Tanster: Do you have a long-term outline for each character?
Michael: Before we start talking in specifics about any individual episode, we spend weeks talking about the long-term stories for the main characters.
Last year, coming back from the big kiss in Casino Night, we knew Jim would be in Stamford for 6-8 episodes, the branches would merge, and by the time they did, Jim would have a girlfriend. We also knew that Pam would get upset and backslide into Roy’s arms, that it would be a disaster, they’d break up, and that the whole second part of the season would be from Pam’s point of view as she summoned the courage to tell Jim how she felt. Season Two was from Jim’s point of view, and Season Three was from Pam’s.
We do a lot of refining and readjusting and stuff as the season goes on, but we don’t ever start writing until we at least have a basic outline of where the season will take us.
Tanster: Casio Night? I think I missed that episode. Is that where Dwight buys a new calculator watch?
Michael: Smartass. I changed it above so you have to delete this. I win.
(Michael’s original answer referred to “Casio Night”; he later corrected it without authorization. Advantage, Tanster.)
Tanster: How often is it when you’ve been in the writers room all night racing toward a deadline, you’re brain dead, and everything sounds ridiculously funny? Do the writers pull “all nighters”?
Michael: The best part of the job, hands down, is the time spent in the writers’ room when everyone is giddy. It is a happiness I cannot describe.
Tanster: Do you plan on doing any more collaboration with Gene, Lee, Paul, or other writers? How does collaboration come about?
Michael: I would definitely work with Gene again, but Lee kind of drags me down. He is the singularly least amusing person I have ever met. Including Paul, which is saying something. Because Paul is a Class-A jerk. All day, every day, it’s, “I’m so great. I’m Toby. Everyone loves Toby. Toby is the best character.” Seriously, he’s the most egotistical jackass. And loud. You would never know this, but his natural speaking voice is like bullhorn-level loud. He sounds like the Marine boot-camp leader in “Full Metal Jacket.”
Tanster: Don’t diss Toby! He wears killer suits. Except during the Christmas episode. (Jenna told me to say that.)
Michael: I don’t care what he wears. He’s a mean nerd.
But Gene I like, and would gladly work with again.
Tanster: Which one is Gene?
Michael: The one who’s not Lee. That’s all I care about.
Collaboration on our show is constant. The “writer” of the episode can be responsible for anywhere from 50-90% of what you see on screen. This is not because the writers are bad — again, except for Lee, who hasn’t got a funny bone in his body — but rather because every script is put through a rigorous rewriting process to ensure that we get the best possible jokes and scenes at every possible moment.
As for technical collaboration, like when Lee (ugh), Gene, and I wrote “Traveling Salesmen” and “The Return” together — that was borne out of necessity, as we were in a time crunch to get those two episodes written, and we pitched out a 2-parter about Dwight quitting to keep his relationship with Angela a secret, and we thought it would just be easiest for all three of us to write them together.
The same was true of “The Job” at the end of the year, with stupid lame Paul and me (and a significant amount of material from the rest of the staff — that was a true team effort), and “Beach Games” with Jen Celotta and Greg. Sometimes it’s as much about time management as anything else.