Following are B.J. Novak’s answers to questions that Tallyheads posted last week about Chair Model. It really is a fascinating look at what goes on behind the scenes! Thank you, B.J., for offering such thoughtful answers!
Thanks for all the questions. It is great to have viewers who watch and think about the show so carefully. I think this is a great episode, and first I need to acknowledge that the entire staff did an incredible job contributing to this one, both in terms of the script and the finished product. In particular I remember Paul and Jen giving it shape and bringing the chair model story to the foreground, and Greg leading some inspired dialogue rewrites, and Jeff Blitz coming up with great touches every day on set.
Q. Originally, the episode was titled “Parking.” Was there more of an emphasis before on the stolen parking spaces than there was on Michael’s quest for a date, or did “Chair Model” just seem to fit better overall as a title?
A. The original working title was “Michael Dating.” But we knew the episode title would be released before the airing of “Dinner Party,” and we knew that if that title were next up on people’s Tivos, they’d be able to figure out that the dinner party probably wasn’t going to go that well for Michael and Jan. So “Parking” became the working title. But that’s a pretty bland title, even for an “Office” episode, where we pride ourselves on our bland titles. At one point someone suggested changing it to “Chair Model,” which sounds more fun and still a bit mysterious, and, most importantly to us, more specifically related to the main story of the episode.
We tend to go for the simplest episode title in general, rather than the most clever. Mindy Kaling reminded us during this naming process that “The Injury” was originally titled “My Grilled Foot,” which I had forgotten.
Q. The blind date seemed like a brilliant homage to the British Office. Did you watch that episode before you wrote the script? | Emily
Q. Who was the actress that played the landlady? Has she done any other “Office” episodes? | Clara
A. The actress is Brooke Dillman. She was excellent. Very funny and realistic and a great improviser who had great chemistry with Steve. There were many fantastic takes and other sides to the scene that unfortunately couldn’t be included because of time. Yes, this was her first Office episode.
We did talk about the British “Office” as a reference point when we talked about how to approach that scene. On the one hand, that scene was an opportunity to go into a great area of comic awkwardness that we loved on that show. On the other hand, Michael Scott simply isn’t David Brent.
I think part of the key in getting that brutal awkwardness out of the scene — and still staying true to Michael Scott’s character — was emphasizing Michael’s expectations. I think it helped to show that he was expecting his date to be the young, pretty blonde he first sees — even though the description he’s given directly contradicts that. And Michael is even wearing a rose in his pocket. His expectations for the date are unrealistic, and Michael is a person who really wears his heart on his sleeve; it’s probably his inability to hide his massive disappointment that drives his rudeness to Margaret, rather than a disregard for her feelings.