparisons, but they are pretty radically different.
Which Office character do you find relatable?
Sarah Kaya. I get upset when people save seats at places, too. I wouldn’t throw an object at a light box in response, but I can identify with her frustration [the most obscure, off-screen character imaginable mentioned during a phone conversation between Jim and Pam in “Baby Shower” from season five].
Should the “Michael Scott Paper Company” episode arc have been extended? The conflict was incredible when Michael and Pam quit Dunder Mifflin. “Broke” screamed season finale, but three subsequent episodes [“Casual Friday,” “Cafe Disco,” and “Company Picnic”] ended season five with a whimper.
I love the “Michael Scott Paper Company” arc, and I hesitate to say it should have been longer. Everyone at the time was watching it week by week, and many probably were looking forward to things reverting back to normal. You do make a point about “Broke” being a good finale. At the time, they were sweating out how to make 28 episodes [the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike curtailed season four’s output]. It was hard to stand back and have a grand vision when you’re that drained.
During her tenure as Michael’s former corporate boss and disturbed lover Jan Levinson, Melora Hardin also guest-starred on USA’s Monk as the obsessive compulsive detective’s angelic, deceased wife Trudy in occasional flashbacks. Monk’s mix of comedy, pathos, mystery, drama, and prescient cleanliness is intoxicating. Michael Scott and Adrian Monk were painfully lonely, selfish, awkward, and idiosyncratic. From 2006 to 2010 Tony Shalhoub and Carell were pitted against each other in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy category. Shalhoub nabbed the award three times, but Carell never did. Do you draw other parallels between the shows?
I’ve never seen one second of Monk. I agree with what everyone says in the book about Carell being robbed by the Emmy’s over and over.
How did Greg Daniels stepping down from his position as show-runner and nominating Paul Lieberstein and Jennifer Celota as his replacements impact the storylines and overall vibe of The Office?
Any show going into its sixth season is going to face headwinds, especially when they’ve coupled up two of the main characters and thus removed the central romantic conflict of the series [Jim and Pam]. There’s also just so many stories you can tell in an office. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Greg’s departure for Parks and Recreation [a commendable 2009–2015 local government mockumentary toplined by Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Nick Offerman, and Rashida Jones, formerly Jim’s girlfriend Karen Filippelli in season three of The Office] did because the show was facing other issues by that point, including the loss of key writers.
Jen and Paul are both fabulous writers. Jen, especially, wrote many of my favorite episodes [e.g. “Drug Testing,” “Beach Games,” and “Launch Party”]. But even she told me that the show was better with Greg in charge. As the creative team of seasons two and three slowly started leaving or simply just started feeling burnt out, the show began to slowly suffer. It started to feel, for lack of a better work, more sitcom-y.
In the highly rated two-part “Niagara” representing Jim and Pam’s wedding in season six, a never-filmed scene created a ruckus in the writers’ room. Pam’s former fiancé Roy bursts into the church, astride a white horse in knight’s armor, to win her back. Realizing that Pam is genuinely in love with Jim, Roy dejectedly leaves. Dwight encounters him sitting on a curbside and volunteers to return the rented stallion to its stables. Riding along the banks of the Niagara River, the authoritative beet farmer enters the water and suddenly is dangerously close to the falls. Swimming safely to the shore, Dwight’s horse is not so fortunate, plunging over the falls as Jim and Pam embrace in a secret marriage ceremony aboard the Maid of the Mist boat. Should Daniels and Kaling have dug in their heels and insisted that the scene be included? Carell and most of the writers were vehemently against it, but I laughed uncontrollably at the revelation that you uncovered.
Daniels was right to abandon the horse plan. As Carell persuasively argued, “It was a joke from a cartoon,” not a sitcom that’s supposed to exist in the real world. It would have been a jump the shark moment. People might have started calling those “horse over the falls” moments had they done it. I agree that it sounds funny, but that doesn’t make it right for The Office. I’d be curious to learn Rainn’s opinion.
Mark Proksch’s comical line deliveries floor me in his limited screen time as Dwight’s simple-minded building assistant Nate [19 episodes between 2010 and 2013]. Of the book’s participants, his testimony is unusually frank and discerning. Would additional Nate scenes have been beneficial for the show?
Mark could have become a Creed-like character that grew over time, but he simply came onto the show too late. By that point in the series they had too many characters to service. It’s a shame because he’s extremely talented.
Prior to Carell departing at the end of season seven [2010–2011], what were some weak episodes?
That very season in general was poor. Many of the best early writers were gone, and the show was showing a lot of rust. The characters got too broad, and it felt much more like a traditional sitcom. The magic of the early seasons often felt absent. Episodes like “The Christening,” “Andy’s Play,” and “The Sting,” which introduced a brief Timothy Olyphant storyline as a rival hot shot salesman that Michael recruits, fall flat. Stepping back to season six, the relationship between Michael and Donna the married woman [rendered by Amy Pietz in five episodes] wasn’t funny or interesting.
Was Carell’s exit a bombshell for his co-workers?
Many of them saw it coming and had spoken to him about NBC not offering another contract. They were scared and sad, but I don’t think they were shocked. Carell’s contract obviously expired after season seven and was probably renewed a few times prior to that, but I don’t have the details.
When “Did I Stutter” scribe Brent Forrester divulged that Paul Lieberstein met with James Gandolfini to see if he would succeed Carell, what was your reaction?
I was quite surprised when Brent told me about Gandolfini [e.g. Tony Soprano on HBO’s mob epic The Sopranos]. I knew right away that it was a great factoid. I googled it and saw a tiny Variety article at the time about it, just a graph or two without any detail, so it wasn’t completely unknown. It was certainly new to me though, and I knew it would be a great thing to bring up to others so I could hear it from different perspectives.
In the absence of its comedy engine [Carell], are there certain episodes in seasons eight and nine that remind you of The Office’s glory years?
For the most part, I have a hard time enjoying any post-Michael Scott episodes. As Owen Ellickson confirmed, “Michael was a load-bearing character.” That said, they mostly stuck the landing with the finale. “A.A.R.M.” and “Finale” are solid episodes. None remind me of the glory years though. The magic of seasons two through five is really impossible to replicate.
Could “The Farm” spin-off about Dwight have worked if NBC had given it the green-light?
Everyone I spoke to felt it was a bad idea. I agree. You don’t want to spend that much time with Dwight on the farm. He’s funny at an office with people that are his total opposites. “The Farm” is a salvaged failed pilot that they chopped up into a regular episode because NBC didn’t want to pick it up. The whole thing was just a colossally wrong-headed idea and one of the worst Office episodes ever.
Casting director Allison Jones straight up told you, “The worst thing I’ve ever had to do was tell Bob Odenkirk’s agent that he didn’t get The Office…I do suspect the show would have worked with Odenkirk.” As The Office neared its final stretch, “Moving On” was a coming full circle moment when Odenkirk portrayed a facsimile of Michael Scott interviewing Pam at a Philadelphia real estate firm. Could Odenkirk have played Michael Scott?
I love Bob Odenkirk. AMC’s Better Call Saul [2015 — 2021] is my favorite show of the past decade. He’s a genius. But if you watch his Michael Scott audition, you can tell he wasn’t quite right. He can’t convey warmth and vulnerability in the same way as Carell. There was something a little too menacing about his read. They made the right call, as hard as it was to make.
I thought Bob was great in “Moving On,” but it was a single appearance. Carrying a sitcom for 22 episodes a season is a very different story, although I’d love to see an alternate universe where he tried. Maybe I’m wrong, and Bob would have been just as good.
What is your assessment of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s inaugural British edition of The Office?
I saw the first few U.K. Office episodes around 2012 but didn’t finish it until after I started work on the book. I was so familiar with the U.S. one that at first it felt funny watching this other version of the thing I loved. I have since come to really appreciate it.
Gervais wasn’t afraid to make you really detest David Brent [Michael Scott was the American counterpart]. Almost everything about the character was aggravating and off-putting. It’s a bold approach to comedy that really paid off. Moments of awkwardness and tension were allowed to really sit and marinate for long periods of time. No major network in America would ever allow for any of this. It’s the U.S. version without the rough edges polished away. I prefer the American one, but there’s a wonderful purity to what Gervais and Merchant created.
Who was the most difficult to convince to be a part of the book — but eventually you earned their trust?
Nobody needed that much convincing. Some wanted to be part of an oral Office history and some didn’t. The issue is that some of them were just busy and/or hard to track down. I spent nearly a year trying to secure times with Danny Chun [head writer and executive producer, 2009–2012, e.g. “The Delivery” two-parter depicting the birth of Jim and Pam’s daughter Cece] and Warren Lieberstein [writer and producer, 2009–2013, e.g. “Koi Pond,” “China,” and “After Hours,” all created alongside collaborator Halsted Sullivan, younger brother of Paul Lieberstein previously married to Angela Kinsey].
I got Danny and Warren at the very end of my reporting process. It was worth the wait, since they were two of the best interviews. They were very honest with great memories for detail. I could bring up any episode, and they’d have anecdotes to share. They were just goldmines. Actually, the entire Office writing staff served as the backbone of the book.
Have you learned why the principal leads of The Office refrained from taking part in the book?
I haven’t, but I really can’t blame them. They are very busy, and there are other amazing projects to support like ‘Office’ Ladies [a weekly podcast initiated in 2019 and hosted by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey], An Oral History of ‘The Office’ [a 2020 exclusive Spotify podcast with Brian Baumgartner at the bridge], and John Krasinski’s Some Good News [eight free episodes emerged on YouTube in spring 2020; more are projected on the subscription-based CBS All Access] created by their good friends and not some random Rolling Stone writer.
The Office was on the air for nearly a decade and hundreds of people worked on it. I had 12 months to reach out to every significant person involved in its creation. During the reporting process, I thought doing it without the stars would be impossible. Thankfully, I eventually got many of the writers to speak along with several key members of the cast. I also had outtakes from my past interviews with many of the stars. When I sat down to assemble my transcripts into a book, I realized I had way more than I needed — 86 exclusive interviews in fact.
Have you heard thru the grapevine whether anybody regrets not speaking with you?
I’ve heard from a handful of people that I did interview and the feedback was all positive, but so far I have not heard from anyone that did not participate.
How much hagiography did you encounter while conducting interviews?
I knew going in that people weren’t going to name names and get into details that made anyone look bad. They are all still friendly with each other. I didn’t really mind though. I wanted to write about the show and focus as little as possible on backstage tensions and stuff like that unless it really impacted the work.
Did someone ask you not to print an anecdote that they had previously shared?
I certainly spoke off-the-record to people at times, but nobody tried to take anything off-the-record that was initially on.
How on earth were you able to write the book on top of your responsibilities for Rolling Stone?
I found the time by working like a maniac for a year straight and giving up my nights and weekends. It was brutal, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. I tried to avoid working on it at work, but I had to conduct interviews whenever the other person was free. My bosses were very understanding. The vast, vast majority of the writing was done during the weekends and late in the evening. When I had a week left, I took off three days from work and just worked around the clock. It was intense.
“To my father, who taught me there’s always a way” — why did you dedicate the book to your dad?
My father William Greene died at age 73 in October 2019. He had Parkinson’s and had been incredibly ill for a very, very long time. It was not a surprise. The book was essentially done by that point. I went home to Cleveland for the last two weeks of his life and did the final edits and photo captions near his bedside. He hadn’t been lucid for several months, but he definitely knew I was writing a book and was very happy about that.
My dad has been my hero for my entire life. He was a highly accomplished trial lawyer in Cleveland and able to solve any problem. During the many setbacks I faced while writing the book [unable to schedule interviews, conversations cancelled at the last minute], his tenaciousness was my guiding light. He indeed taught me there’s always a way when you work hard and trust yourself. He never read the book and never watched The Office, but it truly would not exist without him. Dedicating it to him was a no-brainer.
Did you miss any deadlines?
My only deadline was to file the whole damn thing on July 1, 2019. I filed that very afternoon. It was only later that I learned most authors file their books late. I’m used to a magazine job where filing late just isn’t really an option. If I had 18 months instead of 12, I certainly could have used the time. I don’t know if it would have improved the book though. I was forced to work fast and not over-think it which really helped in the end.
Also, we wanted it to come out in time for The Office’s 15th anniversary in March 2020. There was no time to delay. I was very anxious to be done with it. A year worrying about a book every second of the day is more than enough time.
Who is ideally suited to pen a memoir detailing their Office memories?
I didn’t have a chance to interview Phyllis Smith, but she certainly could. Phyllis was a cheerleader for the St. Louis Cardinals, a burlesque dancer, and a casting director before she landed on The Office. It’s an incredible life and would make for a fascinating book.
Anybody’s glowing praise particularly surprise you?
I was really happy that Jennifer Celotta liked it so much. She was one of the key creative people to work on the show [The 2005–2010 executive producer, three-time director, and writer of “Drug Testing,” “Grief Counseling,” “Beach Games,” and “Goodbye, Toby” contributed the following blurb on the rear jacket of Greene’s tome — “A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at The Office. Even though the show was my home for many years, I still learned a lot by reading this book. I couldn’t put it down!”].
Andy Buckley was also very pleased with it [Michael Scott’s Dunder Mifflin boss David Wallace testified on the back cover, “A tremendously fun must-read for anyone who loves the show! Andy Greene gets you inside the entire process, including the show’s creation, casting, what happened inside the writers’ room, and what actors were thinking during specific scenes. Reveals so many inside details about the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, many that even I didn’t know — and I played the owner!”].
Have you visited Scranton, Pennsylvania?
Strangely enough, I’ve never stepped foot in Scranton. Although based in the city, The Office didn’t film there beyond what John Krasinski shot for the opening credits. Going during the reporting of the book didn’t made much sense. I was supposed to go for a book release party and the inaugural Office Super Fan Festival, but they were both called off because of the pandemic. Fingers crossed for next year.
Are autographed copies available?
If someone wants an autographed copy, they can direct message me on Twitter and I’ll send them my address. If they send a book and a self-addressed envelope, I’m more than happy to mail it back autographed.
What is the most feasible scenario for a continuation of The Office?
I think it’ll be confined to things like Krasinski’s Some Good News [i.e. a surprise Zoom recreation of the dance sequence from Jim and Pam’s wedding featuring the majority of the cast]. Maybe there will be a Friends-like interview/best-of clip special at some point, but I can’t even imagine something like a scripted Christmas episode. The magic of the show was that time and that place. If Michael Scott is happily married with children and not their boss, there is no comedy engine. It wouldn’t work, they shouldn’t try, and I don’t think they will [never say never…Will & Grace, Community, 30 Rock, Monk, and Greg Daniels and Michael Schur’s Parks and Recreation all came back, albeit for mostly one-time-only deals].
Do you envision a sequel to your book or perhaps a revised edition as fresh interviews materialize?
I have no plans for a sequel or updated edition [The Office came out in paperback on December 1]. I feel like I said all I have to say about the show.
Is a second tome on your horizon?
I want to do a second book at some point, but I don’t have one in progress at the moment. Writing a book while keeping my day job was not fun. I need at least a few years to just do one job.
Music is my passion and what I know the most about, but so many books have been written about the things I care about. How could I attempt a Neil Young book after Shakey [Jimmy McDonough, 2002]? A Bob Dylan book after everything Clinton Heylin has done [encompassing 1991’s Dylan: Behind the Shades to 2017’s Trouble in Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years — What Really Happened]? I just can’t. The things that haven’t been done often haven’t been done because they are really hard to do or simply impossible. The Office was fun because nobody had reported out the history before. I want something equally fresh for the next one. I’m leaning towards documenting another TV show, but I honestly don’t know.
Thank you for enduring my barrage of questions.
Not a single person before you asked about any of this stuff. Not one. I did about 50 radio interviews and podcasts plugging the book. I had a great time doing them, but questions such as what was your favorite episode, how did The 40-Year-Old Virgin  transform Carell’s career, and why did he leave the show grew slightly repetitive. Going into the promotional process I imagined every single person would ask why Carell didn’t speak to me, but nobody asked besides a French language alt weekly in Canada. Kudos to you for reverse engineering it and thinking about the process. Nobody else did.
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© Jeremy Roberts, 2020. All rights reserved. The Andy Greene interview was edited and sequenced for clarity. To touch base, email email@example.com and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.