The Office Script Teardown - Featured - StudioBinder

The Office script for the series pilot is the foundation for one of the most popular comedies ever made. However, there were several things in the pilot that didn’t connect with American audiences.

In this article, we’re going to break down The Office pilot script by looking at plot, scene choice and characters. Ultimately, we’re going to see how The Office became a blueprint for the modern sitcom.

The Office Script - Pilot

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The Office Script Teardown - Ricky Gervais Headshot - StudioBinder
The Office Script Teardown - Stephen Merchant Headshot - StudioBinder
The Office Script Teardown - Greg Daniels Headshot - StudioBinder

WHO WROTE THE OFfice SCRIPT?

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant 

Adapted for American audiences by Greg Daniels

Ricky Gervais is a jack-of-all trades comedian who has worked as a writer, director, actor, and producer in both film and TV. In addition to working on famous projects like Extras and Derek, Gervais has hosted a variety of Awards shows with his dry humor and comedy.

Stephen Merchant is a renowned writer and actor who has also worked as a director and stand-up comedian. Some of his most iconic works include: acting in Portal 2, Logan and Jojo Rabbit and co-creating Hello Ladies.

Greg Daniels is a writer/director/producer who has become one of the most important creative forces in the landscape of American sitcoms. Since 1993, Daniels has worked on shows like The Simpsons, Parks and Recreation and the upcoming Space Force.

STORY BREAKDOWN

STRUCTURE OF THE OFFICE SCREENPLAY

Exposition

The “boss” of The Office Michael Scott is interviewing a prospective job seeker. Although the unnamed man failed his fork-lyft driver’s test, Michael recommends that the warehouse hire him anyways.

Inciting Incident

A camera crew is following Scott around the office and interviewing employees for unknown reasons. Corporate boss, Jan Tarnovsky-Gould, notifies Scott that his branch may be consolidated if he can’t prove its worth.

Plot Point One

Two younger office employees, Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly, flirt with one another and lament about the ridiculousness of their jobs.

Rising Action

Rumors spread around the office that the Scranton branch may be downsized by corporate. Meanwhile, Scott is introduced to Ryan, a new employee from a temp-agency. 

Midpoint

Scott organizes a meeting to talk about the potential downsizing where he assures everybody that he will do anything to keep that from happening. 

Plot Point Two

Jim and his “desk buddy,” Dwight Schrute, compete against one another in a series of practical jokes and office pranks.  

Build Up

Jim asks Pam to go out for drinks with the rest of the office. Scott tells Ryan that the office has fun by pranking each other.

Climax

To demonstrate how fun the work environment is, Scott calls Pam into his office and pretends to fire her. However this quickly backfires and Pam nearly has a nervous breakdown.

Finale

Pam’s boyfriend Roy tells her that she can’t go out for drinks with Jim. Despite all the turmoil, Scott says that what he truly loves about his job is the people.

Denouement 

Jim stays at the office to comfort Pam who is crying in the bathroom. Even after she leaves, Jim stays and plays games on his computer.

The Office Script Takeaway #1

The Office — Plot 

The best aspect of The Office pilot script may be its clear structure. Every major beat is hit, despite the fact that the pacing is a little poor. With that being said, it’s no easy task writing a pilot, so let’s look at how The Office script does it well by establishing the inciting incident.

The Office Script • Inciting Incident

So why does the inciting incident work here? Well it starts by understanding the fundamental structure of plot. Every story needs conflict and every pilot should use the inciting incident to convey the overarching conflict. In this case, the overarching conflict is that the Scranton branch will downsize if Michael isn’t able to prove its worth.

The Office Pilot • Inciting Incident

Because The Office pilot script has a great inciting incident, we’re able to clearly understand what the major conflict is and where the story-arc has to go moving forward.

The Office Script Takeaway #2

The Office — Establishing Characters

A pilot will only go as far as its characters bring us. If we don’t care about the characters, then there’s little reason to want to move forward with the series. One reason why The Office keeps us hooked is because it does a good job of establishing supporting characters. 

In this next scene, we see a strong supporting plot line; the budding romance between two likable characters, Jim and Pam.

The Office • Jim and Pam Flirt

The scene starts off coy enough with Pam playing with Jim’s hair. The two seem to be mutually interested in one another, and seeing as most of the other characters in the office are insane, it’s hard to root against their solace in one another.

Jim and Pam • Love at First Sight

Of course nothing is as easy as it seems though. Pam’s boyfriend Roy shows up and complicates the flirting. This dynamic creates tension and conflict in the supporting story-line as well.

The Office Script Takeaway #3

The Office — What it could have been

Fans of The Office may be surprised to read the series’ pilot. Over the many years of the show’s run, the jokes grew tamer and the comedy lightened in severity.

This next scene is a great example where a joke didn’t land, which subsequently led to the writer’s changing Michael Scott’s character.

The Office • A Bad Joke

The Office pilot establishes Scott as a thoroughly dislikable guy. This is largely because he thinks that he’s cooler, smarter and funnier than he really is. One area where Scott proves this point is when he introduces the prospective job-seeker to Pam by saying, “At one time or another everybody in the office has sprayed on Pam.”

This joke fails because it makes us dislike Scott.

It’s awfully hard to have prolonged success with a protagonist who repels a lot of the audience. However, if the tone of the show were shifted to drama over comedy, then it could work. But to make light of the joke that “everybody’s sprayed on Pam” and have audiences find it funny is a terribly difficult task.

Why The Office changed Michael Scott

That’s one reason why Greg Daniels and the writing team for The Office changed Michael Scott’s character after season one of the show. What had worked in Gervais’ and Merchant’s version of the show simply wasn’t working in the U.S.

As such, Scott transformed from a character that pushes everyone away to one that invites everybody in. This change also helped The Office to find the humorous, absurdist tone it’s become so synonymous with.

Up Next

Rick and Morty Script Analysis

Now that we’ve looked at some of the things that make a pilot script work, let’s continue on with a mid-season script. In this next article, we break down the screenplay for Rick and Morty “Meseeks and Destroy:” Season 1, Episode 5, by looking at story structure, characters and quotes.

Up Next: Rick and Morty Script Analysis 
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