Why The Office, Now One of Netflix’s Biggest Hits, Still Resonates With Audiences

'One of the greatest American sitcoms' could migrate to Comcast’s upcoming streaming service

The Office, which hasn't produced a new episode since 2013, is frequently Netflix's most popular title each month. Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

For all the talk about the $8 billion-plus that Netflix shells out annually for original content, one of the most popular series streamed on the service is a title that existed long before Netflix began streaming shows: The Office.

The NBC sitcom debuted in 2005 and ran for nine seasons before signing off in 2013 (the same year Netflix released its first high-profile original series, House of Cards). It helped launch the careers of stars Steve Carell, John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson, Jenna Fischer, Ed Helms and Mindy Kaling.

Yet for all the buzz around Netflix’s original shows and films like Stranger Things, The Crown and Bird Box, The Office remains one of the most popular titles on the streaming service. “The Office is often the No. 1 show on Netflix within a month,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, whose Universal TV studio produced the show, told investors last October.

The Office is so popular, in fact, that Comcast will likely remove it from Netflix when the current rights agreement expires (next year, according to former NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt) to help bolster its own upcoming streaming service, scheduled to roll out during the first half of 2020. (The move is similar to WarnerMedia’s decision to license Friends—one of Netflix’s other top titles—to the streamer on a non-exclusive basis going forward so the title would also be available for its own OTT offering, launching in beta later this year.)

So why does a series that last aired an original episode six years ago continue to resonate with audiences? Mike Schur, who was a writer and producer on the series before going on to become NBC’s comedy MVP by creating shows like Parks and Recreation and The Good Place, talked to Adweek about why The Office remains so popular.

"I think Steve Carell is a genius, and the fact that he never won an Emmy for that performance should be a source of national shame forever."
-writer and producer Mike Schur on why The Office remains so popular

“I don’t think it’s a mystery. I think Steve Carell is a genius, and the fact that he never won an Emmy for that performance should be a source of national shame forever,” said Schur.  “I think the cast was incredible. I think the idea behind it was amazing.”

Schur added that Greg Daniels, who developed the U.S. version of the show, “spent more time thinking about and massaging and working through the concepts behind that show than anyone ever has about any show,” filling “notebook after notebook with thoughts about the characters and backstories.”

Schur continued: “I think the supporting cast was incredible. I think Ken Kwapis was a great director. I think that the format was inviting in a weird way, because it was capitalizing on this moment where suddenly, everyone was looking at YouTube and it was all people holding shaky cameras and filming themselves doing stuff. So right show, right place, right time, right cast, right creator, right director.”

But that’s not all. Even when The Office aired on NBC, the producers realized that it had a broader appeal that their original intended audience.

“Early on, 10-year-olds were coming up to us and saying they liked the show. … Greg had this theory that everyone, of any age, could relate to it,” said Schur.

He added that those who have worked in an office before recognize ““the fluorescent lights and the little weird power dynamics, like who gets to use the fridge.” But even children can relate because it’s a lot like being in school, Schur highlighted.

"Early on, 10-year-olds were coming up to us and saying they liked the show. … [E]veryone, of any age, could relate to it."
-Schur on The Office

“There’s a teacher and you have to share a desk with someone who annoys you—in Jim’s case, it was Dwight—who does annoying things all the time. Whatever your age was, you can relate to being trapped in a room that you don’t totally want to be in,” he explained. “You can relate to having a crush on someone who doesn’t have a crush on you back. All of the little petty dynamics are universal.”

Looking back on his time at the Office, Schur was constantly “in awe … of how much thought had gone in it before anybody showed up. It’s very hard to do that, because Greg and his partners were working in the dark for a year—a full year!—just thinking about what it was going to be. The result, though, is one of the greatest American sitcoms.”

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.