It was nearly two decades ago that TV producer Ben Silverman pitched Ricky Gervais on adapting The Office for American audiences. Now, Silverman is behind plans for a podcast that will offer a comprehensive history of the NBC comedy.
An Oral History of The Office will debut July 14 exclusively on Spotify. In 12 episodes it will trace the story of how an obscure British comedy turned into an American broadcast hit and, later, won the spoils of the streaming wars. Actor Brian Baumgartner, who played accountant Kevin Malone on The Office, hosts the podcast, taking listeners behind the scenes of the show through interviews with creator Greg Daniels, stars Steve Carell, John Krasinski and Rainn Wilson, fan Billie Eilish, and others.
The oral history is the first project from the new audio division of Propagate Content, the shingle that Silverman runs alongside Howard T. Owens. Silverman tells The Hollywood Reporter that the company plans to build an oral history franchise, and it was a no-brainer to kick off that series with The Office. The first person he called with the idea was Daniels. “I just said to Greg, ‘I feel like it’s time,’ ” Silverman recalls. “He was immediately on board.”
Per Silverman, Baumgartner was an obvious pick for the show’s host because he “understands the show so well and its impact on the culture and also on the individuals involved.”
Over the past six months, the Propagate team — led by head of podcasting and new business development Linh Le — has conducted more than 40 interviews and recorded more than 100 hours of material. “We really wanted to tell the full story,” says Le, explaining that the group “became students of the show” during production.
Production faced some hiccups when the novel coronavirus forced Hollywood to shut down, but “we ended up very luckily being able to do the majority of our interviews in person,” says Le. Baumgartner recorded from a studio that was assembled out of his home office. Meanwhile, postproduction work was moved to the cloud so that the show could be edited remotely.
The current moment serves to highlight the lasting impact of shows like The Office, Silverman says, explaining that many people tell him that they like to watch it before falling asleep at night. He jokes that although “none of us are creating our content to be an Ambien replacement,” it has been nice to hear that fans “seek it out as a source of comfort and source of escape.”
The Office ran for nine seasons on NBC from 2005 to 2013. It experienced a renaissance when a new, younger audience discovered it on streaming video platforms like Netflix years later. NBCUniversal has touted The Office as the No. 1 streaming show across all subscription video services. (Baumgartner is now a regularly requested celebrity on video app Cameo, where he has a five-star rating and nearly 1,200 reviews.) In 2019, NBCU agreed to a five-year, $500 million deal to license The Office exclusively for streaming service Peacock, which launches nationally July 15. The show, which has been available for several years on Netflix, will leave the streamer at the end of 2020.
An Oral History of The Office will start with Silverman’s call to Gervais and explore how the show was adapted, cast and shot. It will also look at how The Office struggled to attract viewers at first, the success of the Pam-Jim romance, and why viewers ultimately fell for cringey boss Michael Scott. In addition, the show will seek to explain The Office’s cultural impact.
Listen to the trailer here.