Six years after the series finale of The Office, it placed #1 among the most watched TV shows on Netflix. And while there are many reasons for this, the character of Michael Scott has undoubtedly made the show timeless. Whether he is conducting a hilariously pointless meeting, closing a deal at Chili’s, or trying to save the branch from closing, Michael Scott is one of the most original characters in TV.
While the hilarity of Michael Gary Scott is completely obvious in retrospect, the writers of The Office had a hard time creating this inimitable character. In fact, The Office was on the brink of being canceled by the end of Season One. What saved the show? What makes The Office so funny? Who else but Michael Scott!
Who plays Michael Scott?
Casting Michael Scott
It is difficult to imagine anyone else playing the role of Michael Scott other than Steve Carell. But in the early days of the show’s Pre-Production process, it was not evident exactly how Michael should be played. After all, Michael Scott was based off of his British counterpart, David Brent, from the original British version of the show.
Before we talk about Steve Carell and Michael Scott, let's take a second to remind ourselves where this character came from. Here's Ricky Gervais as the original "World's Best Boss."
Played by the show's creator, Ricky Gervais, the character of David Brent set expectations that created the looming question for the creators, “Who plays Michael Scott?” When Steve Carell stepped in to audition, however, everyone knew they found the right person.
We may be biased from seeing Steve Carell as Michael Scott in multiple seasons of the show, but the laughs in the background during the casting process proves he was perfect for the job. What made Steve Carell so perfect? A combination of experience and innate comedic talent.
Michael Scott Actor Analysis
Who is Steve Carell?
Carell’s career began at Second City, Chicago’s historical improv comedy club. From that experience, Carell brought something unique to the character of Michael Scott. His improv skills often elicited raw reactions from other cast members.
While writing and developing a TV show, it is not uncommon for writers to be precious about what they write. In the world of The Office, writer BJ Novak says that the writers could not wait to see where Carell would take their material. One of the most hilarious and brilliant instances of this is in the Season 3 opening episode Gay Witch Hunt.
In this scene, Michael attempts to literally put his money where his mouth is. He thinks that by kissing Oscar will squash any notion that he is homophobic. Give this scene a watch and note that while the initial hug between Michael and Oscar was scripted, the kiss was not.
This is one of many scenes that proves how Steve Carell’s improv skills and innate comedic talent elevate the hilarity behind Michael Scott. Carell even takes it up a notch by having Michael improvise himself during an improv class, making for a hilarious bit. In fact, some of the best Michael Scott quotes came from improvs.
Carell has a deep understanding of "Who is Michael Scott?" which enabled him to really bring the character to life through character development. Carell speaks on playing the character as well as the Gay Witch Hunt episode in this interview and demonstrates his masterful understanding of the character.
While the writers and creators of The Office trusted Steve Carell’s improvisational talents, much of the show was heavily scripted. From the realistic dialogue, to the looks to the camera, to the camera movements, the writers were very intentional with their scripts.
So, beyond Steve Carrell's actual acting ability, what was it about Michael Gary Scott that made him so great?
Upon facing a possible cancellation after Season 1, the writers had some thinking to do. What is wrong with Michael Scott and how can we change him for the better moving forward? The answers they came up with would result in key changes to the character.
The Office Character Analysis
Problems with Michael in Season 1
If you are a big fan of The Office, you may be thinking “What problems are there with Michael Scott? He’s perfect!” I would agree, with the exception of Season 1.
As some of you know, the pilot screenplay of The Office is practically a scene by scene adaptation of the British pilot. But who is Michael Scott and how does he differ from David Brent? We imported the pilot into StudioBinder's screenwriting software so you can read and download it to see if you can spot the differences.
Despite their foundational similarities, the reception of both characters were very different. Why? This video explains how cultural differences created a learning curve for the writers of the American version.
This led the writers to take a closer look at Michael and what components of his character were not working. The problems boiled down to the fact that "Season 1 Michael Scott" is completely unlikeable.
From his lack of social awareness to his insensitivity toward others, there was not much for audiences to empathize with. This video pinpoints the specific traits that needed to be changed in Michael Scott that would enable the show to continue.
The changes made to Michael's character in the beginning of Season 2 were a clear improvement. They saved the show from cancellation and created the engine that enabled the show to last a whopping nine seasons.
What makes the office so funny?
Finding humor in human behavior
A critical element that made Michael such an original character was how he was funny. Much of the comedy in TV sitcoms stems from setups and punchlines or witty one-liners. This style has led to the success of the best TV shows like Seinfeld, Friends, and The Big Bang Theory.
The Office, however, doesn't rely on punchlines as much as behavior. This is what made its humor so unique. The mockumentary style of The Office often breaks the fourth wall, allowing the viewer to feel like a character within the show. Michael Scott’s character thrives on this.
One of the show’s creators, Greg Daniels, wanted the show to have a feeling of sincerity that was unique. In this video, the writers of The Office talk about the elements of the show’s humor that led to its success.
Comedy, in The Office, is a by-product of authenticity. After fixing Michael Scott's character, throwing him into hilarious situations made for hilarious moments.
The best of Michael Scott boils down to behavior. Whether it's yelling at Toby or pain from his George Foreman grill, the humor is a by-product of authentic behavior. Let's take a look Michael Scott's best moments.
Why did Michael Scott leave The Office?
A common question among fans is, “Why did Michael Scott leave The Office?” Obviously, Michael’s departure had more to do with Steve Carell than it did with the show. During The Office’s growth in popularity, Steve Carell also started becoming a huge movie star.
It was only a matter of time until Carell made the leap from TV to movies. Unfortunately, it also began the show’s demise. After Carell’s last episode Goodbye, Michael, The Office would hit a two-season decline until its series finale. This video covers why Michael Scott’s departure was the day The Office died.
It is difficult to find a character comparable to Michael Scott. After Carrell left the show, it was obvious how critical he was to its success. Creating a character as funny and as unique as Michael Gary Scott is difficult. Analyzing the problems and changes made to Michael's character is a valuable lesson for any writer in how to write and develop a television show.
By focusing on character depth, authenticity, and trusting Steve Carell, The Office’s Michael Scott became one of the most quotable, hilarious, and original characters of all time.
The Office pilot script
The entirety of The Office has become original and unique among television shows to this day. But the pilot of the show is nearly based word for word on its British counterpart and origin. Check out our breakdown of the screenplay of the pilot episode of The Office and how it holds up today.