The American version of The Office was so good that it has led to not one but two oral histories! And I’m such a fan that I’ve got both of them.
The first oral history that I read was Andy Greene’s The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s. First published in 2020, Greene’s book was full of interesting facts and anecdotes, though a careful reading revealed that a lot of the “oral” part of the oral history was lifted from old interviews, DVD commentaries, and an article that Greene had previously written. The book was notable for 1) establishing that Steve Carell is one of the nicest guys in show business, 2) putting the blame squarely on Jeff Zuker for Carell not returning after Season 7, and 3) getting some of the behind-the-scenes people to talk about why seasons 8 and, to a lesser extent, season 9 were so uneven.
The other oral history, which was published earlier this year, was Welcome to Dunder Mifflin. It was written by Brian Baumgartner (who played Kevin Malone on the show) and Ben Silverman, one of the show’s producers. Probably because Baumgartner and Silverman were both involved in the show, they apparently were able to get a lot more people to talk to them personally. Unlike Greene’s book, which relied heavily on previously published interviews, Welcome to Dunder Mifflin features recent interviews with people like Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson, Angela Kinsey, Craig Robinson, Ed Helms, Amy Ryan and many others. In fact, nearly the entire cast seems to have been interviewed for Welcome to Dunder Mifflin. Presumably because their schedules wouldn’t allow it, neither BJ Novak or Mindy Kaling are interviewed and their absence is definitely felt. Also not interviewed is James Spader but that’s not really a surprise. (Spader played Robert California during the season of The Office that everyone seems to agree was the worst, Season 8.) While everyone in both of the oral histories is quick to compliment Spader as an actor and a person, there’s a general agreement that the show never figured out what to do with the Robert California character and that Spader’s vibe didn’t quite meld with the show. One gets the feeling that his time on The Office is something that Spader is more than happy to put behind him.
(Personally, of all the celebrities who were brought in to “interview” for the management position after Steve Carell left the show, I thought Ray Romano was the one who seemed like he would best fit in with the show’s ensemble. Then again, I always felt that the best solution would have been to cast some total unknown for as Michael’s replacement and then keep him off-screen as much as possible. But I’m getting distracted. Someday, I’ll post my big ‘What the Office Should Have Done’ screed. Of course, it’ll be like 20 years too late but whatever….)
The books are both full of love for The Office but they each take a somewhat different approach. The Untold Story takes a very structured and very chronological look at the show and focuses a lot on what went on behind the scenes, both on set and with the network. (If you didn’t already dislike Jeff Zucker, you will after reading Greene’s book.) Welcome to Dunder Mifflin takes a far looser approach to the material and focuses more on what it was like to be a part of television’s funniest ensemble. Welcome to Dunder Mifflin is full of interviews of people gushing about how much they loved working together and how proud they were to work on The Office and what’s interesting is that, even though you’re just reading their words on the printed page, you never doubt that they’re totally telling the truth. Perhaps because it was Baumgartner who was doing the interview, the cast seems to let down their guard in a way that you really don’t see very often when it comes to performers talking about their time on a classic show.
Welcome to Dunder Mifflin focuses on the positive aspects of being on the show. Whereas The Untold Story spends a lot of times on Seasons 8 and 9 and on the difficulty of integrating James Spader and Catherine Tate into the main cast, Welcome to Dunder Mifflin devotes only a few pages to those seasons and instead focuses on the Carell years. One thing that both of these oral histories have in common is that Steve Carell comes across as being the nicest guy who ever lived. How nice is Steve Carell? I’d rather live next door to him than Tom Hanks. Actually, I take that back. I would want Carell next door and Tom Hanks living across the street. It’s a big neighborhood.
Both of these oral histories nicely compliment each other. If you want a chronological history of the show, Greene’s book is for you. If you want a book that focuses on what it felt like to be a member of The Office crew, Welcome to Dunder Mifflin has you covered. I would recommend buying both and getting the full Office experience.
And remember, there’s no party like a Scranton party.