NBC's 'Office' Expansion Plans

TVWeek's James Hibberd: Rated

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NBC is being quiet on TV Guide's report they're planning a spin-off for "The Office" and sources sought to downplay the project, saying the development is still in early stages (which might end up translating as "pilot order next week"). The network was on board, however, with discussing their other "Office" expansion -- the four quasi-controversial hour-long episodes that opened the season. The programming effort caused some critical backlash, but generated impressive ratings.
The Office
"The viewers have spoken," NBC scheduling chief Vince Manze says. "This is the most gratifying move we have made all year, and probably the riskiest. Creatively we didn't think the show lost anything at all. If you look at the ratings, I don't think the viewers felt the same way [as critics]. We were up against the number one shows on ABC and CBS, and not only did it pay off, the show grew and helped us establish the night."

In a season where most returning shows drained ratings, particularly due to increased DVR use, "The Office" made gains. The hour-long episodes were up 19 percent compared to their half-hour versions from last fall and boosted the 9 p.m. hour average by a steep 59 percent. And it's not as if "Office" fans are using DVRs any less than fans of competing shows: "The Office" is one of the largest beneficiaries when factoring DVR playback.

On whether the network will repeat the stunt, Manze says the decision is up to showrunner Greg Daniels and the rest of the "Office" team.

"[The show's producers] have an open invitation to do as many [hour-longs] as they like," Manze says. "It's totally up to them if they want to do more. But there is a price. It's tough physically and creatively to keep these going. I'm hoping the experience wasn't so bad that they would dismiss the idea of more hours."

Daniels, who just returned from the "Office" fan convention in Scranton, declined to comment on the spin-off. He praised the ratings generated by the hour-longs, but reserved his most enthusiastic comment for the half-hours.

"The hour specials did great for us in terms of ratings, and the half-hours that we have coming out now are classic episodes," he wrote. "The crowds at the 'Office' Convention in Scranton are clearly our biggest fans, but they went ape over the first act of Branch Wars, which airs this Thursday."

Whether NBC orders a spin-off or more hour-longs, the network seems to have a desire to capitalize on their best ratings story right now. Given the critics' reaction to the hour-longs and the success of ABC's "Private Practice," a spin-off probably makes more sense. Also, "The Office" is already sold to syndication as a half-hour show, and adding more one-hours (which are later split in two) muddles with the format.

Of course, the network could simply decide to leave the show alone and stick with 22 half-hours a year. But NBC Co-Chair and "Office" executive producer Ben Silverman keeps a Dwight Schrute bobblehead on his desk. And when it comes to expanding "The Office," Dwight likes to nod Yes.
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