The Office panel discussion at USC

The University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinema-Television is presenting a panel discussion with The Office’s creative team this Sunday, July 30th:

Panelists will include:

Co-Executive Producer Paul Lieberstein, who also plays “Toby”
Co-Executive Producer Kent Zbornak
Supervising Producer BJ Novak, who also plays “Ryan” (the temp)
Director Ken Whittingham
Staff Writer and USC Alum Caroline Williams

This event is free!

Thanks, Aaron! And I hope if you or any other OT readers attend, that y’all come back with a full report. :)

Update 7/31: I am tagging this post with a SPOILER WARNING so that people who attended the discussion can feel free to post comments about the upcoming season!


  1. Hmm, can I manage a road trip to L.A. this weekend? It would totally be worth it.

  2. Oh man, USC is like a 20 minute drive from here. Question: Are 15 year olds welcome, too?

  3. i think so. it should be free to anyone, you just need to rsvp. too bad i have other plans…

  4. GAH! Why can’t I live in SOcal -_- somebody please have a nice microphone and tape the discussion for me please please? =D

  5. i’m going! but i dont have a voice recorder, i had plans for that day, but i cancelled them. i hope we can take lots of pictures with them and of them.

  6. Dangit! Why do I have to live 2,000 miles away?!?! Oh well, can’t wait to hear reports from those of you who can go. :)

  7. LOL Becky!

    Yeah, if I didn’t have an impending work deadline, I think I would have seriously considered a road trip …

  8. Instinctively, I quickly attempted to RSVP before remembering I live in Ohio and can’t go.

  9. Wasn’t sure if Jennie wanted us to just post here or write an email, but I will just say that watching The Office with a bunch of other fans is SO awesome – that was the best part, hearing what other people laugh at in the eps – which were Health Care, Sexual Harrassment & The Injury. More details from me and others to come I’m sure!

  10. So great!! I agree with Jill, it was fun watching the show with such a big group of Office fans.
    If anyone cares, I posted some of my notes in the “Spoilers” thread of

  11. It was a very cool 3 hours. More to follow! Some spoilers! And may I say, Paul & BJ especially were awesome and articulate and very forthcoming (not with new plots, but in general.) And no, no JAM Season 3 slips. They did say, however, that they are very happy with the episodes written and that they are “surprising” (he was referring to JAM.) –Not really spoilerish, but very interesting I thought. Anyway…more later. Thank you, tanster, for posting the info…would never have heard about it were it not for you & Aaron.

  12. Here’s what I posted at Northern Attack, minus the spoiler stuff.
    Okay, here’s some of the fun stuff I learned from the Panel Discussion. I posted more about it in the spoilers thread, since some of it was spoiler-ish. But some cool stuff the writers said:
    * Everyone’s favorite character to write for is Creed. Ryan is kind of hard, because you don’t know much about him. Pam and Jim are also hard to write for, as far as the relationship goes. Dwight and Michael are easy to write for, because everyone knows their characters so well, and it is easy to predict their responses to whatever is happening in the plot. They also like to write for Kelly, because since Mindy is on the writing team, and there is a part of her that is like Kelly, they sometimes take things they hear her saying in real life, and use them as her lines for the show.
    * At the end of “Health Care”, when Michael is trying to reveal the surprise, Paul Lieberstein actually wrote in the script “The longest pause in television history”. So, when they filmed it, Michael paused/stalled for 2 and a half minutes, it was so long that he actually broke into a sweat from the awkwardness of the situation. They had to edit it much shorter due to time restraints.
    * Halfway through Season 2, Leslie (Stanley) bought a new Mercedes. Paul said that was the moment when he knew the show had turned a corner and was going to be a success.
    * “Spy shots”, for example what the cameraman did to hide when Michael kissed Jan, and Jim and Pam’s kiss, is something that Ricky Gervais suggested to the crew when he met with them before making the show. Most of Dawn & Tim’s interactions were filmed this way. This helps the viewer realize that the characters are acting more candidly than they would if they knew the cameras were there.
    * “Sexual Harassment” was based on an actual sexual harassment seminar that the writers/producers had to attend for corporate NBC. During the seminar, BJ Novak said he took notes and used them in writing the episode. This year at the same seminar, they played clips of the episode, and actually suggested that employees follow the “Pam’s Mom” rule (act everyday like Pam’s mom is coming to visit).
    * Kent Zbornak (co-executive producer) was supposed to play the role of Bob Vance, but turned it down.
    * “The Office” is known by other shows as paving a way for a bridge between technology and television (examples being the Webisodes, shows on iTunes, their MySpace pages, etc). NBC is really watching what they do. And NBC’s fall lineup will be having less traditional sitcoms, and more 1-camera shows with no laugh tracks.

  13. thanks a lot for the recap! that’s awesome that nbc will probably be modeling more of their comedies after the office. no laugh tracks and a single camera.

    i’ve gotta move to cali so i can go to these things!

  14. One more little gossipy bit from yesterday: B.J. was responding to a question about the Kelly/Ryan relationship, in all its disfunctionality, and he prefaced his comments with (paraphrasing): “Well, I’d better not tell you how that all started…” Laughter and “Whoa”s ensued from the audience. I’d heard rumors but this was straight from the Temp’s mouth so…interesting.

  15. And Stella, I’ll thank you here too for saving me a good half hour of typing today. Great synopsis.

  16. Some bits I remember from the “creative process” discussions is that first of all, what Jenna posted in her blog way back about the writing process was pretty much accurate.
    A couple of things B.J. noted that I thought were interesting were that:
    –He thinks of The Office as being a “simple” show – in other words, if you were at the gym working out and it was on but you couldn’t hear anything, you would still get the gist of what’s happening and it’s not overtly complicated
    –On a similar note, he said Greg Daniels recently introduced him to the idea of Goldilocks, and that you should be able to summarize each episode very easily and succinctly, as if you were telling a story to a 6-year old. If you can’t do that, more work needs to be done on the script/outline
    –He see Pam & Jim as an “unrequited love” story – which is the opposite of Ryan & Kelly.

    Other interesting bits…
    After commercials and credits they have 20.3 minutes of actual show. First editor’s cut is usually 35 minutes or so. The first 10 minutes or so of cuts are easy, stuff they WANT to go, it’s when it gets down to 28 minutes or so that it gets really hard to cut stuff. A unique part of the show is that the writers stay with “their” show the whole way through, they are with the director while its being shot, and in the editing bay when is being cut – pretty sweet gig.

    On the spoilery side of things, someone asked about the people on the show seeing the documentary and B.J. said he thought they would hold off on that as long as possible. Why? Great answer, I thought – because people dealing with being on a television show is much less relatable than people being in an office, so it would take the show in a whole other direction.

    I was a bit alarmed when Zbornak said the JAM resolution would be surprising and unexpected because I’m like “seriously?”- because I can’t imagine a possibility that my brain hasn’t considered…

  17. Another thing I just remembered:
    Paul said that there is (was? not sure…) tons of footage un-aired from the scene where Michael tells Toby that he “hates so much about the things you choose to be.” (did I get that right?) I guess Steve did a lot of improvising and a lot of it was not “suitable for tv viewing.”

    And this, fellow Office fans: I know that most of you would have gone to great lengths to attend the panel discussion. I almost couldn’t and was very unhappy at the prospect of missing it. It worked out for me, it was and I’m feeling a little guilty I had the opportunity. So I’m dealing with that by posting every worthy tidbit that hasn’t been posted that I remember. I took a few photos but they are blurry as hell. Sorry.

  18. Wow. When I first read about the seminar, I was like, ‘Big deal.’ But after reading these dispatches I see it must have been a very cool thing to witness. Big thanks to you guys for sharing what you learned.

    About a surprising JAM resolution, I can’t imagine how that’s possible either, Jill. Do the writers ever read fanfics? Every conceivable outcome, including the disintegration of the universe, has been explored.

    And about NBC moving toward single-camera, no-laugh track shows, it sounds like a typical blind corporate response. Something works, clone it superficially and wonder why the copies fail. A brilliant concept, great writing and superb comic acting make this show great. Do more of that.

  19. Brian – the response you mentioned re: single-camera, no laugh-track shows to come came from Kent Z., a co-exec producer, and to be honest it sounded corporate-y and did not warm my heart at the time.

    Part of what made the panel discussion unique was that nothing was heresay…no rumors; straight from the thoroughbreds’ mouths. And that they all seemed pleased to be there and eager to talk about aspects of the show they all love. Also the questions; though the moderator started with basic stuff we on the boards all know by heart, he quickly got to some meat and asked for the most part great questions, the audience too. Except for the girl who, immediately after a probing question and thoughtful response to how each show is written, asked if they will sign autographs and pose for pictures at the end. (It probably doesn’t read here as awkward as it felt there.)

  20. Older viewers might remember Jay Tarses’ single-camera, no-laugh-track “dramedies” of the 1980s (Buffalo Bill, Slap Maxwell, The Days and Nights of Molly Dod) (, all of which critics loved but got canceled after 1-2 seasons, and laugh that NBC might actually Want More of that type of show now. :)

    I would think they’d look for another quality UK show idea to try to use as an initial “template” rather than think the format itself was something to copy.

  21. “Except for the girl who, immediately after a probing question and thoughtful response to how each show is written, asked if they will sign autographs and pose for pictures at the end. (It probably doesn’t read here as awkward as it felt there.)”

    Well, garbagethrower, it read as pretty darn awkward.

    Thanks, you guys, so much for posting all this. Fascinating.

  22. Reading the comments were awesome, I still wish I could’ve hitchhiked down there.

    Garbagethrower, I just LMFAO when I read your comment, because just a few days ago I stumbled across a myspace of a girl who wrote in a blog entry:”are you guys going to stay a bit to take pictures and sign autographs?”
    She was talking about the USC thing
    Internet is crazy no?

Leave a Reply