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Communication senior research

  1. 1. Office Criticism 1 Running head: THE QUALITY OF THE OFFICE An Evaluation of The Office (Season One) as Quality Television Josh Emington Senior Research Dr. Schultz
  2. 2. Office Criticism 2 Table of Contents Chapter One……………………………………………………………………………4 Introduction….……………………….…………………………..………………4 Significance…………………………………………………………………..4 The Subject…………………………………………………………5 Background………………………………………………………...6 Literature regarding the Office…………………………...6 Criticism and ‘Quality’...….………………………………7 Quality Television………..………………………………………...9 Criteria …………………………………………………………...10 Theory Importance…………………………………………..…...12 The Office…………………………………………………………12 Definition of Terms……………………………………….………………14 Purpose of Study………………………………………………….………16 Justification for Study………….…………………………………………16 Literature Review…………………………………………………………17 Chapter Two…………………………….……………………………………………20 Opening………………………………………………………………………....20 Operationalizing the Criteria….…………………………………………21 Methodology….……………………………………………………………26 Figure One……………………………………………………………23 Methodology…………………………………………………………..26 Analysis………………………………………………………………………...27 Procedural Analysis………………………………………………….27 Chapter Three…………………………..……………………………………………30 Opening………………………………………………………………………...30
  3. 3. Office Criticism 3 Purpose of Study………………………..…………………………………….30 Research Questions…………...........................................................................30 Data…………………………….……………………………………………..31 Findings………………………………………………………………………33 Interpretations……………………………………………………………….35 Social Expectations…………………………………….…………...50 Artistic Expectations……………………………………………….54 Economic Expectations…………………………………………….56 Chapter Four………………………………………………………………………58 Opening……………………………………………………………………….58 Summary…………………………………………………………....58 Implications…………………..……………………………………..59 Final Conclusions………………………………………………......................61 Initial Conclusions………..……….………………………………...61 Summary of Findings……………………………………………….64 Future Research…………..………………………………………………….69 Subsequent Studies………………………………………………….69 Expanding the Study……..………………………………………….73 Limitations……..…………………………………………………….74 Appendices……..………………………………………………….……………….77 Appendix A……………..…………………………………………………….77 The Figures ……..…………………………………………………….77 Appendix B……………..…………………………………………………….81 Appendix C……………..…………………………………………………….89 Appendix D……………..…………………………………………………….93 References..……………..…………………………………………………….95
  4. 4. Office Criticism 4 Chapter One Introduction ―‗The Office‘ is the best show ever‖ – Internet Fan This value statement about television not only raises important issues regarding criticism in general and evaluation of television, but it also prompts an analysis of the mentioned artifact so that the elements of its success can be discovered and explored. The questions that arise deserve a thorough investigation as resolving them promises to fulfill untouched voids in the study of Communication, provide meaningful insight into the creation of meaningful, good, or quality television, and offer a systematic assessment of my artifact The Office. Significance Television itself represents a mighty, one-to-many, mass communication device wielding the power to influence, educate, persuade, empower, and entertain a massive percentage of the world population. A.C. Nielsen Statistics Company found that the average American spends four hours per day watching television, which equates to nine years of a sixty-five-year-old‘s life. Norman Herr‘s study of television finds that 99 % of American households own a television (1993). In the years following Herr‘s study, the use of television has only become more prevalent. Evidently Americans are greatly susceptible to whatever symbolic communication they are receiving through the medium so it would be wise to grant television the academic attention it deserves due to its reach, sway, and power. The area of television effects studies has grown dramatically in the last decade. Many remember the legal battles and continuous discussions concerning violence in video games and on television and its effects on children. The academy seems to suggest that there is yet more at stake.
  5. 5. Office Criticism 5 The Subject A complex and lasting discussion revolves around television as a political tool and its various conceptual influences on public organization (McLuhan 1964, 1967; Jenkins 2006; Baker and Dessart 1942; Fiske 1994; Sayeau 2004; Marc 1995; O‘Connor 1983; Spigel and Olsson 2004). As Nelson (2006) states: ―‗Quality TV‘ poses cultural, political and ethical as well as aesthetic, questions‖ (p. 59). Television has been used for all forms of social propaganda both positive and negative for years. For the focused critic the concern is limited first to understanding the symbol use and its implications, and then to its greater impact. In simple terms America watches television often, and in a participatory manner, and the results are important. For this reason it follows logically that the medium should be studied. Attempting this in an inclusive manner requires evaluation of the systems we use to judge television programs. Much debate exists over how, or if, television should be evaluated causing some strong, important issues and questions to be raised. Brunsdon (1990) presents the problem in these terms: ―There are always issues of power at stake in notions of quality and judgment – Quality for whom‖, Judgment by whom?, On whose behalf‖ (p. 73) ? [sic] Implicit in these questions is a sense of methodological review and epistemology. Having established that television is a heavily used medium and working with the knowledge that communication is the basis for all collective human endeavors including social structures, political states, and the pursuit of knowledge, harnessing and understanding symbol use is of great importance. Kenneth Burke (1966) says humans in terms of symbol use and misuse claiming we have a ―predilection‖ to ―go to great lengths to prefect these symbolic structures.‖ This is the essence of criticism, to interpret symbol use in this case in the form of narrative
  6. 6. Office Criticism 6 television. This understanding reveals the necessity for theories to organize the facts as observed. In these theoretical systems or ‗paradigms‘ symbol collections such as allegories, stories, or television programs may be sorted and evaluated to help us make sense of them and escape the ambiguity of subjective value statements of opinion. Background Literature regarding The Office Very little has been published in criticism of The Office and there is even less material which seeks to evaluate the quality of the show. Of the known published literature regarding ―The Office‖ only one seemed to ‗critique‘ it and make value judgments. The remaining handful of newspaper articles were not of an academic nature but rather described the ratings, demographics, and awards credited to the show. After reviewing the sole critical article, which was posted on FLOWTV by Stephan Harrington (2007), I found it does not include any actual theory regarding quality television but simply states opinion and makes arbitrary connections to things the author likes or thinks are important. Online communities, fan forums, and websites devoted to all aspects of the show have done an excellent job of accumulating massive amounts of information. However, these documents are mostly subjective or descriptive. A rich history of television criticism does exist including a great number of theories and positions out of which the paradigm ultimately chosen for this project developed. Criticism and „Quality‟ ―Judgments about the quality of television are made in a great many ways all the time – in speech, in newspapers, in practice – and on television … Judgments are being made – let‘s
  7. 7. Office Criticism 7 talk about them‖ (Brunsdon 1990 p. 76). The significance of television criticism, media value assignment, and even simple ‗fan hood‘ are controversial subjects. Many Scholars present arguments discrediting the study of media and oppose systems by which entertainment can be rated. Examples could include remarks such as: ―Entertainment is only to entertain and is a matter of personal opinion.‖ or ―Television is trash; why analyze it.‖ Addressing prominent arguments will help obliterate misconceptions including accusations of superficial and inneffective media research while simultaneously illuminating the practical and academic implications of such endeavors. One common misunderstanding is linked to cultural relativism. Often individuals‘ personal opinions, beliefs, ideas, or choices are considered to be of equal value out of respect for others‘ tastes. This behavior is tied to an understanding that each is of equal validity and is commonly used as a defense against assigning values to anything. It is evident however that we do assign values to items which are considered to be stylistic selections. Robert Nelson illustrates this point with the example of shopping. We purchase designer labels as iconic statements of communal partiality. These are simple but explicit claims that some products are better than others. The understood superiority of specific items are based on culture, paradigm, or some other collective perception. The question then quickly shifts to how ought we judge value, and who should have this authority. This classic debate raises related issues both sociological and anthropological. These political conflicts between the many and the few, the common and the elite, socialist and capitalist values, among others, are embedded in the historical debate concerning television. It is apparent that the study of television not only has inherent ties to social value appointment but also represents greater political concerns. The debate assumes more significance when scholars discuss whether (a) the artifacts themselves (textual analysis) or (b) their effects on the viewers (viewers effects), or
  8. 8. Office Criticism 8 perhaps (c) the viewer‘s use of (Equipment for living), the artifact is more important or more accurate. The argument should be resolved by one single overarching definition of quality applied it to all social compilations, times, and questions. Rather than seeking this, the academy has created paradigms for judgment with the goal of increasing our empirical knowledge, answering questions of comparison and value with higher certainty, and more importantly, creating a context and system within which judgments may be made. Utilizing a paradigm we can answer questions concerning artifacts definitively, allowing us to better comprehend our subjects. The most appropriate paradigm for judging The Office in terms of value is Thompson‘s Quality Television theory. Some of the most established examples of qualitative criticism in narrative television were conducted by David Lavery. These include his structured evaluations of Twin Peaks (1995), The X-Files (1996), The Sopranos (2002), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2002). The Buffy book, written with Rhonda V. Wilcox: Fighting the Forces: What's at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2002), is a prime example of how my study will apply Thompson‘s criteria to a narrative television show. Lavery‘s known critical studies each represent respected examples of strict criteria being objectively applied to an artifact. The actual theorist whose theory is used in Lavery‘s application is Robert J. Thompson who wrote Making Television: Authorship and the Production Process with Gary Burns (1990), Adventures on Prime Time: The Television Programs of Stephen J. Cannell (1990), Television's Second Golden Age (1997), Television Studies: Textual Analysis with Gary Burns (1989), Prime Time, Prime Movers (1992), and Television in the Antenna Age: A Concise History (2004). Thompson‘s work has been widely accepted and utilized. For this reason using his criteria will help in comparisons of The Office with other programs which have been criticized using the same theory.
  9. 9. Office Criticism 9 Quality Television The Office (season one specifically) will be evaluated and described in terms of ‗quality‘ according to a widely accepted and acclaimed media paradigm. Robert J. Thompson developed twelve criteria for ‗quality television‘ which can be applied to narrative television to determine a programs value. This set of criteria has been revered by scholars and employed in judging such shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This specific example, Fighting the Forces: What's at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer written by Rhonda and David Lavery, provided sufficient support for closely defining the terms which compose nine of Thompson‘s criteria. Of the twelve, this study focuses on six criteria to concentrate on those aspects of The Office which cause the program to either fulfill or fail to realize the benchmarks for quality television. The following are the selected criteria organized in order of discussion:  Quality TV usually has a quality pedigree.  Quality TV tends to have a large ensemble cast.  The subject matter of quality TV tends toward the controversial.  Quality TV has a memory.  Quality TV creates a new genre by mixing old ones.  Quality shows must often undergo a noble struggle against profit-mongering networks and non-appreciative audiences. (Thompson 1997 in Wilcox & Lavery, 2002, p. xxi) The additional criteria to be briefly described for understanding of the theory are:  Quality TV tends to be literary and writer-based.  Quality TV is self conscious.  Quality TV aspires toward ‗realism.‘ (Thompson 1997 in Wilcox & Lavery, 2002, p. xxi)
  10. 10. Office Criticism 10 Criteria The Office can be viewed under the scrutiny of Robert J. Thompson‘s criteria developed in Fighting the Forces (2001), for evaluating the quality of a television program. There are nine criteria in all and one could effectively argue that ―The Office‖ satisfies each one of them on a more than satisfactory level. Six of these will be discussed thoroughly in this study. A description of the nature of each criterion is in order. The ―Quality TV usually has a quality pedigree‖ can be explained in terms of three defining characteristics, namely: The director has a certain cachet; the director has training, experience, education, or a degree that is relevant to, or ‗fits‘ the artifact; the creators have a variety of diversified experience and experiences. In short the first criterion maintains that quality television is produced by either interesting, educated, or experienced groups and individuals. The second criterion, ―Quality shows must often undergo a noble struggle against profit- mongering networks and non-appreciative audiences,‖ can be explained by the tensions formed between the artifact‘s artistic aspirations and economic forces, rating expectations, network status, (airtime) and awards. Adverse relationships also often develop between stockholders and stakeholders, between producers and marketers. ―Quality TV tends to have a large ensemble cast,‖ the third criterion, largely focuses on fan/character relationships. The characteristics are unique and identifiable characters, relationships between characters, a large quantity of recurring characters, and diversity within the mainstay personalities.
  11. 11. Office Criticism 11 The fourth criterion emphasizes that an artifact ought to have a sense of its own history. ―Quality TV has a memory.‖ Benchmarks for this standard include characters who should have memory and awareness of their surroundings in the artifact, and characters who pull the audience through their own experience as well as the overall program which maintains a ‗palpable past‘ in which viewers are rewarded for loyalty, program memory, and their study of the canon. The fifth criterion, ―Quality TV creates a new genre by mixing old ones,‖ expresses the value of appreciating the existing varieties of entertainment while innovating to produce something familiar but new. This is measured by how well the artifact blends or combines known genres to create its own genre. Often fulfilling this criterion is a matter of presenting something of the known past in a new and entertaining way to celebrate its human origin. Thompson‘s sixth criterion, ―Quality TV tends to be literary and writer-based‖ emphasizes the literary roots of script writing. The producer should have writing experience or a passionate respect for literature as a standard. ―Quality TV is self conscious,‖ the seventh in the paradigm, requires attention be paid to the program‘s own history, makeup, style, and culture. This standard states that artifact must create its own history and allude to it, make cultural references, and refer to other known and/or relevant works. The eighth criterion, ―The subject matter of quality TV tends toward the controversial,‖ focuses on the ability of a television program to introduce topics of interest and importance. The program should indirectly discuss topics or include scenarios which are commonly considered
  12. 12. Office Criticism 12 controversial. It should also consider controversial questions with a developed sense of responsibility to the subject and viewers. ―Quality TV aspires toward ‗realism‘,‖ the final criterion, places value in representing reality in one form or another. The televised program ought to tackle realistic and regular social issues and questions through its subject matter and content. It should also strive to empathize with, represent, or be an analogy for, realistic situations of consequence (Emington 2008). Together these criteria form a standardized system for evaluating the quality of a television program. Theory Importance Thompson‘s criteria for evaluating television are the most developed and respected in the academy and have been applied successfully to multiple television series. This theory is the most fitting for my use due to its qualifications and scholarly endorsements. When this set of criteria was first published many scholars commented on them and used them in criticism and in academic circles. The great number of critical works using this paradigm suggests that using it to evaluate The Office will allow for further comparison with other artifacts. The Office ―The Office‖ started mid-season with a six episode first season. The second season of 22 episodes followed which was brought new characters into the plot. Season three aired beginning September 21 2006 and included 23 episodes which contained many relational changes between characters. The fourth season which was interrupted by a writers‘ strike after eight filmed
  13. 13. Office Criticism 13 episodes was intended by NBC to include 30 episodes but was shortened by the strike to 19. NBC has ordered a 28 episode fifth season. The Office is a remake/spinoff of the original British version which was a defining factor in how the show developed. Executive producer Ricky Gervias said in response to this criticism : "I think people are always gonna [sic] be wary of a remake—it's a tradition," he said. "But this remake is aimed at the 249 million Americans who didn't see the original TV show. There's not gonna [sic] be many Texas farmhands going, 'Eccch, not another version. I can't believe it'" (Wolk, 2008, p. 1). Due to its mid-season start and strict adherence to parts of the British version‘s plot, the first season on American TV differs from the other seasons in its form. There is some question as to whether this difference, mostly regarding whither the relationships between characters simulate those in the original and that characters are further developed, matters. Another major contrast is that very few characters in the first episode are developed and needed to be carefully described. As a result many secondary characters existed but did not get any description or extensive airtime until the second and third season. Luckily, for its producers, the American audiences of The Office had, in large part, not even heard of the British show and if they had most had little stomach for the subtle British humor and style. From a more informed standpoint the show was viewed with greater skepticism. It is common for remake attempts to fail dramatically and become what many call a ―shadow of its former self.‖ The very fact that The Office boldly attempts this commonly ‗suicidal‘ feat is a
  14. 14. Office Criticism 14 stance against predictable and commercial bad television. The campaign to reintroduce the show‘s concept in America was led by the star of the British series. It was risky to attempt an entirely unknown form of television known as mockumentary in America since there was not a known fan base from which to draw. As could be implied from the above general information about the series, the producers and writers of The Office are a unique and skilled group. A more thorough and adequate description of their skills will be discussed in terms of the theoretical criteria. Specifically, Thompson‘s mention of pedigree and artistic struggles will be combined with Lavery‘s interpretation in the form of forces which built the team‘s histories, talents and tendencies. Definition of Terms A large part of the description thus far has been dedicated to discussing terms related to ‗quality television.‘ Comprehension of terms in specific context will be key to clarifying my study‘s claims and statements. For instance, although Thompson based his definition for ‗quality television‘ on Dorothy Swan‘s (1984) statement: ―A quality series enlightens, enriches, challenges, involves, and confronts. It dares to take risks, it is honest and illuminating, it appeals to the intellect and touches the emotions. It requires concentration and attention, and it provokes thought‖ (p. 77), under the context of this qualitative evaluation a more strict and quantifiable definition will be used. Quality television will be defined as, the extent to which the artifact fulfills Thompson‘s criteria (1996). This means that mention of quality television in conclusions or evaluations made during the study will refer to the measure of success or failure in meeting criteria benchmarks.
  15. 15. Office Criticism 15 Thompson employs some fairly vague verbiage in his criteria. Using Lavery‘s construal and a common understanding of related issues have been matched with the crucial terms in each of the Thompson criteria to be applied. For example the criterion ―Quality TV usually has a quality pedigree‖, raises the question ―How do you define ‗quality pedigree‘‖? Quality pedigree is a culmination of an artifact‘s creator‘s experiences and credentials that are conducive to production. Each of these will tie in to an analysis of the artifact and its characteristics via proposed research questions. The other chief terms in the five remaining criteria which will be used in relation to my research questions. A large ensemble cast is a cast including a copious quantity of performers whose personalities appropriately conflict to develop relationships between viewers and the characters in addition to inciting drama. Controversial is introducing socially opposing views (ideas), usually of a moral, ethical, political nature. Memory is sense and execution of accurate self history. Genre is a category marked by a distinctive style, form, or content (including all recognized categories claimed to be television genres). Noble struggle against profit-mongering networks and non-appreciative audiences is loosely defined effort to maintain artistic goals in production put forward by the show‘s creators in opposition to other factors. Other terms may have definitions which could become limiting. Stockholders include anyone who has any type of investment in the artifact, explicitly producers, writers, and fans. Stakeholders are those individuals or groups who have financial connections to the artifact. Pressures of commercial success include any fiscally related demands on the artifact. Definitions can be referred to in comprehending the study.
  16. 16. Office Criticism 16 Purpose of the Study This systematic evaluation and analysis of the The Office focuses on the first season. Obviously much will still be applicable across the series due to patterns and personalities of the show‘s writers and producers. Conclusions drawn from analyzing and evaluating the artifact, The Office (Season One) will be applicable to other similar seasons. Interest I have several personal reasons for choosing this artifact. I have been a ‗fan‘ of The Office from its inception and appreciate it most for its clever humor and mockumentary style. Studying Communications and Political Science while attending Adrian College, I began to learn of some criticism paradigms and spent a semester writing about them. I noticed the extreme lack of literature on ―The Office‖ and felt compelled to create some literature of my own. Justification for the Study In addition to generating the first actual criticism of The Office this study should in effect update the paradigm through the production of a critique of a modern television show. The results can be compared with quality shows from the early years of television and a comparison will establish the differences between communication eras. The approach of this project is somewhat innovative as it does more that simply judging how a television show measures up to a set of standards. Prior to evaluating the artifact‘s ‗overall‘ quality, isolated aspects of the artifact that relate directly to quality will be explored and analyzed. Normally critical publications illustrate the series as they compare it to criteria and then make the statement that it is or is not a quality
  17. 17. Office Criticism 17 program. This is a somewhat unique investigation as it extends to the root of quality with a description of how each characteristic of the show that is an addition to its quality. In this way one can garner knowledge regarding those components which are crucial to developing valuable television. The accumulation of this knowledge is immediately significant to the future of television as it relates the practical applications of a criterion to its fulfillment. As mentioned before many examples of criticism can be found using the methodology of applying a paradigm to a television series. Specific examples were pointed out in which Thompson‘s criteria set was used directly. One such example is an article on The Simpsons by Dan Korte (2009) who uses the exact same methodology. Literature Review The Office, a remake of the British television series, first aired in March of 2005 (Walter 2005). Since then, no critical work has been written and the only academic writing is irrelevant to evaluating the artifact itself in any way. It is a tongue in cheek philosophy discussion using the show as a resource for examples (Wishewski, 2008). The lack of sources and nonexistence of evaluative literature begs an application of an acclaimed criticism paradigm. This is necessary for comparison to other artifacts and for the extension of the accepted knowledge in the field. But it is also of highest importance to edify the fans and admirers of the artifact and salvage their pride by producing a long awaited evaluation. Since the first sounds were uttered to the public assembly by the orators and sophists of Ancient Greece, one-to-many mass media and its influences have concerned the educated. Starting with the review of such rhetoric and continuously evolving to apply to each new medium, culture, and context, criticism of Communication and the arts flourished (Vande Berg
  18. 18. Office Criticism 18 & Wenner 1991). Assigning value took differing forms but two main forms of evaluation seem to exist in an ‗objective‘ format. Either the masses evaluate the artifacts by their collective popular opinion, or the elite and educated shape informed ideas about the artifact (Vandeberg 1991, 1999). In order to more objectively evaluate an artifact in context requires a system (paradigm; theory) for organization (Brummett 1994; Bourdieu 1986; Burke 1966; Littlejohn 1999; Stoner & Perkins 2005). Television was commercially available in 1930 (O'Connor & John 1983). Shortly after the inception of televised communication academics noticed the political, social, and educational far reaching implications of such a powerful tool delivering emotional, vivid images animated with synchronized sound (McLuhan 1964, 1967; Jenkins 2006; Baker and Dessart 1942; Fiske 1994; Sayeau 2004; Marc 1995; O‘Connor 1983; Spigel and Olsson 2004). Some have disagreed and generally claim that television is destructive and worthless. These critics would likely call ‗quality television‘ an oxymoron as they hold great prejudices against the medium itself (Marc 1995). All however accept that television is vastly powerful and important whether they think is a destructive or beneficial instrument. Thompson‘s first set of twelve criteria claim to cover all television up to the point of a major shift in television during the mid 1950s. He simply supplied a logical solution: ―Quality TV is best defined by what it is not. It is not ‗regular ‗TV‖ (Nelson 2006; Thompson 1996, p. 3). Since then everything has changed. Due to the extreme proliferation of value studies applied to television which all seem to respond to these criteria, the publication of Television's Second Golden Age (1997) is widely accepted as the beginning of the ‗quality‘ television discussion. Many accredited scholars are heavily invested in discussing television in terms of ‗quality‘ (Feur
  19. 19. Office Criticism 19 1984; Brunsdon 1990; Corner 1994; Thompson 1996; Nelson 1997, 2006; Jacobs 2001; Janovich and Lyons 2003). There has been much consideration lent to the similarities and contrasts between ‗good‘ and ‗quality‘ television. Sarah Cardwell (2007) concludes that ‗quality‘ television and ‗good‘ television are both really our timid attempts to hide our critical judgments. In effect, those programs which we value, study, and respect, constitute the real quality television without inverted commas. (2007) Although drastic development did occur in the field in the last two decades few theories or paradigms seem to be more frequently used and accepted than those of Thompson (1996) in his earlier writings (Vande Berg 1991, 1999; Nelson 2006; McCabe & Akass 2007; Kotre 1997). One of the most well known authors in the field, David Lavery, consistently uses Thompson‘s criteria in his critiques. Lavery has criticized everything from Seinfeld to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and is an active member of the field. No one, however has criticized The Office in terms of quality via any paradigm. Using the most respected narrative television criticism paradigm found (Thompson, 1996) and the application methodology of Lavery (2001), this study evaluates the quality of the artifact and analyses the components that dictate its quality. Research Questions: RQ 1 What approach is taken in developing relationships between the principle performers of the cast toward developing „good television‟? RQ 2 What role do experiences and credentials of the artifact‟s creators play in shaping the artifact toward „quality television‟?
  20. 20. Office Criticism 20 RQ 3 How does The Office introduce controversial material? RQ 4 What genres are mixed to create a new genre represented in The Office? RQ 5 What part, if any, does a sense of self history play in the establishment of the artifact as „quality television‟? RQ 6 What strategies do The Office‟s stockholders employ in the struggle against the pressures of commercial success? RQ 7 What are the strengths, if any, of The Office, Season One establish it as „quality television‟?
  21. 21. Office Criticism 21 Chapter Two Opening To more fully understand the quality of The Office as per Thompson‘s criteria I have developed, defined, and made operational those terms from each criterion which are the determining variables in judging a series as quality or ‗trash‘ television. The analysis will focus on those parts of the program which are relevant to the criteria, and more specifically relate to the variables embedded in the criteria with which the quality of the show will be evaluated. A number of criteria suggest quality and each of these criteria includes at least one variable. To complete a successful analysis each criterion must be clarified and if possible quantified to produce a working measure of success or failure as applied to the series. The show and relevant material concerning it must then be examined in terms of information pertaining to each criterion represented by their respective variables. Upon completion, the compiled data will allow for separate discussions, suggest judgments concerning each criterion, and provide the necessary tools for constructing an overall ruling on The Office‘s quality. Operationalizing the Criteria The six criteria which constitute the foundations of my first six research questions can each be defined in detail for the benefit of more accurate and focused analysis. Embedded in Thompson‘s paradigm are the six criteria which can each be measured through their central terms: ensemble cast, pedigree, controversial (subject matter), genre (blended), memory (self
  22. 22. Office Criticism 22 history), and noble struggle. Each criterion is explained below including the method with which it will be used to directly measure The Office. Quality TV tends to have a large ensemble cast. Critics perceive two consistent indicators of a quality ensemble cast. The first is the sheer quantity of recurring characters. Korte concludes his criticism of The Simpsons‟ a quantitative statement: ―Over one hundred characters have been portrayed on The Simpsons, easily attaining the ―large ensemble cast‖ criterion of the quality TV formula as defined by Robert J. Thompson‖ (2009 p.7). Secondly, the characters must be diverse and dynamic enough to create relational conflict. Whenever this criterion is applied to a series the study cites ―the core‖ characters and proceeds to sort them into types or personalities to explain their collective dramatic potential (Wilcox & Lavery, 2001 p. xxii; Korte, 2009 p. 6,7). It is generally understood that the true core cast of a show must include upwards of four preferably at least six recurring characters which are featured in nearly all if not every episode. I will set the bar at five. Five characters must play a major role in each episode‘s conflict consistently for at least 90% of the season. Further, the cast members meeting this requirement must collectively create a personality/character type conflict. To measure this I have selected one commonly accepted personality type categorizing charts reflecting the four temperaments. A recent discussion is found in the material published by Florence Littauer (1992). To qualify, a series must display characters meeting the standards for recurring which exhibit ‗opposing‘ (opposite sides of the chart) personality types (Figure 1). A minimum of five relational conflicts
  23. 23. Office Criticism 23 must exist, as represented by polar opposite personality types within the group. [Figure 1]
  24. 24. Office Criticism 24 Quality TV usually has a quality pedigree. Wilcox and Lavery describe pedigree in terms of the creator‘s cachet which is then summarized as a short living obituary of their education, publications, and career success (2001, p. xxi). As Korte explains, quality television is produced by those ―who have honed their skills in other areas, particularly film‖ (2009, p. 4). Thus, pedigree can be developed through gaining experiences or/and credentials. These two contributors to excellence in the field are often validated by awards, publications, and public interest. Literary, genre-oriented, or professionally relevant experiences which are publically recognized are mentioned in a resume or referenced in an article which would characterize pedigree. Examples include a Grammy award or a Communication degree from an established university. To meet the criteria for quality pedigree the series must have a media lineage, such that the creators have at least three experiences or/and credentials (qualifications) validated in nationally available publications or awards. The subject matter of quality TV tends toward the controversial. In describing this criterion Thompson points out that quality shows often include messages of ―liberal humanism,‖ examples including ―AIDS, abortion, homosexuals, racism, and religion‖ (1996 p.3). Critics suggest that quality TV forces audiences to confront important unsettled issues with an air of caution and responsibility or at least exposes them to the heavy subjects for consideration (Korte, 2009 p. 9,10). Controversial material then must provoke and confront viewers with opposing views. This can be measured through recognition in the form of awards or through recognition of those subjects which are socially considered liberal in the current context, i.e. health care, prisons or alcohol. In my study controversial subjects will be identified using a list of contextually relevant conflict-ridden issues compiled by Santa Ana
  25. 25. Office Criticism 25 College in 2006. Obviously issues move in and out of public scrutiny and this standard is not necessarily one hundred percent representative of our societal views, but it should serve well as a benchmark. A quality television show will expose audiences to at least five of the listed controversial topics in a season. An article or award directly attributing progress toward any issues‘ positive resolution also counts toward my threshold of five. Quality TV creates a new genre by mixing old ones. Thompson, like critics applying his criteria, supplies an example and lists those ‗old‘ genres that compose it (Wilcox & Lavery, 2006; Korte, 2009; Thompson, 1996). To qualify as representing a new genre (quality TV) the artifact must reflect the characteristics of multiple genres while maintaining a hybrid nature as defined by the Wikipedia genre lists (Figure 3). Although it may seem amateurish to use Wikipedia as a source, I believe I am justified. Sorting genres requires definitions that are direct reflections of a socially constructed television category. It is also vital that this ‗list‘ is fairly recent. The resulting genre must be a combination of at least two known categories. Quality TV has a memory. ―Thought it may or may not be serialized in continuing story lines, these shows tend to refer back to previous episodes. Characters develop and change as the series goes on‖ (Thompson 1996 p.3). The concept of self history (memory) is when characters in relationships notice evolutions as they unfold and remember them along with fans. The most accurate way to define memory for measurement is in terms of back reference or number of allusions to previous material. If the series is a serialized program it will always qualify. Thompson‘s memory suggests the quality series commonly refers to changes and evolutions made in previous episodes; this will be measured by requiring as a benchmark that a quality series must refer to
  26. 26. Office Criticism 26 some aspect, instance, or change found in previous series material at least twice in each individual episode. Quality shows must often undergo a noble struggle against profit-mongering networks and non- appreciative audiences. Thompson (1996) points out that most quality television begins with poor ratings or income loss due to the strong loyalty of the creators to their artistic vision. Lavery strongly agrees with this criterion and the title of his book Fighting the forces (2001) is in fact a reference to the many outside pressures placed on writers and producers of television shows which constitute the art/commerce battle. This criterion‘s model may be compressed as the noble struggle of the art/commerce battle revealed by publications expressing the uncommon nature of network success in light of series troubles affecting ratings, time slots, money, or popularity. At least three such publications must exist for the program to qualify. The Office is a complicated but clear example of this fight mostly waged with the producer, who both wrote and funded the series. The key seems to be innovation. It is possible to be successful and, at the same time, protect the artistic essence of the series. Methodology This study will be conducted in several steps or procedures. First the appropriate paradigm will be selected for application to the show. This paradigm will be used to develop specific terms variables and questions. Suitable standards for the medium will then be developed to explore those aspects of the program which are most relevant. A direct examination of the material is conducted yielding the information for discussing and evaluating the series. A discussion led by important questions developed from the theory will then be carried out to expand on the significance of the collected data. This section focuses on the strengths of the
  27. 27. Office Criticism 27 television show; in other words, it explores those characteristics of the series which fulfill the criteria for quality television. Conclusions will be drawn by evaluating the show‘s strength in relation to each criterion. These conclusions then will create the basis for future studies to be conducted. Analysis Procedural Analysis RQ 1 What approach is taken in developing relationships between the principle performers of the cast toward developing „good television‟? Applying the standards in Thompson‘s criteria, I examined The Office in a focused and revealing manner. The first criterion requires an analysis of the show‘s characters, their number, and their measure by personality standards. The total number of characters featured in the series, up to the 84th episode of The Office comes to 58 cast members. Of these, 27 appeared in the first season. According to the established measurement a recurring character would be featured in 5.4 episodes in the first season or within the entire cannon 75.6 episodes. Eleven characters make the full cannon cut and eleven characters also qualify for the first season. Of the eleven with five or more episodes in the first season, ten were in 100% of each episode. Each of the four personality types is represented amongst the recurring characters. Of the group there is one Choleric (lion), five Phlegmatic (golden retrievers), two Melancholy (beavers), and two Sanguine (otters). Having a member of each personality type ensures the maximum amount of conflict types –six.
  28. 28. Office Criticism 28 RQ 2 What role do experiences and credentials of the artifact‟s creators play in shaping the artifact toward „quality television‟? The second criterion is a review of the show‘s creators‘ credentials and awards to establish the program‘s pedigree. Analysis of the awards and publications proclaiming The Office‘s media lineage confirm that it easily meets and surpasses the benchmark of three pedigree credentials or experiences. The executive producer alone could satisfy this requirement. Gervais was an English actor, author, comedian, producer, director, and pop musician. His continued work has gained him countless awards and accolades including three Golden Globes, and 16 other wins as well as 22 nominations for awards like the Emmy. RQ 3 How does The Office introduce controversial material? Using liberal humanism as a standard for controversial subjects, I combed over the first season of The Office for examples that would satisfy the criterion for quality television. I found eleven controversial subjects that were explicitly mentioned in the list in the show‘s first season. This meets the benchmark of five instances of controversial subjects in the season. RQ 4 What genres are mixed to create a new genre represented in The Office? Gathering data concerning the genre of the program consisted of comparing the elements of the show mentioned in each listed genre‘s definition and evaluating it in the artifact as representative of each genre. A full review of the listed genre‘s definition‘s combined with my accumulated knowledge of the show, reveal that The Office has created a new genre which mixes fourteen known genres, both literary and those specific to television. This clearly surpasses the
  29. 29. Office Criticism 29 minimum combination of two genres. It should be noted that many of these categories overlap, combine, or have spawned other genres. RQ 5 What part, if any, does a sense of self history play in the establishment of the artifact as „quality television‟? I then scoured the first season of The Office for instances of self reference to analyze the program‘s memory. A qualifying series must either be a serial program or allude to itself at least twice per episode. The Office is a hybrid serial/episodic program. It maintains a continuous story line but also applies as an episodic program with each episode working with an isolated plot line. This writing style automatically establishes the show as a program presenting a quality sense of memory. RQ 6 What strategies do The Office‟s stockholders employ in the struggle against the pressures of commercial success? The sixth criterion, embodied in a noble struggle, requires that three publications must be oriented toward describing low ratings, low funding, related innovations, or artistic struggle. To fully understand the essence of the struggle I analyzed those expectations involved in the noble struggle and, subdivided them by social, artistic, and economic pressures affecting the artifact (Appendix A). My investigation results indicate nine relevant publications described the creator‘s efforts and stance in the face of opposition. RQ 7 What are the strengths, if any, of The Office, Season One establish it as „quality television‟?
  30. 30. Office Criticism 30 My analysis of The Office has produced sufficient data for evaluating the show‘s quality, according to Thompson, and produced an indicator of the program‘s specific strengths and shortcomings in quality. According to the preliminary analysis The Office is quality television. This introduces an opportunity to talk about the specifics of its strengths.
  31. 31. Office Criticism 31 Chapter 3 Opening This chapter will focus primarily on the interpretation of the findings discussed in the previous chapter. First I will restate the purpose of the study. This will be followed by the research questions. Next I will explain what the data is and give examples for each criterion. The data in numeric form will then be stated and described in terms of the research question it answers. Finally my interpretation will start with a short introduction followed by my answers to each research question. Following my interpretation is a short conclusion. Purpose of the Study This systematic evaluation and analysis of the The Office focuses on the first season. Obviously much will still be applicable across the series due to patterns and personalities of the show‘s writers and producers. Conclusions drawn from analyzing and evaluating the artifact, The Office (season one), will be applicable to other similar programs. The primary purpose of my study, is to answer the research questions providing practical insight into the process of creating quality television creation. Upon completion my study will also provide a replicable method that can be reproduced to evaluate other programs. Research Questions RQ 1 What approach is taken in developing relationships between the principle performers of the cast toward developing „good television‟? RQ 2 What role do experiences and credentials of the artifact‟s creators play in shaping the artifact toward „quality television‟?
  32. 32. Office Criticism 32 RQ 3 How does The Office introduce controversial material? RQ 4 What genres are mixed to create a new genre represented in The Office? RQ 5 What part, if any, does a sense of self history play in the establishment of the artifact as „quality television‟? RQ 6 What strategies do The Office‘s stockholders employ in the struggle against the pressures of commercial success? RQ 7 What are the strengths, if any, of The Office, Season One establish it as „quality television‟? Data My analysis of The Office has produced sufficient data for evaluating the show‘s quality, according to Thompson, it has also produced indicators of the program‘s specific strengths and shortcomings in quality. Data refers to any evidence which meets the variables requirements to contribute toward quality. For instance, a quality show has developed a mixed genre requiring two old categories to directly apply to the program. Fourteen ‗old‘ genres combine in the newly formed genre of The Office. Specific evidence includes the definition of one such genre: Mockumentary. This has been described by our list as a story that isn‘t about true historical events; rather, it uses the documentary ‗style‘ to cover fictional, and generally humorous, events or characters. This process of analysis builds a context for objectively judging media. In effect, I have established units of measure for each variable. The given example, mockumentary, is one genre unit.
  33. 33. Office Criticism 33 An ensemble cast is slightly more complicated as it holds a unit to multiple criteria. One qualifying character, Michael Scott (Steve Carell), played active roles and was credited in 100% of the first season‘s episodes, thus meeting the qualification of ninety percent screen time per season. He fulfills the second standard through his personality type; as a Sanguine (Otter), his personality conflicts adequately with other members. To find a candidate with a pedigree, experience or credentials must be possessed by a creator. One such creator is the executive producer Ricky Gervais who won an Emmy. The Emmy award indicates quality television pedigree. A controversial subject must be easily represented in the show itself. Racism is an example of a subject which can be controversial. An award presented by the NAACP for the show‘s ability to responsibly confront controversial and racial issues qualifies racism as a potentially volatile topic for television. The sensitivity of this particular subject can be pulled directly from the program in a quote: ―Michael: Wow, that is a great story. That's the American dream right there, right? Um, let me ask you, is there a term besides ‗Mexican' that you prefer? Something less offensive‖ (season 1, episode 2)? Memory is indicated by self allusions or by the continuity of serial television style. One example would be in the fourth episode, ―The Alliance.‖ The name of the episode, its plot, and the entire script reflect a scheme about downsizing which is a reference to the first episode, ―The Pilot,‖ during which corporate tells the boss they will be downsizing or reducing the work force.
  34. 34. Office Criticism 34 Noble struggle can be embodied in an article entitled ―'The Office' Star Turns Down Exclusive Deal‖ published 22 March 2005 [Figure 4]. This article is a clear indicator of the program‘s creator‘s struggle for their artistic vision against fiscal forces. Using this data based on six of Thompson‘s criteria, The Office makes the grade and is a quality television show. Findings Each set of data is an indicator of the show‘s ability to qualify as quality program. This measure however will be described further in terms of each research question. Every one of the first six research questions relates directly to a specific criterion. Thus the data extracted as a result of each criterion is valuable in answering the research question. The final question simply summarizes the results of the evaluation and simplifies the resulting conclusions of the study. In essence, the answers for each of the questions will point to a more complete understanding of how to make television better. RQ 1 What approach is taken in developing relationships between the principle performers of the cast toward developing „good television‟? The data establishes that The Office has a quality ensemble cast. Eleven characters appear in five or more episodes of the first season asserting their status as core recurring characters. Each of these characters appears in the program with a directly converse personality type. The Office establishes the maximum of six personality type conflicts qualifying over the minimum of five. This data provides insight into the process of constructing and developing a quality ensemble cast. Combined with a rudimentary analysis the benchmarks for establishing a
  35. 35. Office Criticism 35 criteria qualifier constitute a process or approach which the creators of The Office have executed to build a successful quality program. RQ 2 What role do experiences and credentials of the artifact‟s creators play in shaping the artifact toward „quality television‟?, The Office was created by producers and writers who far surpassed the benchmark of at least three nationally validated experiences or credentials. Knowledge of the experiences and credentials found in the creating cast allows for the discussion of how specific parts of a show‘s pedigree contribute to its quality. RQ 3 How does The Office introduce controversial material? Using the list of controversial materials a review of the show will provide the process with which the material is actually introduced. The data itself consisted of eleven subjects which were mentioned on the list. This exceeded the benchmark of five. RQ 4 What genres are mixed to create a new genre represented in The Office? Fourteen known literary and television genres were combined to create The Office‘s new genre. The list of these genres combined with evidence that The Office belongs to each category will provide the names of the genres involved and answer the research question. RQ 5 What part, if any, does a sense of self history play in the establishment of the artifact as „quality television‟? To answer this, an analysis should establish the show as serial. Then evidence of this genre being quality and pleasing audiences should be attained to fortify the connection.
  36. 36. Office Criticism 36 RQ 6 What strategies do The Office‟s stockholders employ in the struggle against the pressures of commercial success? Nine articles discussing the ‗noble struggle‘ along with other available information on The Office contribute to a greater understanding of the stockholder‘s game plan. The data is a cannon which provides the story of the stakeholder‘s resistance to outside sources. RQ 7 What are the strengths, if any, of The Office, Season One establish it as „quality television‟? This question seeks to understand the program as a whole. This question begs for a summary of the conclusions gleaned from the answers to questions one through six. In this way the conclusions allow for an interpretation of how The Office became successful. Hypothetically the resulting process could be used to create a new quality program. Interpretation RQ 1 What approach is taken in developing relationships between the principle performers of the cast toward developing „good television‟? This first research question is framed from the perspective of Thompson‘s criterion: ―Quality TV tends to have a large ensemble cast (Thompson 1997 in Wilcox & Lavery, 2002, p. xxi),‖ the principle performers are those who qualify with five or more episodes, namely: Actor Character Personality 1. Steve Carell Michael Scott Sanguine 2. Rainn Wilson Dwight Schrute Choleric 3. John Krasinski Jim Halpert Phlegmatic
  37. 37. Office Criticism 37 4. Jenna Fisher Pam Beesly Phlegmatic 5. B.J. Novak Ryan Howard Melancholy 6. Leslie David Baker Stanley Hudson Choleric 7. Brian Baumgartner Kevin Malone Phlegmatic 8. Angela Kinsey Angela Martin Melancholy 9. Oscar Nunez Oscar Martinez Phlegmatic 10. Phyllis Smith Phyllis Lapin Phlegmatic 11. Kate Flannery Meredith Palmer Sanguine The above listing also includes the personality types which Lavery and Thompson suggest are a major part of the quality casting development process. One common method of describing a program‘s aptitude in casting, used in criticisms of Buffy, The Simpsons, and The Sopranos, is to simply list all the major performers with a short description of each in order to display the diversity, variety, and personality of the characters (Wilcox & Lavery 2002; Korte 2009; Nelson 2006). One such description can be gleaned from analysis. The Office features a nerd with authoritarian values and decisiveness, a cool guy who likes pranks, middle aged men without dreams, the overly clingy talk a lot prissy girl, attractive women, gruff truck loaders, and presumptuous bosses. It is well known that such a selection of personalities enables viewers to empathize with one of them and connect while possibly creating an uncontrollable enmity between the viewer and one of the characters which is also addicting. The program accomplishes this by presenting the mentioned types. These characters often form interesting and realistic relationships based on their respective personalities.
  38. 38. Office Criticism 38 A quality cast will provide the right differences in character traits to be conducive to various plot lines or to the creation of conflict. As Thompson states in his summary of this criterion ―The variety of characters allows for a variety of viewpoints since multiple plots must usually be employed to accommodate all the characters‖(Wilcox & Lavery 2002, p. 3). The success of The Office in qualifying as a quality show as well as the massive amounts of fan commentary on their love for the characters is evidence that the program creators have selected carefully selected a multidimensional and versatile cast. Due to the general lack of more generally accepted criteria for diversity such as race, economic class, sexuality, and lifestyle it seems that the brunt of the character distinctions must originate elsewhere. I suggest that The Office is able to ‗get away with‘ a lower level of visually recognized diversity through the clever use of personality characteristics. In this was the producers can best maintain a realistic mockumentary genre while providing themselves with plot options. The approach was to select a few members for their personal ability to provide controversial material and then cast an office building filled with different personas so as to instigate a level of interpersonal conflict. Like any good office of late, The Office has clearly been subjected to ‗equal opportunity‘ employment and other forms of political pressure to include a minimum of non-middle class white males. It is evident that Oscar‘s character provides a way for the program to introduce the controversial issues of racism and homosexuality. Stanley, the one African American man in the office area, also contributes greatly to the introduction of race oriented plot devices. The same can be said of character flaws. Flannery, for instance, is a raging alcoholic. This form represents the classic introduction of character diversity. The Office however has carefully introduced an intricate assortment of personalities to promote better character development.
  39. 39. Office Criticism 39 With the intent of creating plot flexibility, allowing for controversial issues, and inserting conflicting personality types for character development and conflict the producers of the office selected their cast carefully. Another quality which diversity in persona produces is the ability to relate to audiences or at least to interact with them by incorporating familiar personality types that a fan can love or hate. The principle performers in the first season collectively produced all the available personality tensions that could arise according to the selected personality measure. The cast consists of two Sanguine (Otter) personalities. Michael and Meredith both consistently display the fun loving, fickle, and emotional characteristics, with all the charted indicators, of the Artistic Performer. The same comparisons can be made for each of the principle performers to reveal that the first season includes two Sanguine, two Choleric, two Melancholy, and five Phlegmatic. It is especially important that the Phlegmatic personality be represented with greater numbers as most view this personality as the standard. In the description of the Golden retriever type it mentions they are the status quo. This weighted representation of what most people view as normal will emphasize the distinct and humorous personality types of the others in the office. One writer points out how the Phlegmatic type appeals to many of us in a review of the program: The show‘s hero is a young, ordinary worker – named Jim Halpert – who somehow thrives in this strange world, overlooking the boss‘s mistakes and finding entertaining ways to covertly antagonize Dwight. ―Jim: Sometimes I send Dwight faxes, from himself, from the future…‖ Each episode includes intriguing glimpses of the side characters… (Zilla 2002, p. 1) This short example is clearly a result of a well planned continuous tension between a Choleric Dwight and a Phlegmatic Jim sitting one desk away. Analyzing the program has helped me to see that nearly every development between the characters can be described in terms of
  40. 40. Office Criticism 40 personality types whether it be a romance, a spat over working weekends, or a decision about where the water cooler goes. The question: What approach is taken in developing relationships between the principle performers of the cast toward developing „good television‟?, can be answered as follows. The Office has produced a quality ensemble cast by selecting unique and identifiable characters whose personality types constantly conflict. The creators of The Office used a complicated selection process based on the ingenuity of their writers which had several influences. First and foremost was the task of reciprocating the basic characters in the British version and the quantity. It was also important to make each one unique and interesting. The cast also needed to provide opportunities for controversial issues to arise. Finally and most importantly the cast was chosen to relate to one another and to the audience based on personality types. RQ 2 What role do experiences and credentials of the artifact‟s creators play in shaping the artifact toward „quality television‟? This research question is best approached through the data provided via the second criterion: ―Quality TV usually has a Quality Pedigree (Thompson 1997 in Wilcox & Lavery, 2002, p. xxi).‖ The data quantified in publications of experiences and credentials reflects my previous understanding prompted by Wilcox and Lavery as well as Thompson. This criterion, ―Quality Pedigree‖, evaluates artifacts based on their creator‘s ‗media lineage‘. Some characteristics of this distinction include, the directors ‗cachet‘, the directors experience, training, education, and relevant degrees, as well as the variety of the persons training, how
  41. 41. Office Criticism 41 diverse their experiences have become. A description of their education, internships and experience with publishing would be relevant to the second benchmark of this criterion. In more abstract terms the creator of a quality film tends to have some sort of qualified or interesting background that somehow prepares them to make quality television. Although the massive and complex writing crew for The Office is comprised entirely of individuals who exemplify impressive pedigrees, I have chosen to illustrate the show‘s lineage by focusing on the three central producers. The Office has a quality pedigree as a result of the qualifying experiences and works of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, executive producers, and producer by Greg Daniels. Consulting producers Larry Wilmore and Lester Lewis combine with the writing cast of Daniels, Gervais, Merchant, Michael Schur, Jason Kessler, Lee Eisenberg, Gene Stupnitsky, Jennifer Celotta, Brent Forrester, Justin Spitzer, Steve Carell, Mindy Kaling, Paul Lieberstein, and B.J. Novak also contributed a massive wealth of writing and producing experience from various genres and acclaimed works. Rather than one person‘s cachet, The Office has several head producers with successful professional histories. Gervais, executive producer was an English actor, author, comedian, producer, director, and pop musician. His continued work has gained him countless awards and accolades including three golden globes, and 16 wins as well as 22 nominations for awards like the Emmy. A description of the awards is available in the following link: Gervais was involved with or wrote more accredited works than most any director or comic. . Merchant, executive producer of The Office, like Gervais, also holds a British Comedy award, a British Academy of Film and Television award, an Emmy, and a Golden Globe award.
  42. 42. Office Criticism 42 He has experience as a British writer, comic, actor, and director. Gervias and Merchant are well known friends and co-producer/writers who have worked closely with one another on podcasts and shows for most of their lives. Two time Emmy winner Daniels, the producer of The Office worked with some of the most valued episodes of ―The Simpsons‖, co-wrote a Signified episode, created King of the Hill, and Mike Judge. Daniels attended Harvard University. While there he wrote for the Harvard Lampoon with Conan O‘Brian. The other writers and actors vary in popularity and experience. Steve Carrel who plays Michal Scott in the series, is a very well known celebrity in comedy. He has starred in the feature films, Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty, Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Little Miss Sunshine, Dan in Real Life, Horton Hears a Who! and Get Smart. He has also won various awards and is commonly referred to as a brilliant sketch artist. The major producers and writers of the artifact have all had valuable and successful experience with writing their own scripts, novels, ect. In the case of this program writers were required to ingest the entire British The Office mythos while maintaining the vision of office work in America before they were able to rewrite and script the new series. This extra literary workout most likely strengthened the artifact. This data suggests that the creators of The Office had been trained and practiced in many forms of storytelling, comedy, and media. It is obvious the producers were well versed in creating acclaimed works. Previous to The Office they had already collected a number of internationally recognized awards. This would indicate that experience plays a role in writing quality scripts. As far as the ‗role‘ played by a single pedigree in creating quality television, the conclusions remain unclear. I find a correlation between experience or credentials and excellent
  43. 43. Office Criticism 43 television confirming what scholars said would occur, but the question remains ambiguous. It is clear that pedigree affords skill and flexibility to a producer or writer. It is unclear however if specific experiences translate as the creator puts his pen to paper. The experiences and credentials of The Office‟s creators contribute to the creativity and skill as well as the confidence and flexibility that combine to produce a quality script. As far as practical application this simply means the best writers produce the best shows as per their pedigree. RQ 3 How does The Office introduce controversial material? The Office introduces controversial material in a quality manner as previously discussed. The subjects (material) qualifying as data in the first season is as follows: Material Episode 1. Affirmative Action 2. Health Care Health Care 3. Homosexuality 4. Immigration Diversity Day 5. Medical Ethics Health Care 6. Mental health Health Care 7. Middle East Diversity Day 8. National Security/Nuclear Weapons Diversity Day 9. Racism Diversity Day 10. Sexual Harassment Sexual Harassment 11. Women‘s Rights Sexual Harassment
  44. 44. Office Criticism 44 These subjects were developed through Thompson‘s relevant criterion: ―The subject matter of quality TV tends toward the controversial‖ (Thompson 1997 in Wilcox & Lavery, 2002, p. xxi), a criterion celebrating human curiosity and emotions. Quantifying this criterion caused me to frame the concept as follows. It recognizes the desire to learn and deal with complex or emotionally loaded topics. The criterion can be characterized in terms of the artifacts capacity to ‗passively‘ or indirectly discusses terms, topics, or scenarios which are commonly considered controversial and to considers controversial questions with a developed sense of responsibility. Quality television not only recognizes what people want to think about but it also develops a moral and ethical stance which can be exemplified in the analogies and symbols of the series. It is not enough to simply shock the audience with raw controversy but it is nearly necessary to quietly expose them to it in order for them to experience the scenario. This type of story arc forces people to deal with tough and important questions. It becomes clear that story arc or plot line is the primary way in which these subjects are introduced. Here is an example in which the regional manager Michael introduces the controversial topics of racism and immigration simultaneously: Michael:…Oscar, right here. You're on. Oscar: Okay, Michael, um...both my parents were born in Mexico. Michael: Oh yeah... Oscar: And, uh, they moved to the United States a year before I was born. Michael: Yeah... Oscar: So I grew up in the United States. Michael: Wow.
  45. 45. Office Criticism 45 Oscar: And, my parents were Mexican. Michael: Wow. That is...that is a great story. That's the American dream right there, right? Oscar: Thank...yeah. Michael: Um, let me ask you, is there a term besides Mexican that you prefer? Something less offensive? Oscar: Mexican isn't offensive. Michael: Well, it has certain connotations. Oscar: Like what? Michael: Like...I don't...I don't know. Oscar: What connotations, Michael? Michael: Oh no, no, no, no... Oscar: You meant something... Michael: Now, remember that honesty... Oscar: I'm just curious. Michael: ...empathy, respect... ―Diversity Day‖, Season One, The Office In this selection, Michael‘s ignorance, stupidity, and extreme insensitivity has been cleverly used as a plot device to bring out these major issues. Dwight often does although his personality, Choleric, frequently presents material in a way that is even more insensitive and less idiotic. In the presentation of such material The Office has the distinct advantage of its main character not only running the plot of each episode but of this character being an ignorant, sexist, racist bigot whose obvious selfish planning often leads him to be embarrassed and shamed. The boss‘s attempts at humor and his serious persona both reek of ignorance as this blog header suggests:
  46. 46. Office Criticism 46 Parents need to know Parents need to know that the show's main character regularly makes insensitive remarks about employees' race and gender, and that he's treated like a buffoon as a result. The show also features a fair amount of sexual innuendo. Characters are known to get drunk at office parties. Families can talk about rude and inappropriate behavior in comedic television shows. What is the most outrageous thing you've ever viewed? Do you think the line of what is considered acceptable changes? When would you say television writers have crossed the line into truly offensive? Is that line different for cable and network shows? Should it be? kid# 2008 Through the clever device of desensitizing people to absurd comments the director is able to introduce important and controversial topics without disrupting character. The surrounding cast of everyone except Dwight and Michal can then respond with disgust at the topics as the viewers reflect on what they truly feel or believe about awkward and sensitive topics that have been blurted out. The show has won awards for its ability to confront controversial topics in ways they can be discussed. One such award came from the NAACP. The reactions of the workers often show the reality of what most ‗average‘ Americans feel like and the way they would respond to such issues. In any case Scott brings major issues to the table with blatant irresponsibility and the viewer is always in a position to evaluate his or her own answer to implied questions. One other way in which controversial material is introduced was discussed previously. Characters with specific characteristics can cause the development of a program to lead into or
  47. 47. Office Criticism 47 imply controversial material. The prime example of this is Meredith whose alcoholism introduces the subject itself. The Office presents controversial materials in three ways: character characteristics, plot devices, and personality based comments. Character characteristics need not be spoken and are inherent in a performer‘s race, beliefs, ethinicity, sex, ect. Plot devices are best realized by analyzing a section of the program for its themes and direction but can also be identified through the script. Personality based comments stem from the negative attributes of a character‘s personality. Subjects are primarily introduced through personality based plot devices. As described about Michael or Dwight regularly have personality flaws which set in motion controversial topics that are made most clear in related plot devices. In this way The Office introduces controversial material habitually. RQ 4 What genres are mixed to create a new genre represented in The Office? The selected chart of known genres has been used to describe the program, resulting in a list of fourteen genres which have been combined in a complex way to result in the new genre of The Office. The genres constituting the new genre of the show are: 1. Romance 2. Crime Fiction 3. Comedy 4. Comedy of Manners
  48. 48. Office Criticism 48 5. Parody 6. Romantic Comedy 7. Documentary 8. Mockumentary 9. Disaster-Thriller 10. Serial 11. Reality Show 12. Sitcom 13. Documentary [TV] 14. Docudrama The Office, ―defies genre classification by creating a new one. It does so by mixing several established genres‖ (Korte 2009, p. 7). The very term ‗mockumentary‘ consistently used to describe the genre of ―The Office‖ is a mixture of two past presentation styles. Those styles are satire or mockery like Oedipus Rex or Team America, and the other is documentary or review such as Super Size Me or anything you can find on the History Channel. By cleverly combining the classic sarcastic style of drama with the well known form of covering historical and epic events, The Office celebrates a new sense of comic representation. The program‘s ability to mock this vast variety of genres lends it an air of superiority. When a disaster occurs in the plot the show mocks the Disaster Thriller genre while pretending
  49. 49. Office Criticism 49 to do a serious docudrama or documentary of the tragedy; All the while the program is mocking this setting in a mockumentary satirical style. The Office refuses to even make the decision to be serial or episodic. The program is a complex hybrid which can be studied primarily as an episodic chapter program. New small conflicts beset the characters each show. This, combined with the closed comic nature of each scenario makes every episode stand alone with a plot of interest to a first time viewer. Each episode is titled in a way that suggests it is an original conflict. For example the third show aired was titled Health Care. Such a title suggests that people will be dealing with a prescribed scenario regarding healthcare. Regardless of how familiar the characters are, viewers should be able to relate to the unfolding plot. Although each episode brings new independent plot lines, the characters also change continuously in logical ways. The Office is a complex hybrid show where relationships develop and lives change but each new chapter offers its own excitement. The program could just as easily be categorized as a serial program due to its extremely accurate memory and cumulative story. RQ 5 What part, if any, does a sense of self history play in the establishment of the artifact as „quality television‟? The question is best illuminated through use of the criterion ―Quality TV has a memory‖ (Thompson 1997 in Wilcox & Lavery, 2002, p. xxi). As Thompson states; ―though it may or may not be serialized in continuing story lines, these shows tend to refer back to previous episodes. Characters develop and change as the series goes on. ―Events and details from previous episodes are often used or referred to, in subsequent episodes‖ (Wilcox & Lavery, 2002, p. 3). The Office, a complex episodic and serialized program is highly serial in this sense.
  50. 50. Office Criticism 50 The program has a story line that is chronological, continuous, and intensely precise. As previously described this continuous review allows the show to carry viewers along with the program‘s characters. Viewers are then able to experience the show as a member of a realistic and developing world. This is far more exciting than the short story which has to develop characters and is unable to introduce complex plot devices due to the lack of time. The Office‟s format allows for allusions to self. When a quality program executes this type of reference they reward the loyal audience members by giving them a more complete understanding of the scenario. Many times such an allusion lets the attentive viewer understand an ‗inside joke‘ for their amusement. Thompson suggests characters can be developed though the reinforcement of injected self history. ―As Ken Tucker observes, in Buffy ―people change‖ (Wilcox and Lavery, 2001, p.4). In The Office people change, relationships develop and evolve as aspects of the office are altered and the lives of the characters adapt to changes. Like any drama, the people in relationships never forget who they were or who they were with. Characters even lead us to understand the memory behind some scenarios. Take, for example, Pam‘s relationship with Roy, which we learn about in a memory based answer to an interview question: (Roy walks in, Jim straightens up) Roy: Hey man. Pam: Hey! Jim: What's going on? Roy: Hi baby. Pam: Hey.
  51. 51. Office Criticism 51 CUT TO INDUVIDUAL SHOT OF PAM Pam: Ah, Roy's my fiance. We've been engaged about, um, about three years. And w-we were supposed to get married in September, but I think we're going to gonna get married in the spring. CUT BACK TO RECEPTION Pam: Do you mind if I go out for a drink with these guys? Roy: Uh, no. I don't...come on, let's get outta [sic] here, go home? Pam: Okay, I'm going to be a few minutes, uh. It's only twenty past five, I still have to do my faxes. The viewer is able to construct an accurate view of the past through the eyes of Pam‘s memory which serves as a logical practical reference. In later scenes a fan‘s recall of this interview could allow them to understand a quip made by clever Jim as he makes light of Roy‘s long late engagement. Self history in The Office plays the role of developing characters, introducing flash back histories, rewarding viewers, and bolstering the program‘s realism. RQ 6 What strategies do the office‟s stockholders employ in the struggle against the pressures of commercial success? The pressures of commercial success can be best defined by a discussion of Lavery‘s concept of forces. Three major types combine to battle the artistic expectations of the creators of a program. Television often encounters resistance in the form of opposing expectations and needs. The Office is no exception. These pressures have been subdivided into social, artistic, and economic expectations that affected the artifact. This real-world analysis of all the stakeholders and stockholders actual scenario expose the fiscal constraints, the pressure to ‗sell out‘ and the capacity to reach artistic vision felt by the creators and viewers of the artifact.
  52. 52. Office Criticism 52 Social expectations Social expectations vary including the standard ideas for a new show. The Office: NBC was a spinoff/remake/adaptation of The Office: BBC which was a television show which aired in Britain. Luckily for the producers, the American demographics which the show would need to accommodate had in large part not even heard of the show and if they had most had little desire for the subtle British humor and style. However from a more informed standpoint the show was viewed with great skepticism. It is common for remake attempts to fail dramatically and become what many call a ‗shadow of its former self‘. The very fact that The Office boldly attempts this statistically and commonly ‗suicidal‘ feat is a stand against predictable and commercial ‗bad‘ television. The campaign to reintroduce the show‘s concept in America was led by the star of the British series. It seemed equally risky to attempt an entirely unknown form of television known as mockumentary in America since there was not a known fan base from which to draw. The dependence on actor Steve Carrel as a brand name helped. Over time fan communities developed and communicated openly about their preferences and what they would like to see on the show. This existed previous to the airing of the show because it was a remake. One such forum can be found on NBC‘s official site. The discussion is titled: ―Things You Wish They‘d Show‖ and is available under this hyperlink: The producers‘ collective decision to base the first episode heavily on a British episode and to select characters that would model the personalities of the British version both played out splendidly as strategies for appealing to what fan base already existed and catering to their
  53. 53. Office Criticism 53 expectations. Further, as discussed above, the writing staff and stakeholders worked closely together in order to pursue artistic and social freedom in script writing, production, and development. This strict adherence to the plot and character development helped the show to appeal to the viewers it naturally could have only without outside tampering. This description of the show‘s reception and acceptance by American television audiences captures the social struggle and finally the social success of the producers‘ attempt to remake or ‗Americanize‘ and reform the humor of a show in a new culture: Reception The first season of The Office received mixed reviews among both viewers and critics.[14] After the initial episodes, critics thought The Office would be another failed remake of a British comedy, much like how the American version of Coupling was in relation to the original British series.[15] The Deseret Morning News believed The Office was a failed remake, and said "Maybe, after The Office dies a quick death on NBC, the network will decide that trying to Americanize British TV comedies isn't such a great idea."[16] Despite these criticisms, a few thought the show achieved success in its first season. Time magazine wrote that "It's ironic that NBC's most original sitcom in years is a remake, but who cares? The Office is a daring, unflinching take on very American workplace tensions."[14] felt that the first season of The Office was good, and the differences between the characters of the American and the original series added to the popularity of the series.[17] Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette felt that The Office succeeded in its first season, and that although NBC had failed in the past with television shows such as Coupling, it had found achievement with The Office.[18] 1
  54. 54. Office Criticism 54 Artistic expectations ―The Office is shot in a single-camera setup, without a studio audience or a laugh track, and is made in the form of a documentary, or ‗mockumentary‘. Although fictional and scripted, the presence of the camera is openly acknowledged‘ (Wikipedia, 2008). Based on the bold move of Ricky Dene Gervais, who was the star of the British version, to become a major producer of the American version it is safe to say the writers had some sense of what they want artistically for this series even before it was released. The concept in theory was for the American version to begin like its British counterpart and then to begin molding to the cultural allusions, humor style, and preferences of the American people. The show could then take on its own identity and create new comic story lines based on the set scenario. All of this worked extremely well and the characters who had been chosen as representations of the British version each maintained their identity. Joanna Ostrow spoke of this success in the Denver Post commenting ―it retains the quiet, desperate, hilarious mock-umentary style of the original. More surprisingly, it respects the intelligence of the American audience‖ (2005, p.1). The majority of viewers who choose to analyze the American version after becoming loyal fans of the British version often write it off as not living up to the expectations or the comedy of the original. As discussed in this giant forum, the artistic expectations of the British audience differ greatly from the American ones and those negative comments are likely not thought through since many of those who post had watched little of the American version. Here is an example from the mentioned forum of one such person who praises the show for fulfilling expectations and even surpassing them: