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Out of "The Office": Cast and Crew of Our Favorite Workplace Comedy Attend the Paley Festival

It's certainly no secret that I am a HUGE fan of NBC's The Office.

So I was ecstatic, after a major snafu involving Ticketmaster and the Museum of Television & Radio last month, that I was able to snag a ticket to the Paley Festival's Office event on Friday.

William S. Paley Festival events are funny things: they're either intended for the die-hard fans of the show and end up just blowing your mind with the insights you learn (I'm thinking of a J.J. Abrams/Keri Russell/Jennifer Garner "Creating Characters" event from a few years back) or they're puff pieces used more for PR than anything else (that OC event a few years ago).

I was hoping that the Office event would be more of the former rather than the latter, but the the entire evening was a mixed bag, thanks to the appallingly bad moderation by The Hollywood Reporter's Cynthia Littleton. (More on that in a bit.) If you've never attended a Paley Festival event before, there's always a screening component (usually of an episode you've just seen on TV), followed by a panel discussion and then an audience-led Q&A.

I was a little disheartened to discover that the Office episode we would be screening was "Cocktails," which just aired. (I was hoping it would have been "The Merger" or "Branch Closing." Or hell, part of the "Benihana Christmas" episode.) Still, it was interesting to watch it with a large audience and see what the audience laughed at (Roy smashing the glass) and didn't (Dwight on the roof). Interesting fact: unlike many of the other Office scripts, the one for "Cocktails" (written by Paul Lieberstein) wasn't barely rewritten at all.

But any annoyance I had at watching an episode that just screened a week earlier was completely dissipated by the fact that Greg Daniels had arranged for us to screen quite a large chunk of the next Office episode, "The Negotiation." (Sorry guys, the rest of America will have to wait until April--yes, April--to see it.)

While the entire episode wasn't screened (thus allowing the crew of the Office to withhold the resolution to the Jim-Pam-Roy storyline until it airs), we did get to see a sizable chunk of the episode, which involves Darryl asking Michael for a raise and ends up with Michael, Darryl, and Toby taking a road trip to Dunder-Mifflin's corporate offices in New York to adjust both Michael and Darryl's salaries. (Classic.)

I hate to be spoilerific, so that's all I'll say, except for the fact that the audience was roaring with laughter the entire time. Every time the screen cut to black, there was enthusiastic applause, only to learn that we'd get to watch yet another scene. (Thanks to the entire writer/producer team for making that possible.)

Next up was a gag reel that the guys assembled; I really hope this makes it onto the DVD as it was absolutely hilarious to see the actors keep breaking down in various scenes. The bloopers go all the way to "Cocktails," so we even got to see Steve Carell escape from that straightjacket after all.

Speaking of Steve Carell, he wasn't supposed to be attending the panel but, in a surprise twist, showed up after all. I was shocked to see 24 people gather on stage for the panel discussion, including everyone from executive producer Ben Silverman of Reveille to DP Randall Einhorn to writer/producers Jen Celotta, Mike Schur, Paul Lieberstein, Mindy Kaling, B.J. Novak and creator Greg Daniels to just about everyone in the cast, save John Krasinski. (Too busy shooting "a George Clooney movie," according to Rainn Wilson. That would be Leatherheads, natch.)

Leading this discussion was the aforementioned moderator Cynthia Littleton, of The Hollywood Reporter. I assumed (wrongly) that Littleton would be the ideal person to lead such a discussion, as a Hollywood insider and esteemed member of the entertainment press corps. I was dead wrong. Instead of getting to the matter at hand, Littleton took nearly 20 minutes introducing all 24 members of the panel with in-depth intros about their past credits, only to lose the thread towards the end and say of people such as David Denman, "he's been in lots of stuff." Riiiight.

Littleton also didn't seem to have done much homework, saying to writer/producer Michael Schur that maybe one day Greg Daniels and Co. would create a character for him to play (hint: he already plays Dwight's cousin Mose) or asking Mindy Kaling why Greg Daniels saw her play Ben Affleck (Kaling wrote and starred in a critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway play called "Matt and Ben," in which she played, you guessed it, Ben Affleck). It was, at times, deeply embarrassing.

Those little moments wouldn't have been so bad if the actual discussion had gone well. Littleton's questions were far too thought out in advance and she didn't know how to gauge the panel's reaction (nor the audience's, either) to her line of questioning. At times, everyone on that stage was shifting uncomfortably. She ignored the cast for most of the time (despite Greg and nearly everyone saying that the audience wants to hear from the cast), ignored Phyllis Smith and Ed Helms completely, and had bizarre, non sequitur style questions that evaded even the simplest segue or through line. The oddest question asked had to be when she asked when we would get to see the documentary that the film crew is making. (Um, Cynthia, that's what we're watching every week.)

Most unexpected moment #1: Steve Carell and Oscar Nunez reacting the impromptu kiss from "Gay Witch Hunt." Creepy, hilarious, and totally surprising.

Most unexpected moment #2: Jenna Fisher recalled how upset she was, upon realizing they might not come back after Season One, because she loved her castmates, saying, "These are people I want to have over to my house for a barbeque." Two seasons later, it's yet to happen. Leading Melora Hardin to quip, "So when are you having this barbeque?" Meow. I don't think anyone other than Melora could have pulled that zinger off.

Ultimately, there were some fun moments but they were stopped pretty much dead by Littleton's inept moderation, with questions about the gap between the worker bees and the boss, "the American dream," etc. All in all, the audience actually asked more interesting questions, like to Rashida Jones about coming into an already formed cast and breaking up the Jim/Pam dynamic, or to Creed Bratton about what his character actually does at Dunder-Mifflin (it's quality assurance).

Next week, The Office gang will be shooting their 50th episode to date, no small feat for a series once in serious danger of cancellation several times over its brief history. To the fantastic cast and crew, congratulations and here's to at least 50 more!


Anonymous said…
So jealous that you got to go to see this. I joined MT&R and sat on hold for 45 minutes with Ticketmaster to try to get tickets the day they went on sale and still couldn't get any. (I heard that tickets were going for $300 a pop the day of the event!) Thanks for the the write up. Wish I could have been there too.
Anonymous said…
Damn. I didn't know you were going to be there! I would have killed to finally meet the dude behind Televisionary!

Re: moderator, I was stunned by how awful she was. really bad.

Negotiations looks great though & can't wait to see how it comes together. Forgot that it airs after Cocktails & didn't even realize until you said it that they didn't address Roy and Pam in the ep.
Anonymous said…
why are these events always in LA?
Anonymous said…
Yours is the fourth recap I've read of this event. Each recapper remembers something different, so thanks for sharing. Too bad about the inept moderation. Hope word gets back to the Paley people so it won't happen again. What a wasted opportunity!
The CineManiac said…
I'm so pissed I too joined MT&R just to go to this and the Heroes panel, and I freaking forgot until 2 hours after they went on sale. and missed everything!
Glad you got to go.
Anonymous said…
Damn, I didn't realize this was on a Friday night, and would actually have been able to go, but c'est la vie, eh? Cynthia L has been notoriously bad in the past, so I am not at all shocked to read this. Glad you got to go!
Melissa said…
I've been to a few of the Paley events, and your recap of them is dead-on. The Office was the first to sell out this year and it sold out fast - I am glad you got to go and thanks for sharing it with us.

I didn't attend any last year but the year before, I attended NYPD Blue's final and Boston Legal. The NYPD Blue one was really boring, the panel too large. The Boston Legal one was great, they screened a not-yet seen episode and until you've watched TV with an audience of 300 people, You havne't experienced TV.....
Anonymous said…
I've been to a bunch of MTR events and was really looking forward to "The Office" panel. Seeing scenes from "Negotiation" was truly amazing, as was the blooper reel. But the discussion after was frustrating due to moderator Cynthia Littleton. I'm sure she's an intelligent woman but she should not moderate these events. The cast and crew were fantastic in spite of her but a more stimulating conversation would have been had with a different moderator...or none at all.
rockauteur said…
I've seen Cynthia Littleon moderate events in the past, and I have to say she is one of the worst moderators in Hollywood. I'm sorry but I have no idea how she keeps her Hollywood Reporter job, let alone her moderator gigs. She is terrible, relies on poor information, can't memorize any facts about the talent, and frequently has wrong information. She is terrible. But this sounds like a good event, regardless of her involvement.
Jace Lacob said…
Scarily, Cynthia Littleton has just been made a senior editor at Variety.
Jordan said…
how do you join MT&R??

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