Greg Daniels, co-creator of “King of the Hill” and a former writer for “The Simpsons” and “Saturday Night Live,” is bringing the smash BBC hit “The Office” to America. The show debuts tonight on NBC. WWD spoke to him about what he’s doing to Americanize the show, decency standards and why he loves reality TV.
WWD: How did you become involved with “The Office”?
Greg Daniels: My agent sent me a tape of the first season and it sat around unwatched for at least a month. When I finally put it in, I expected to watch five minutes of it and wound up watching all six episodes in a row until 2 in the morning. I was very impressed, and I got on the phone to ask my agent whether I’d blown it. Then I met with [“The Office” creators] Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant and I thought they were just hysterical. They had this whole Laurel and Hardy thing going. And I think they liked that I’d written for “The Simpsons,” which was one of their big influences.
WWD: Did you think at any point that it was crazy to re-create this show on American television?
G.D.: Everyone knew we would take our lumps from the devoted fans and the critics, but we thought if we did the best show we could do, that if we tried to do justice to this amazing original we all loved, people would say, “Well, the English show’s over, I love that type of humor and this is the next best thing.” And there’s a large number of people who won’t have seen [the British version].
WWD: What parts of the original did you take and what did you leave behind?
G.D.: I wanted to show the behaviors in a real office that would make people go, “Oh my God! That happened in my office, too,” and the horrible inappropriateness of that person who thinks he’s being helpful when he’s really just being insulting.
This story first appeared in the March 24, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: What are the most identifiable cultural differences between office-place behavior in England and America?
G.D.: I would say the British workplace looks a little bawdier, from what I can tell from their show. I think the American workplace has less sex in it, at least openly. But what do I know? I’ve never worked in an office in Britain. I’ve barely even worked in an office in America.
G.D.: No, that was a joke. I just said that to be funny.
WWD: A poll in Time Magazine this week has a majority of Americans saying TV is too sleazy. “The Office” has some pretty off-color humor.
G.D.: What’s sleazy is gratuitous stuff that has no thought behind it or isn’t real. I don’t think we’re doing anything sleazy. I think we have a sense that it’s artistic to be truthful and real and the more real it is, the funnier it is. You portray the world you see, not the one it should be.
WWD: What’s your favorite show on television?
G.D.: It’ll be this one as of Thursday.
WWD: One you’re not involved with, please.
G.D.: Maybe “Wife Swap.”
WWD: You’re kidding.
G.D.: No, I’m a fan of a lot of reality TV. When it’s well done, it’s great, because you can’t predict what’s going to happen. I was watching that show “Average Joe” when that guy was reciting German poetry to impress one of the models. He was really deluded, and I felt bad for him, but at the same time, it was funny because it was real. It was great because it was honest. I think if most comedy shows had moments like that, I’d want to watch them more.