|San Jose Mercury News (CA)
September 27, 2007
P.A. WOMAN'S SITE PIVOTAL IN SUCCESS OF 'THE OFFICE'
Author: MARK DE LA VINA, Mercury News
Edition: Morning Final
Estimated printed pages: 3
For the millions of viewers who will tune into the season premiere of ''The Office'' at 9 tonight on NBC, the show's closing credits will signal the end of the audience's weekly encounter with the employees of the Dunder Mifflin paper company.
But for Jennie Tan of Palo Alto, the evening will just begin to kick into high gear.
That's when the creator of OfficeTally.com, a Web site devoted to the documentary-style comedy, starts monitoring comments posted by the hundreds of ''Office'' aficionados itching to address everything from the cast members' experimentation with facial hair to any romantic developments between receptionist Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer) and salesman Jim Halpert (John Krasinski). Tan, a technical writer at Intuit, moderates every comment, ensuring that they stay civil and obscenity-free.
When the commenting frenzy dies down, she transcribes memorable quotes and posts them on the site.
''I don't go to bed until 1 in the morning,'' Tan says. ''I know it's crazy. It's ridiculous.''
NBC encourages such sleep deprivation. The fourth-place network counts sites like OfficeTally.com as pivotal in helping the show maintain a healthy audience. The show attracts about 8.3 million viewers a week.
''The Office'' co-executive producer Kent Zbornak says Tan's site was an ''instrumental force'' in helping the show stay afloat in its first ratings-challenged season in 2005. The Internet might well have saved the program because the combined interest generated by OfficeTally.com and downloads at iTunes (www.itunes.com) helped expand its fledgling audience.
Tan and ''The Office'' cast and crew members have taken it to another level: Most have been in contact with Tan through e-mails, blogs and phone calls. Producers ''digest and dissect'' feedback from her online forums and other Web pages to gauge the likes and dislikes of viewers, Zbornak says.
''OfficeTally and Jennie have brought power to the voice of our audience,'' Zbornak says. ''All of us consider Jennie to be on Team Dunder Mifflin -- she's an integral part to keeping us true to our documentary format.''
Tan started the Web site in February 2006 for viewers to rank their favorite episodes. Slowly, she cultivated an online community of ''Office'' fans on OfficeTally.com, which averages 800,000 monthly visitors when the network airs new episodes.
After she fired off an e-mail complimenting cast member-writer B.J. Novak about his script for ''The Fire'' in 2006, she was shocked when he responded. This encouraged her to write to other cast and crew members. Today, Tan is in regular contact with producers, writers and actors Fischer, Angela Kinsey and Kate Flannery. Tan's familiarity with the show's staff prompted them to invite her to the set last February, when she detailed her behind-the-camera adventures on OfficeTally.com.
Tan's dedication -- she estimates she spends up to 50 hours a week managing the site -- gets a special acknowledgment this weekend when cast member Kinsey, who plays the uptight, cat-loving accountant Angela Martin, meets with Tan during an NBC-sanctioned promotional tour of the Bay Area. The two plan to dine together Friday. Kinsey, whom the network will equip with a video camera, says she might hit tourist hot spots with Tan and film unsuspecting passers-by asked to weigh in on the show. The video clips will appear on NBC.com.
''What Jennie has done for us is truly a gift because she's given people a home base for information about the show,'' Kinsey says. ''The Internet is huge for our following, and she's such a big part of it.''
So big, in fact, that when Tan's boyfriend, Sandy Skees, met Kinsey at her Los Angeles performance, he jokingly introduced himself as an ''Office'' widower.
But Tan says she recognizes that this wild ride will one day end.
''I'll never have a fan site again,'' she says. ''All the stars and planets lined up for this and we're never going to have this kind of magic again. Plus, I'll be so exhausted by this show when it goes off the air that I won't be able to do anything else.''
FILE UNDER: OFFICE
Look for: Tan and ''Office'' cast member Angela Kinsey during a Bay Area promotional tour this weekend.