The Office is NBC’s #1 Comedy in the key demos it craves so dearly. After an initial fairly mild success with its short first season, the show bounced back with a strong second season performance behind new arrival My Name is Earl. Although Earl began as the greater success, over time the two shows have changed positions; The Office has on occasion defeated Earl in both viewers and key demos. The show has benefited from numerous weeks of supersized episodes which feature complex storylines; these episodes continue this evening and until the show’s one-hour finale. And, there is rumour out of NBC that perhaps this might be a test of sorts. For, you see, NBC is considering stretching The Office into an hour-long comedy.
The hour long comedy is an interesting monster, and doesn’t really exist by today’s standards. Ugly Betty, Weeds and Desperate Housewives are perhaps classed as comedies according to awards standards, but all of them are highly dramatic at certain points in time. They each use their hour-long format to remain ostensibly a comedy (Housewives walks a fine, fine line in my book), but at the same time it just isn’t possible to have 42 minutes of straight comedy. And, while The Office has its more dramatic moments, it also has episodes that are very much small-scale comedic situations played out amongst the Office’s many characters. Why exactly is NBC taking this leap of faith of sorts, then, into uncharted territory? And, why is this reason not good enough, in my view, to justify this decision?
NBC Needs a Success
Let’s face it: NBC has had a tough season. It’s at record lows in terms of key demo ratings, even with Heroes boosting Monday’s fortunes. It has critical hits, but colossal ratings failures, in Friday Night Lights and 30 Rock, and you might even through Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Black Donnellys in there. These shows are all the doing of new head of TV Development Kevin Reilly. With only one success under his belt, he’s clearly under pressure to change the network’s fortunes. And, extending an existing success to an extra half hour is a way to get an extra boost in 18-49 within their lineup, which would take off some of the pressure Reilly and NBC President Jeff Zucker are feeling.
The Danger of Milking
And, as we’ve learned in the past, the first reaction of any network in a time of struggle is to take their existing successes and make them more substantial within their lineup. It’s why we have Law & Order: Criminal Intent, it’s why Joey replaced Friends, and it’s why we had to live through a time when The Apprentice: Martha was on the air. And those were all great successes, right? My point is that I think this is a bad precedent to set in terms of dealing with your network’s lineup.
The success of The Office would likely translate well into an hour, but NBC can’t just try to turn to spinoffs and extensions and the like in their search for a new identity. It’s a dangerous example to set, and I think that starting with The Office would lead to a dangerous pattern of behaviour.
The Imminent Cancellation of Scrubs
“Comedy Night Done Right” is the new name for NBC’s Thursday lineup, and while three of its occupants (Earl, The Office, 30 Rock) have been renewed, Scrubs has not. And, currently, chances are that it won’t be airing on NBC next season, if it is airing at all. This leaves an open gap in NBC’s comedy lineup that needs to be filled. I think this would be attractive for NBC because they could program The Office to run from 8:30pm to 9:30pm on a weekly basis, forcing viewers to choose between it and CSI/Grey’s. This could also give a boost to 30 Rock, considering that people would be committed to NBC for that half hour and might be more likely to stick around. From a scheduling perspective, it would be an attractive option
You Want New Shows, NBC
The problem that NBC ran into a few years ago is that its big comedies (Friends, Will & Grace) were maturing at the same time, ala Soviet-era infrastructure during the Brezhnev era (Sorry, I’ve got the USSR on my mind). As a result, when the time came to switch over it was not an easy ride: in terms of comedies, the success of Earl and The Office basically saved NBC from an even worse fate.
However, they need to think for the future. They’ve got two successful comedies and one which has potential; if they find the right partner for this group, they can build another successful comedy for the future. They are apparently planning to pick up one comedy, and I am trying to figure out where they’d put it if not within this lineup. The reality is that Comedy Night Done Right is a breeding ground for new comedies, and I think that is its best use. Extending The Office to an hour, unfortunately, doesn’t help that situation.
The Office has Proven Itself
Through a series of supersized episodes over the past year, The Office has proven itself to be able to extend its universe of characters into an hour-long or 40-minute long format. These episodes are chock full of content, characters, jokes, drama, and pretty well everything you could want as a fan of The Office. These episodes are the show’s bread and butter; the moments in which true shifts occur are often saved for these episodes given more time, more attention, more focus. And, really, the show has proven its ability to remain funny and relevant within these settings. Therefore, by this logic, the show is a perfect fit to extend to an hour.
The Office is Not Just That Show
Whether we want to admit it or not, The Office is really just a comedy that is not much different from others on television. It is a situational program which deals with the dealings of an Office environment and the characters who inhabit it. It is capable of a lot of things, whether it be hilarious comedy or emotional drama, but it is really at its core something very simple.
I note this because I think that extending it to one-hour would place a lot of pressure on producers to deliver drama every single week, to deliver interaction between Jim/Pam in every episode. I think that certain moments, story beats if you will, require more time and more drama to work. Others, sometimes some of the show’s best moments, are simple comedy setups that the show is fantastic at delivering in 22-minute bursts. But, are these stories really able to be stretched to 43 minutes? Is there really enough content for that?
There’s enough content, I think, but I don’t think I would want the producers to feel obligated to overcomplicate the show just to fill time and expectation. That content is best served in small bursts, in my view.
Considering the large amount of footage that they already shoot (As evidence by an extensive amount of deleted scenes over the past few seasons), it probably wouldn’t be a huge financial burden to extend the show to an hour. Increasing the budget of an existing series is infinitely cheaper than developing an entire new one, and coming off the high-budget failures of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (Pictured) and The Black Donnellys has NBC looking at the bottom line more often. Clearly, extending The Office to an hour would require less new sets, new costumes, new actors, new producers compared to a new program.
The Burdens of an Hour-Long
However, are all of the existing actors/writers/producers willing to be part of an hour-long format. It means more work for writers, more work for actors, more work for producers. While you can hire more writers and work with producers, the actors part is where I think the problem lies. If Rainn Wilson’s movie career takes off, is an hour-long weekly show really possible compared to the lighter workload promised by a ½ hour sitcom? Steve Carell is working hard enough as it is with numerous movie projects lined up, along with press for all of them.
Would “The Office” be “The Office” without Michael and Dwight? Could the show survive their departure? Stretching it to an hour-long would be a larger commitment for these two, and for Carell specifically I think he’s already stretched quite thin as it is. And, personally, I don’t want to risk losing him.
The Bottom Line
For me, I like The Office as it is. The supersized episodes provide moments of drama at key points of the season, while the existing ½ hour episodes do their role of providing an entertaining single camera situational comedy of high quality. Stretching it to an hour would have its benefits, no doubt about it, but I think that it would be too much pressure on the show. The one-hour episodes are great at the end of a season, as drama ramps up, or during key moments within a season’s story. However, as a regular thing, I just don’t think it’s in the show’s best interest.
However, you might have a different opinion, so feel free to comment below. I can see plenty of advantages to another 20 minutes of The Office every week that might catch one’s eye.