The Enduring Popularity of The Office

Why NBC's workplace comedy continues to find new audiences 13-plus years after its debut

By Chris Harnick Aug 01, 2018 12:00 PMTags
Steve Carell, The OfficeChris Haston/NBC

Thirteen years ago the world first met Michael Scott when The Office premiered in March 2005 on NBC. The workplace comedy was the little show that could. After debuting to a decent-sized audience of 11 million viewers (remember, this was back in 2005), ratings tumbled. It didn't look like The Office was long for this world. Now, after nine seasons on the air and 13 years after it premiered, The Office is still one of the most popular shows on TV.

All nine seasons of The Office are streaming on Netflix, and the show constantly appears on the "Trending Now" tab (at least when this writer signs in to his account). Audiences keep coming back to it or discover the show for the first time.

In an interview about medical drama ER's return to prominence now that it's streaming on Hulu, series star Sherry Stringfield told E! News that watching The Office is now a family affair.

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"That, I still watch," Stringfield said. "My son, who is in eighth grade, is addicted—and I mean addicted to it…We still watch it, like every week we're like, 'Let's watch some more Office.'"

In a recent New York Times profile of Gwyneth Paltrow, the mogul-actress' daughter Apple Martin said, "I started watching The Office, and I find it so funny."

"The English one?" Paltrow asked.

"No, the US one," Martin said.

What's behind the show's enduring popularity? There are three key factors that make The Office a timeless classic.

The format of The Office still works. Sure, there have been a few other shows that break the fourth wall and speak to the camera and in doing so the audience, but The Office's format never feels like a gimmick.

Jim Halpert's (John Krasinski) mugging for the camera when Michael Scott (Steve Carell) does something offensive still resonates because this is likely a feeling viewers at home have experienced, whether with a boss, family member or friend, just without cameras present.

The Office is set at a paper factory, making the setting is the only thing that makes it feel somewhat dated, yet it's the setting and diverse group of characters is what makes The Office so accessible.

Chris Haston/NBC

Most adults have experienced an office setting before, and in the case of younger viewers, a school setting. The feelings that come along with a workplace and school are similar. For some there's dread, boredom, happiness and excitement—it's the perfect sitting for a TV show.

The Office characters also function as a family. There are the parents, Jim and Pam (Jenna Fischer), little brother Michael, older brother Dwight (Rainn Wilson), and kooky extended relatives all in the mix with the likes of Phyllis (Phyllis Smith), Kelly (Mindy Kaling), Stanley (Leslie David Baker). Family, for the most part, is universal.

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Colleen Hayes/NBC)

At the heart of The Office is a love story.

There's the love story between Jim and Pam, something coveted by millions worldwide. There's the love story between Michael and Dwight, while not romantic, it's a tale of friendship and one that will really make you weep if you stick through the show until the very end. There's the love story between Michael and his colleagues and the company, which is why it was so stressful when you know what happened in season five.

The Office tells stories of friendship, of romance and of camaraderie. Love, they say, makes the world go around and it's certainly a key to The Office's longevity.

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The humor of The Office also remains relevant. It's a mix of observational jokes and sight gags, like the many times characters look straight to the camera, that have found new life online as reaction GIFs. Chances are you've seen and used this GIF before:

The Office never waded into political territory, and when it did jump into trends (planking, Glee viewing parties), it did so in ways that viewers would be able to relate to with current popular culture. Speaking of, the pop culture references are largely still relevant, like Michael's infamous declaration, "I am Beyoncé, always."

The nature of Michael Scott's, well, Michael Scott-ness, makes for some rather uncomfortable moments throughout the show's run. His seeming lack of social awareness and buffoonery create uncomfortable moments that become funny situations. Sure, it's cringe-worthy at times, but the humor is rarely malicious.

The Office has it all—it's relatable, tells a good long game romance and is just downright funny. As long as its available, new fans will continue to flock to The Office.