How Apple’s iPod video saved ‘The Office’


The Office is currently regarded as one of the most popular television shows in history, but that wasn’t always the case.

In Welcome to Dunder Mifflin, an oral history of The Office by Brian Baumgartner (aka Kevin Malone) and Ben Silverman (an Office executive producer), the show’s cast, crew, and writers reflected on the struggles they faced in the early days of filming. Many people (including the Paul Rudd) doubted the American remake of The Office and refused to believe it could ever live up to the original. The fate of the series was in constant question during the first and second seasons, but thanks to some help from Apple (ever heard of it?) and the launch of the 5th Generation iPod Classic (aka the iPod video) the series survived and began growing its fanbase.

Baumgartner explained that after the show shot the first six episodes of Season 2 everyone thought it was doomed. NBC was ordering episodes in small batches and the future looked grim, but things started looking up when The Office began airing after the popular show My Name Is Earl. The Office‘s audience grew a bit thanks to the rescheduling, but the real bump in ratings came after the Season 2 episode, “Christmas Party,” which aired in December 2005.

“Christmas Party,” written by Mike Schur, focused on a Secret Santa exchange in the office. There was a $25 limit on gifts, but Michael (who just received a holiday bonus) broke the rules, went all out, and bought a $400 iPod with a video player Ryan. Eventually, Secret Santa turned into Yankee Swap, and everyone tried their hardest to get their hands on the shiny new Apple product. 

That episode marked the beginning of a beautiful relationship between The Office and Apple — one that nobody on the show even saw coming.

Manifesting an iPod video connection  

“There was no deal with Apple. They didn’t sponsor it or anything. But the whole episode is about a video iPod. That episode airs and — in my memory, I could be wrong — the next day Apple announces it has a deal for content, to have like an iTunes Store where you can buy TV shows and movies,” Schur, who also played Mose Schrute, said in the oral history.

Apple released the video iPod in October 2005, and two months later, per the oral history, 11 NBC shows (including The Office) became available for purchase in the iTunes Store. Now remember, this was a pre-streaming world, and as far as people from The Office are concerned, the opportunity changed everything.

“That year [2005], everyone got everyone a video iPod for Christmas. And when you got a video iPod and set it up and went to the iTunes Store, the first thing that you saw was The Office and the Christmas episode. It was the number one watched thing on iTunes for 30 consecutive days. So everyone spends the entire break watching that episode and then other episodes of the show,” Schur said.

Those who worked on The Office truly felt a shift in the show’s reception after it hit iTunes. Baumgartner even recalled walking into Apple stores and seeing The Office advertised on their promo posters before they’d really made it big.  

“I remember getting an email that our first Christmas episode had become the number one download on iTunes. And I was like, ‘What? Oh, that’s it. Momma’s getting rid of her Chevy Blazer!’ And then I got a Honda,” Angela Kinsey said.

“I was going back and forth between LA and New York, and I was walking through New York and this guy put his hand up real fast in my face and I thought I was getting assaulted. He was like, ‘You’re on my iPod, dude!'” John Krasinski explained. “And I was like, ‘What is an iPod? What are you showing me? Are you beaming me up to space right now?’ And there was my dumb face on his iPod, which was an inch by two inches or something. That was trippy for me.”

Since everyone on The Office was tirelessly trying to convince NBC, viewers, and fans of the original series that the remake was worth investing in and watching, Apple’s very public love for the show was greatly appreciated. 

“Apple treated us better than our network,” Silverman said. “They got behind the show and treated it as their own.”

“And maybe better than we deserved at that moment. But they saw something in the show too,” Baumgartner said.

The Apple effect

Once Apple got involved, The Office really started to take off.

“Remember when Fred Armisen did that Steve Jobs impression on Saturday Night Live? It was on Weekend Update and he was pitching the iPod and kept mentioning The Office,” Krasinski said. “He was like, ‘You can film a movie while watching a movie and making a phone call, all while watching your favorite episode of…The Office.’ I was like, ‘Whoa, if we’re being parodied on SNL, this is big.'”

While Apple didn’t pay for product placement in that Season 2 Christmas episode, Silverman said that the company did end up providing computers for the set “and kind of investing in the show as both an advertiser and supporter.”

“We were already naturally drawn to Apple,” he explained, “because the show always touched on things happening in the real world.”

In hindsight, the cast isn’t so sure their show would have taken off in the same way without Apple.

“A lot of people get to say ‘We owe it all to our fans,’ but I think we might be the only show who actually owes it all to our fans. When people started paying for shows they could watch for free on TV, then NBC had to pick us up for another season. That was just so mind-blowing to me,” Krasinski said.

“It was young people with their iPods who knew how to set up an iTunes account because their parents didn’t,” Rainn Wilson said. “I think that blindsided everybody, including NBC, that we would be so popular with young people. The fact that we’re most popular with 22 to 25 year olds is really astonishing…”

Once The Office found success on iTunes it took the pressure off a bit. Since more people — along with the network — started believing in them, they didn’t have to live in constant fear of cancellation and could really focus on proving themselves.

“It’s funny. It’s a show about a dying industry being taken over by technology, yet the show uses technology to its advantage every step of the way,” Baumgartner said. “We became a hit because of iTunes, and we’re being discovered by a new generation today thanks to streaming services like Netflix.”

Read more about The Office

15 best tidbits from Brian Baumgartner’s ‘Office’ oral history, ‘Welcome to Dunder Mifflin’

This scene in ‘The Office’ was so funny to film that it shut down production

Every single cold open from ‘The Office’ in one convenient place. (You’re welcome.)

‘The Office’ fansite that the cast actually obsessed over

‘The Office’ stars share the story behind the famous Michael screaming meme





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